Guide to Investment Banking: Part 1of 3

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A job in investment banking remains one of the most enduring and sought after positions within the financial sector due to the potentially eye-popping financial rewards for key players.

But, those long-term rewards combined with recent banking industry changes have also made investment banking one of the toughest and most fiercely competitive fields to crack into within the financial services sector.

“They’re definitely unique jobs,” says Richard Deosingh, the regional manager in the New York office of Robert Half, the giant professional staffing agency. “It’s very fast-paced, and it’s not at all your typical 9-to-5 position. It’s long, long hours with big returns, if you can get into it.”

And that “if” is the biggest hurdle for those who have their hearts set on a career in investment banking.

What Is Investment Banking?

Investment banking is non-retail banking that generally serves corporate clients, governments and major institutional investors.

Household checking accounts and handy sidewalk ATMs are not the norm for these financial firms and clients, thank you.

Over the years, due to major regulatory changes and global market forces, the investment banking sector has changed a lot — so much so that someone who started out in investment banking in the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s can barely recognize the industry that it’s evolved into today.

Before major regulatory changes in the late 1990s, investment banks were usually smaller partnerships that were more associated with raising capital for IPOs, private placements, bonds, and giant merger and acquisition deals, among other things. As a result of these regulatory changes, today’s investment banking units are often housed inside giant banks that have separate retail banking operations.

In the modern era, investment banks are often huge publicly traded institutions that provide a host of investments services, including corporate finance, trading and research analysis.

However, the “core” of investment banking, strictly speaking, is still associated with raising capital and providing advice on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) — and that’s precisely the field many young investment banker wannabes often want to crack into when they think of careers in this lucrative sector.

A Day in the Life of an Investment Banker

Every job within an investment bank varies, usually depending on the seniority and specialties of individual personnel.

But if they’re all rowing together, the collective goal is to find and raise capital for clients, as well as come up with strategies and solutions to secure capital under the best terms possible for major IPOs, private placements, bond issuances, and M&A deals.

And all those deals are usually, at minimum, measured in the multimillion- and multibillion-dollar ranges. They most definitely don’t fall into the category of routine retail or small-business loans.

The jobs entail long, grueling hours of research into individual companies, industries, markets and even the entire economies of countries and continents, as investment bankers and their small armies of researchers try to measure the potential value and sizes of various transactions.

Investment bankers and their team members will also spend long hours on:

  • Courting potential clients
  • Traveling across the country and globe to research and secure deals

Ultimately, investment bankers are not only savvy about negotiating mergers and acquisitions and raising capital, but they must also be good with clients. In the end, they are salesmen and compete fiercely against each other for very high-stakes corporate business.

One important consideration: Investment bankers are on call 24/7. If a company makes a sudden move over a weekend to buy another firm, all members of an investment banking team had better be ready — on any day, at any time.

“It is a great business for the right person,” says F. Mark D’Annolfo, a former investment banker who’s now managing director of the Stephen D. Cutler Center for Investments and Finance at Babson College. “It is very entrepreneurial, and the work is often highly interesting and intellectually challenging. However, since these jobs often involve a great deal of travel and long hours, they are not for everyone.”

About the AuthorJay Fitzgerald is a business journalist based in Boston. Over the years, his articles have appeared in The Boston Globe, the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Herald and other publications.

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