Investment bankers are among Wall Street’s most sought-after professionals. On behalf of their employers—that is, investment banks — they facilitate financial services and transactions, such as mergers, acquisitions, debt/equity financing, and initial public offerings, for their client companies.
Investment bankers help companies assess their positioning and provide defense to managements for their policies and decisions.
Outside investment banking, people speculate wildly about the “glamorous” and “fashionably hectic” lives and “all-you-can-imagine” perks that bankers enjoy.
An old meme about “What people think I do, and what I really do as an investment banker” shows through different illustrations what their lives really. The illustrations show their families thinking that bankers rake in all the moolah for just sitting at important meetings in their polished suits, friends thinking they party all night, and society thinking they roll in their beds littered with money at the end of their workday. The final illustration, “What I really do,” just shows a computer screen with an Excel sheet open.
While analysts may work 70-80 hours or more a week, associates do 65-80 hours most weeks, a little less if they work in a capital market group. Associates do earn big, with base salaries of $140k-$180K and total compensation of $250k-$400K, with good perks.
Alright, back to what you came here for. We imagine a day in the life of an investment banker in the US, an associate in a post-MBA role.
A day in the life of an investment banker
6 am – 8 am
The alarm goes off around 6 am. Your first priority is to check your email on your phone. Is there a message from a senior colleague asking you to review or recalculate something or revise a presentation or a part of the pitch book? You may also have a client’s query.
But most other messages may be “routine,” such as one from a member of your deal team about the announcement of a transaction the previous evening, which you highlight for more research and reading later in the day.
You may have the luxury of an extra hour in bed if you had to work late into the early morning the previous day or because the US markets open only at 9.30 am.
As an investment banking associate, you may often find time for a power workout at the gym, a shower, and a good breakfast before you are on your way to the office.
But if your group is in the last stages of an active deal, or if you didn’t complete what you were doing the evening before, you better be in the office early, well before the bosses arrive.
8 am – 10 am
You drive to office if you live not too far from your office, or more likely, take a taxi. If you don’t have to drive, you check if there are any new emails and browse through WSJ, Merger Market, Bloomberg, etc., for the latest news in your industry. Is there anything worth forwarding to your team?
You also try to get a quick peek at general news and sports, because you can’t do that at the office, as your bank, like a few other banks, has put up a firewall to save you from “distracting websites.” You quickly go back to work mode.
10 am – 11 am
On reaching your office, you go to the company cafeteria for a breakfast, such as oatmeal or cornflakes with banana and honey/milk, if you are the health-conscious type. You have a quick chat with John at the counter.
You check your inbox again. There’s a message from a VP requesting a quick meeting on an upcoming M&A pitch or a walk-through on the details of a potential acquisition strategy you proposed to a telecom client a couple of days ago, which is your “active/live deal.”
Now you need to include his suggestions on an alternative strategy he has proposed.
A senior colleague may also ask you to drop by for a review of the work of a new analyst: you try to see this task as professionally as possible without having someone fired right after you have given your analysis.
11 am – 12 noon
At 11, you attend a once-a-fortnight meeting hosted by your group, including all your colleagues, to discuss ongoing projects, deals that are about to come through, market trends, and meetings and other client engagements planned for the week ahead.
At the meeting, your group head gives a 15-minute briefing on these topics, which gives you an opportunity to gather some market intelligence and insight into your clients’ thinking.
After the group head has winded up his speech, you and the others share information on the status of pending projects, information that others may benefit from, industry/market anecdotes, and upcoming team events including group outings.
At 12, you are called to sit-in at a meeting between a VP and the managing director who have been in initial discussions with a family-owned media business to help it sell one of its portfolio companies.
You need to finalize the pitch book as soon as possible so that it is ready for the next meeting with the prospective client, whenever that is scheduled, perhaps next week or the week after that. This may well become your next active deal.
Most mornings are usually on the slow side and more typical than your work in the afternoon. Senior staff utilize the morning hours to go through the work put in by their teams the previous day.
And your analyst colleagues are still working on the revisions to presentation/pitch-book on an active deal that you suggested the night before and the VP’s suggestions you passed on to them this morning.
12.30 pm – 1.30 pm
Work isn’t too hectic today, and you go for a leisurely lunch at a nearby deli or your company cafeteria on the top floor of your building. You decide there’s time for a quick post-lunch walk around the block, to get a bit of sunlight and freshen your mind.
At companies that have developed a culture of mentorship, you may join a senior colleague from another group in your company for a lunch out and discuss your plans for the year ahead and your career progression. Of course, you may get this opportunity only twice a year or so.
