Jumping on Wall Street Oasis (or other similar website) always gives me a good laugh. Don’t get me wrong, I think WSO is brilliant, it gets funny when I get to the whining from another disillusioned analyst talking about how much he hated his job, or the unreasonable bosses, or mind numbing work, and so on and so forth. Just the pure short-sightedness and lack of maturity that recent-grads seem to have lately. I know what it’s like to be in analyst hell, 20 hour workdays, going 2-3 days without sleeping, skipping meals, and getting yelled at. Heck I started at a time when you could still throw stuff at your analyst and berate them as needed.
One day I thought about why reading about said whining was so funny, and realized the following things.
1) Yes, banking is not what it used to be, not even close
- Banking used to be the modern-day-equivalent of being knighted. Like being adopted into an exclusive line of royal blood, and being granted a large plot of land, servants, and many whores (pardon my language, been watching game of thrones). Everything you saw in the movies and read about in books was true. It truly meant jumping to the top of the food chain by signing on the dotted line and collecting a nice bonus.
- As banks merged, consolidated and IPO’d (I take Goldman’s 1999 IPO as one of the most important milestones), there was greater public scrutiny of banks’ activities, what they expensed, and their policies. So you can’t come in thinking you’re going to get the Gordon Gekko experience (kids are starting to figure that out now).
2) The economy is shit
- But just in case, for the slow ones out there (and those still complaining), lower banking fees means lower pay, means cutting people, means fewer people on staff to handle deals including MDs going out and chasing low-fee deals, means lower marginal utility, means you still don’t get paid properly but you work just as much, means your life is shit. Economy = your life = shit. Deal with it, we live in a high beta industry.
3) Today, knowledge is cheap and experience is priceless
- Nowadays, it’s much too easy to learn anything. Anybody with an internet connection can go out there and figure out how to do a DCF or figure out what EBITDA is etc. But very few people have the maturity and experience to advise a client.
- It’s something like war in that everyone can shoot a rifle downrange and explain free cash flow. It’s only on the intern and analyst battlefield that you can sort out the real bankers. So you need to pay your dues with a few years in the field, as the “apprenticeship” in practice now takes longer.
So add all that up, and reading about complaints is funny because the analyst process simply weeds out the weak bunch. It’s similar to when someone volunteers to become a Navy SEAL, or BOPE (pictured), or other elite military program. You’re signing up for the pain, to join one of the most elite and selective jobs in the world in your early 20s. You have to earn things, be tested, and prove yourself. You aren’t forced to live in the jungle for 3 days without food, water, or shelter just for fun. It’s to test your physical ability, mental capacity and ability to stay sharp, and to test how dedicated you are the cause.
Now I’m not saying that banking is 100% awesome, you have to get a bit lucky. That is, if you get into a great group with great bankers and perform well, you could be set for life by doing good work for a rainmaker, and following him/her to other banks, buysides, and boards. Alternatively, you can land in a sweatshop, or some 7th-ring-of-hell low-tier bank and just be enslaved for a 2-3 year period out of college (I’ve seen it happen… to my cousin).
If you can survive the analyst hell, accept and learn to cope with the responsibility of being a banker, approach the job with some maturity, and have the right personality… banking is an extremely rewarding job. Just like any other job, so long as you’re interested in the subject matter. In the right spot, you will continuously be learning, engaging with good and interesting people, create real value for companies, and begin to make a difference, while always being challenged. Oh, and if things are good, you get compensated for your hard work.
Those of you out there and suffering through the pain of finance now, keep your heads up. Survival right now is the most important thing you can do, especially you young guns. Because while you are surviving, you are building up invaluable experience. And once the economy gets better and the demand for your skills grows, you will be among the scarce few that has weathered the storm, and can ride the wave. Just make sure this is what you want to do, so you don’t waste your time.