Life after banking: lessons to learn from when it doesn't work out...
A conversation with three ex-investment bankers: Here Georgie Banfield has a very frank conversation with Will, Rob and Beth about how they got into it, why they left, and importantly what lessons they learnt along the way.
What made you pursue a career in banking initially?
Will - The money. I had no idea what I wanted to do whilst at Uni (Cambridge) so I picked up a career guide and found the one that had the highest average starting salary and salary projection.
Rob - I had a great time at University (Oxford), but I stayed a long time as I did a Masters too, so I had a lot of student debt! In the end I went for the best paid job I could get, and somehow they gave me the job. I got rid of the student debts within 3-4 years so it worked well from that perspective.
Beth – Yes I’d say for me it was partly the money, but also the idea that I’d be really using my brain. I was the only one of any of my family and friends that went to Oxbridge – I've always been known as the geek! But I really like working with people and networking too so when a role came up within a private equity coverage team sitting within M&A, I went for it. It was by chance really – I had no idea this type of role existed in banking but I was constantly browsing job boards and felt really lucky to have found it as it really suited me.
What prompted your change in career direction?
Will – The hours I worked and lack of a life especially for the little financial reward we got during the recession was what made me leave. It was hard being an Analyst in 2008 with all the financial uncertainty and in our team the junior team members weren’t paid a bonus so I handed in my resignation. I couldn’t work in a business that didn’t support us or recognise the work we put in. I realise that was a long time ago and I hope things would be different now.
Rob - Getting canned from investment banking 3 years ago helped me think about it! I think it was clear to them and me that this wasn’t the right industry for me. Before then I'd vaguely thought about a move into consulting, but was always too busy to make it happen. After that I didn't even consider going back into it. I wanted a job that meant I had more work-life balance, so I could spend more time with family and friends, and still get stimulation from bright people and challenging work.
Beth – I know that Will and Rob are saying about having little time for personal life but that wasn’t enough to push me out. I certainly worked long hours, but so did my husband who also worked in the City, so we never would have seen each other during the week anyway! We had met at University and when we started working, we made a pact that we wouldn’t work on the weekends and for the most part we managed it, so we really used that time to focus on seeing family and friends. We just accepted that Monday to Friday would be a write off. And actually, just by the nature of my role, I was constantly out and about networking and meeting new people. And I was lucky that my team were all brilliant too – if you find the right one then they very much become your family. In the end it was a really hard decision to move but somewhat taken out of my hands as 5 years ago my husband was offered a job abroad. It was an offer we really couldn’t refuse.
How was your background viewed in interview when you were looking to change career paths?
Will – I’ve never had a problem securing interviews so I reckon it helped that I had it on my CV. Also I’ve got a wealth of examples of how I’ve dealt with challenging situations, learnt a new skill quickly, worked hard under pressure – I've got answers to all those interview questions!
Rob - Helpful, because it is seen as a hard-working industry with high barriers to entry. But also an obstacle as total pay is high in banking. And I think sometimes people outside the industry can feel a bit intimidated by ex-investment bankers – they make assumptions about the kind of person you are, which aren’t always true.
Beth – I agree with the others – it’s definitely helped me get interviews. I’ve interviewed for quite a few non-banking roles and I've always got the sense that people are quite intrigued by what bankers do. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding of what investment banking means outside of the industry. Everyone has these assumptions of what you do but because the term is so vast those assumptions are pretty much always wrong, so it’s always interesting having those conversations.
What does your role entail now?
Will - I'm a trainee financial adviser as well as technical expert. I write blogs and do some consulting on the side. Prior to that I've been an investment analyst, an investment risk quant modeller and a risk manager. I guess I'm still searching for that ideal role, but I really love the variety in my life. I guess constantly learning new skills and facing new challenges is my ideal role!
Rob – I work in financial communications now. My role is mostly advising companies on their reputation - that can take many, many forms, from plain and simple good news, to very challenging situations! It’s different every day and I love it.
Beth – My husband’s career means we move quite often so it’s hard for me to get an office job, just to leave after 12 months. So I've ended up setting up a few of my own businesses. It has meant I've had the flexibility to choose my own hours and can work from anywhere. In banking I was constantly dealing with business founders and investors, so I guess some of their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit rubbed off on me.
Has your banking background complimented your current career and could you be doing your current role without having worked in banking first?
Will – Working in banking helped teach me to think outside the box and look for different edges / USPs. It helped me realise whatever tough work or hours I was facing, I've probably faced harder times. It gave me confidence to speak up, put my views forward and be more assertive, which has usually helped me stand out from others. It has also served as a reminder not to let work get in the way of life. I’m sure I could be doing what I do now without having worked in investment banking, but it definitely gave me a great foundation.
Rob – It does give you good habits, like work ethic, working with demanding clients (and colleagues!), and getting on with all sorts of different people. Pitching and marketing were very helpful for getting an idea of how (and how not) to 'sell'. There are also technical skills like working on excel, and PowerPoint. I picked up some bad habits from banking too, mind! If I had my time again, I'd never stay past a certain hour just to get a free dinner or to be seen at my desk.
Beth – My 5 years in banking taught me so much. I think I probably could be doing what I do now, but definitely not as well. I’ve always worked hard, but it really taught me a huge amount about dealing with different people, objection handling, business development, confidence, time management…the list goes on and in many ways these are really important life-skills too. Oh and my excel skills are pretty good too! I also really understand how businesses work and can find my way around accounts and that’s been invaluable when I've set up my own business.
What did your career in banking teach you?
Will – Money is not the most important thing. I've now walked away from money way more times than I've walked towards it! It also taught me that life is always more important than work - there's an infinite amount of work but you only have a limited time to live your life
Rob – 1) The best people in business are good at working with other people; 2) there is no substitute for hard work; 3) efficiency is really important; 4) if you are tired, hungry and grumpy...take a break and do something else for a bit, then go back to work.
Beth – I have always had a strong work-hard-play-hard attitude. When you’re working, be efficient, do your best, immerse yourself in what you are doing and learn as much as you can from everyone you meet. When you’re not working – make the most of it and take care of yourself. I’m definitely better at work when I've enjoyed my non-working time. Finding the balance it key.
What is the best career advice you have ever been given?
Will - Don't be afraid to start again. I think people often find it hard to move away from a job or career once they've reached a certain level, even if they don't like it. There's always loads of different opportunities out there and you could be better off even if there is some short-term pain
Rob – Try to be smart, work hard, and be nice - "SWAN".
Beth – Make the most of every situation you find yourself in. If you hate the work you are doing or if you make a mistake – identify the lessons and learn from them. There's always a way to turn a bad situation into a good one.