On busy days and seasons, you may go to a deli/cafeteria and get a takeaway or just pick up something from the lunch cart to eat at your desk with a colleague. Bankers at the same level in the hierarchy tend to herd together during lunch: analysts sit down with other analysts, and associates with other associates.
1.30 pm – 3 pm
Afternoons are mainly for work on your active/live deal. Each associate works on an active deal and starts the afternoon session reviewing the revised presentation or pitch-book with corrections made by analysts. Now all parts of the pitch book, such as market valuation and strategies, look good.
Before you mark it to a senior colleague, you go over it once again, to see if all your changes have been done and there are no more corrections to be carried out. This may be a part of an M&A deal that involves millions or even billions of dollars, and you don’t want to leave in minor errors that may bring down your entire team. [Read this M&A case interview.]
This also may be the time that you get a call from the client company’s CFO, suggesting that the revenue from a unit proposed to be acquired appears somewhat overestimated. You promise to get down to the work and make any changes after a comprehensive review.
You need a break, and call a few colleagues together for coffee and snack at the corner bakery. While coming back, you are already thinking of the CFO’s revenue question and decide you should get to it immediately as it is an active deal.
3.30 pm – 5.30pm
The moment you walk into your office, you phone rings. It is the CEO of a pharmaceutical company that you met last week. She’s not happy with the estimate of the long-term savings and profit potential of her company after the proposed installation of new packing machinery, and wants the figure to be reviewed/revised it as soon as possible.
Thankfully, she has her own suggestions and wants you to be join a conference call with her senior colleagues in an hour. “You may review my suggestions and include them as soon as possible as I have a board meeting first thing next week,” she adds.
Now you are starting to get a headache with planning for the current/active deal, a future deal, and a past deal. At the desk, you close your eyes and meditate. You need two minutes for yourself.
But you realize that the direct call to you from the pharma CEO means that she trusts you and your company and you also get a chance to learn how corporate leaders think of business. It is an opportunity to make invaluable professional contacts for the future.
You go over your estimates and other aspects of the project and be ready for the call scheduled for 4 p.m. At the last minute, the CEO’s office notifies you of a 30-minute delay in the conference call.
5.30 pm – 6.30 pm
After the call with the pharmaceutical CEO ends around 5.30 pm, you are lucky to get some quick time with your seniors involved in the project, and get their approval for the changes proposed. With some discussion, they agree to the changes and give the go-ahead for the finalization of the strategy.
But you decide to first work on the active deal and include the alternative strategy proposed by the VP for the telecom client. Going through the suggestions again, you realize you need the assistance of your analyst and Graphics to prepare a final pitch book.
6.30 pm – 7.30 pm
You recall with a start that you have to attend a training program on debt products and the debt market at 6.30. A former banker has been invited to provide the training, which is organized once or twice a month.
A range of skillsets for associates is planned to be covered, and you walk into the training room worrying about your pending tasks but with expectations of learning something useful.
7.30 pm – 9.30 pm
After the training is over at 7.30 pm, you run back to your desk and turn your attention to preparing the final documents for the pharma firm. You make some of the changes suggested but feel you need the fresh perspective of a new day to finalize the documents for the firm. You also need to meet the VP with the final draft before lunch tomorrow.
You sit back and relax for a moment, and begin to harbor thoughts of leaving office early and catching dinner with your best friend and former colleague who recently returned from a vacation in the Middle East.
But you are a workaholic and want to take another close look at the figures before meeting the VP tomorrow. Dinner with buddy has to wait for another day.
9.30 pm-11.30 pm
Enough for the day. You have gone through most of the figures but need to return to them the next morning. At 10 pm, you are up from your seat, telling yourself that any new emails can wait till you get home.
Your day would have been longer if you were in the closing cycles of a couple of active deals or if you were part of a high-intensity deal. In that case, you would have ordered dinner along with colleagues and had it at office with them. Work would have then continued till late, perhaps the early hours of the next day.
11.30 pm – 12.30 am
But tonight you are in luck. You can have dinner at home, with a takeaway. But you need to first collect your clothes from a dry-cleaner on the way: you have a business trip to a potential client the day after tomorrow and need to pack for a couple of days.
You reach home, and while having dinner, catch up on the latest news. Netflix is strictly for the weekend. To bed by 12.30 am: you can comfortably get in your seven hours, as you plan to reach office only by 10 am tomorrow.
MBA Crystal Ball has has helped many clients get into the top MBA programs for investment banking. Several are working on Wall Street and other investment banking hubs. Drop us an email if you need professional help with your MBA applications: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com
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References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12