Investment Banking & Investment Management

Career Myths Debunked: Investment Banking

You don’t need to be a mathematical genius to succeed as an investment banker, but you do need to be prepared to put in the long hours!
Robin Seng
Corporate Advisory and Finance at Standard Chartered Bank

Myth 1: Living the high life

Most fresh graduates come into the industry with the expectation of embracing a lavish and extravagant lifestyle, but that is usually a misplaced dream. There is a need for lots of hard work if you are to thrive or even survive in the industry, and the real work that you are doing might not be as glamorous as it might seem from the outside.

Myth 2: You need to be very smart

Investment banking is about being smooth with numbers. Most of what you do usually requires only high school math and basic logic. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and maybe some simple percentages are usually the required skills.

But you do need to be detail-oriented and make sure that you don’t make mistakes on those numbers that you are putting down in your spreadsheets or slides. Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint are mainstays. 

Truth 1: You’re on call 24/7

With demanding clients and bosses, you can never really make plans for your weekends. You are always on the lookout for the next e-mail that might lead to changes in assumptions in your Excel models, which will in turn lead to further amendments in your PowerPoint slides. 

Truth 2:  Soft skills are needed

Soft skills – communication, negotiation, and interpersonal skills – are very important. It’s advisable also to brush up your presentation skills. 

As a junior, you are required to set up meetings and conference calls, and responding to multiple e-mail requests from internal teams and clients. In a day, lots of your time will be spent writing and talking to various stakeholders.

Breaking into the industry – internships and graduate programmes

Most bankers would want to hire people whom they have worked with, and especially so for fresh graduates. Hence, that is the usual route for people to break into the industry.

If you are able to perform well and impress your seniors and superiors during an internship, you stand a good chance of conversion to an analyst upon graduation. Preparation for interviews is an essential step towards getting an internship in the investment banking team.

Alternatively, some banks do not hire analysts directly into their investment banking team, and you will need to go through their graduate programmes to stand a chance of working in the investment banking team. 

Why do it?

Given all the long hours and sacrifices that you would have to make in your personal life, why would someone decide to join investment banking?

For me, it is all about the exposure and network that you can get right from the junior level. That is something that you will not be able to achieve in other professions. If you want to get into fields like private equity, hedge funds, or venture capital – or go to a top business school – investment banking is definitely one of the best ways to do it.