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Is Investment Banking a Good Career Path?

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The investment banking career path can be a rewarding, profitable, and challenging undertaking. In general, it can be a great path to take if you love crunching numbers, working with clients, and helping others accomplish their big (expensive) goals. Plus, a few years in investment banking can open up many opportunities, making it an appealing career choice. 

Is investment banking a good career path? In this guide, we’ll go over:

What Is Investment Banking?

Investment banking is a branch of finance that involves raising money for large companies, governments, and individual investors. Investment banking companies work to raise capital for their clients and assist in mergers and acquisitions (M&A). The key player in an investment bank is the investment banker: These are the people who connect buyers and sellers and find ways to make their clients money. 

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What Does Investment Banking Pay?

Investment banking is an industry focused on making clients money, so it makes sense that the people who work in investment banking also make a lot of money. Based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data and current job postings, compensation for entry-level investment bankers ranges from $80,000 to over $200,000. This compensation generally includes base salary, year-end bonuses based on performance, signing bonuses, stock-based bonuses, and stub-bonuses, which are a portion of the overall yearly bonus given to people who start mid-way through a fiscal year. 

Big banks, like JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, typically offer high base salaries to attract top employees. For example, first-year investment banking analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. are reported to have a base salary of $110,000

What Is the Investment Banking Career Path?

Entry-level investment banking positions require a bachelor’s degree, usually in finance or an economics-focused field. To move up the ranks, you may need a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) or a specialized higher degree in something related to corporate finance. 

Some investment bankers begin with an internship at a big investment banking company, obtain a full-time offer, and start as a full-time analyst after graduation. However, an internship isn’t always necessary, and you can still qualify for an entry-level analyst position without one.

Beyond education or internships, the real key to landing a job in investment banking is having core investment banking skills, like financial modeling and calculating financial metrics, such as discounted cash flow. 

Investment Banking Career Progression

Titles and levels may vary by company, but the progression through an investment banking career generally involves the following roles:

  • Interns: Since the point of an internship is to learn and gain experience, interns follow what analysts and associates do and support them in their jobs. Some interns may help create presentations or financial models alongside an analyst. 
  • Analysts: Analysts handle a lot of presentation and Excel work, supporting higher-ups in their efforts to win clients and close deals. Analysts typically stay in this role for two to three years before being promoted or transitioning out of investment banking.
  • Associates: Associates do similar work as analysts but have more responsibility (and pressure) to ensure everything runs smoothly. Associates often get their Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), too. This puts them in a better position for promotion or moving into a more niche area of finance. 
  • Vice Presidents (VPs): Vice presidents have more responsibility and more contact with clients. They need to balance their time between clients and being in charge of the analysts and associates below them, on top of pitching potential clients and managing deals. After three to four years of outstanding performance, VPs can be promoted or head-hunted to a more specialized position in finance, such as hedge fund management. 
  • Managing Directors (MDs): Managing directors are the head of the team, and their only job is to make money. They spend their days finding clients, winning them over, and maintaining existing client relationships. The managing director assigns work to the lower positions and makes sure that everything is perfect to keep the clients happy. 

>>MORE: Learn the most common investment banking interview questions.

Pros and Cons of Investment Banking

Pros

  • Good compensation packages
  • Transferable skills
  • Opportunities for growth

The biggest positive to going into investment banking is the experience you gain. You work long, hard hours, but the knowledge you gain doing it is invaluable. 

“Within your two years as an analyst and associate, you really build up some core business skills that will make you valuable as an employee forevermore,” says Chris LaFerla, founder and CEO at software company Tatem and a former investment banker. “From there, the career opportunities are wide open: You can move into investing (private equity, hedge funds, venture capital) or go take a job as an operator, which is becoming more and more popular these days.” 

(Note: Operators are people who work on the business side, handling things like corporate strategy, product development, or business operations.) 

Beyond solid compensation, investment banking can open a lot of opportunities and give you great networking connections.

Cons

  • Long hours
  • Stressful environment
  • Competitive industry

Investment bankers often cite the long working hours as the main downside. They can work anywhere from 60 to 100 hours per week. They can sometimes work for days on end if a big project is in the works. 

“People talk about how hard it is, but prospective bankers cannot really understand what it’s like until you’re in the office on a Thursday night, sitting at your desk at 2 a.m., waiting for comments on a presentation you’ve been working on non-stop for three days, knowing that you have to wake up at 7 a.m. to be back in the office for any last-minute changes and do it all over again,” LaFerla notes.

The field is also incredibly competitive. For example, CNBC reports that for a 2021 investment banking internship program, JPMorgan received nearly 50,000 applicants with only 400 open positions. That’s an acceptance rate of less than 1%. The competitive nature of the industry, plus long hours, can create a stressful work environment. 

Want to learn more about a day in the life of an investment banker? Check out these free virtual experience programs: 

Bottom Line: Is It a Good Career Path?

Yes, investment banking is a good career path if you are passionate about finance and are willing to work hard. You make great money, learn incredibly useful skills, and connect with real decision-makers. Ultimately, investment banking is a highly competitive field to break into, but there are really only two things you need to get started:

“Drive and determination,” says LaFerla. “The rest can be learned. But you need to be hungry, want to learn, and be willing to sacrifice other areas in your personal life for the first year or two to succeed.”

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