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Work in investment banking: an addiction or just a source of good income?



An account of an investment banker:

I am a returning investment banker; some would say I never got my fix in the first round and hence came back for more.  Others mock me saying that I am a glutton for punishment.  “You didn’t like banking in the US, you didn’t like it in Singapore… the odds are pretty high that you wont like it in the UK either”, one friend warned me.  I don’t think my return is because of either though.  It is solely need based… I needed the job and a source of income and this seemed like the only viable option.  Maybe the only available option?

A few years ago, when I interviewed for my first job in the industry I was asked as to why I wanted to join.  At the time, I was passionate about joining a new team, a new company and learning about the industry.  I was passionate about banking, and the financial markets.  Of course, I would be lying if I wasn’t passionate about the money that was involved.  However, that was 2004, and I was a bright eyed kid straight out of undergraduate, dreaming of a lavish lifestyle that involved nice clothes, flashy cars and the wining and dining that came with the territory.  The long hours, the abuse to the body, the late nights and weekend work didn’t seem that onerous.  It was all in pursuit of that dream.  Sound familiar?  Sounds like a Hollywood movie?  Well, they have to get their stories from some place, don’t they?

All these years later, all the crises and bank failures later, all the regulatory changes later and I don’t think the industry holds the same appeal anymore.  At 32, I seek a more stable and secure lifestyle where the hours are predictable and I can spend less time on my Blackberry and more with my family.  Banking today doesn’t offer me that.  I know I am not the only one that feels the same because even my classmates from business school, which were typically breeding grounds for potential hot shot investment bankers, no longer felt the industry held that attraction.  “You’re working a lot more for a lot less money”, one classmate told me.  “Why would I subject myself to that when I know I can work for a little less money and have a better lifestyle”, another classmate contemplated as he weighed his options out of school.

The thing is, today, the money isn’t even that great.   Given the bad press they’ve had and the constant scrutiny they’ve been under, Wall Street has had to cut back on the salaries and bonuses it pays out to lure the fat-cat bankers.  Take into account also the fact that a number of people were let go following the crisis in 2007-08, and you have a lot fewer people doing the same amount (if not more) of work for potentially lower wages.  What irks me is the fact that while there are concerns and there continues to be this hoopla around the increasing wage inequality globally, it is the bankers only that have come under the lens and have been impacted.  I’ve not heard of a Hollywood star or a basketball player having been paid less following the crisis.  Do they live on another planet?

But, I digress… I must return to the point of this post – the banking industry today and the attraction it holds as a prospective employer.  Surely, the money isn’t what it used to be, the work is a lot more, and there is a greater degree of scrutiny.  So, why would someone come back to this industry or want to join it in the first place?  I can only think of three reasons – (a) you are a self-professed ‘deal junkie’ like my current boss; (b) you truly have a love for the industry and the job; or (c) like me, you simply need the job and are biding your time.  Whatever it is that draws you to banking, as the saying goes you must ‘look before you leap’! 


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