Investment bankers are typically the highest-paid workers in the finance industry; high salaries are most prevalent even among younger employees. The starting salary for the typical investment banker exceeds that of most other finance positions, but working in this field has its challenges. Aspiring finance professionals may wish to examine whether a career in investment banking is worth it.

key takeaways

  • While the compensation is high, so are the pressures in the investment banking profession. 
  • Investment bankers work as many as 100 hours a week and are under constant time pressure.
  • Despite the traditional culture of conspicuous work, many investment banks are re-assessing workloads and encouraging employees to maintain less-stressful schedules.

Investment Banker Work Environment

An investment banker works with companies and government entities that raise capital, and bankers also provide advice regarding mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations. Traditionally, investment bankers work long hours, sometimes as many as 90 to 100 hours per week. Bankers are under constant time pressure because projects often have tight deadlines.

However, the banking culture also values and admires people who work long hours, and many firms have a culture of conspicuous work. This term refers to a corporate culture in which each employee notices the hours worked by everyone else, and this situation creates a competition to take on more work at all costs. A reliable banker is given more work, and that leads to a work schedule that often becomes not manageable.

The work environment takes a physical and emotional toll on many people who work in the industry. Workers may be sleep-deprived, and the lack of sleep can lead to other health problems. To cope with the demanding hours, investment bankers may use excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol, and some workers become addicted to alcohol or drugs. Other employees can develop eating disorders.

Recent Deaths Impact Investment Banking

In 2015, two young investment bankers took their own lives. Shortly before their deaths, both workers suffered from chronic overwork and lack of sleep, and both workers reached out to family members to explain how much they were working. These recent tragedies led many firms to change their company policy on work hours. Some firms enforce a protected weekend policy, which means that bankers cannot work on specific weekends. Nearly all companies are now asking workers to say no to additional work if that work will result in too many hours at the office.

Ironically, recent studies have shown that overwork leaves bankers less productive, which means that more hours are not generating the same level of quality work. A common rule of thumb is that a banker should not work on more than two banking deals at one time, or the workload is not manageable.

76,000

The typical base starting salary of an investment banker, not counting signing or performance bonuses.

Traits of Successful Bankers

Finance professionals should consider whether they have the personal traits needed to succeed in investment banking. In addition to the long hours, a banker must be able to handle stress well and work on multiple deadlines at once. The banker also needs to speak out and turn away work, if the existing workload is too demanding. Investment bankers must be able to initiate projects on their own and manage time well.

Alternatives to Investment Banking

Investing banking firms traditionally hire new associates from the best MBA programs in the country. But, many of these students are no longer considering banking as a career. Elite MBA programs, such as the Harvard Business School, are seeing more graduates moving into tech startups and other fields, such as private equity and corporate finance. This shift has also pushed banking firms to assess the number of hours each banker works, and if those hours are justified, given client demands.

The Bottom Line

If a professional is not willing to make these sacrifices and is not primarily driven by money, that worker may not succeed as an investment banker. Finance professionals who need a balance between work and personal life should not work in investment banking.