Skills Required To Become An Investment Banker – A Guide By An IIM Bangalore Student

As the summer placement season approaches, many of you would be fantasizing about being an Investment Banker. We have all seen the money, cars, girls etc. in The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short, etc. You would have also heard about the terrifying fact of working 18-20 hours each day with no holidays even on weekends. Most of you would want to be an Investment Banker for one of the 3 reasons;

  • Money
  • Passion for finance and number crunching
  • It is one of the most coveted jobs on campus

While these reasons may suffice to motivate you and make you work hard to get an internship in an Investment Bank, they will hardly be sufficient to get you through the 2 months of your banking internship. Read on to find out why…

Unlike most things in life, the hype around Investment Banking regarding the no. of working hours is quite true. When you hear about working for 18 hours each day without any holidays, trust me, it is going to be 18 hours each day without a holiday on the weekends. The earliest you will ever leave office is at 1 a.m. at night, that too on extremely “lucky” days. Hence, let me walk you through some of the skills that are extremely essential to be an Investment Banker. You can then check for yourselves how many of these skills you actually possess:

Hard Work (Grunt Work)

Investment Banking is hard work. You are paid your high salaries not because you will do something ground breaking. Your time is being bought. You are being paid for the ability to work for 18 hours with the same level of focus and concentration. In the 16th hour when you are completely exhausted, you are expected to be extremely meticulous in your work and not make any mistake of any kind whatsoever. Even after you manage this, you are expected to work for 2 more hours with the same undeterred focus. If you want to be a successful Investment Banker, you must be willing to do this day in and day out.

Prioritization

I am sure everyone thinks he or she is great at prioritization. Well, this profession takes prioritization to a completely new level. Unlike other internships where you work on just 1 project for 2 months, in Investment Banking, you will be working on multiple deals with multiple teams at the same time. There will be 3 people who will give you some work which is extremely urgent and all 3 of them will want it in the next 3 hours at max (usually it is 1-2 hours!). You do not have an option of failing to deliver on any of these. You need to plan your time in less than 10 secs and start working on finishing the tasks immediately. You cannot stop. If you face a bottleneck, you must immediately switch to the other 2 tasks. Your prioritization skill will be tested and tested to their limits.

Honesty

This might seem ironic to some, but honesty is very important; in the sense that you are upfront about your concerns. When someone allots you some work, you must listen very attentively, make notes and get your concerns addressed then and there. People will always be willing to help you, but no one would take it the right way if you go and ask something that they already explained to you. Furthermore, you must be honest about how much work you have on your plate if you start feeling the pressure too much. Everyone understands that your bandwidth is limited, but only if you let them know. Honestly.

Dealing with Pressure

 There will be a lot of pressure each and every day. You will have 15 minute deadlines, 1 hour deadlines, 1 day deadlines. You will always be working on something that is “extremely urgent”. You must be able to handle the pressure and not make any mistakes. Also, especially as an intern, you will always get the most unwanted work on the banking floor. A lot of the work you get will be extremely menial in nature. You must have the patience and the ability to realize that the onus to learn is on you. You must wait to get some good quality work and maximize when you get that. In the meanwhile, you can always ask questions and try to understand the deal in its entirety even if you are working on just a small menial portion of the deal.

How to say “NO”

I have saved the best for the last. This is by far the most important skill in Investment Banking. How to say no. If you fail to do this, the work will just pile on and you will never be able to deliver. The worst impression to make is if you accept some work and fail to deliver. There is nothing worse than this. Hence, you must know how to say no. More importantly, you should know “when to say no”. And even more importantly, you must know “whom to say no to”. This is a matter of tact and judgement. Master this skill and you will be able to take care of the other skills quite easily.

This is just a brief handbook of Investment Banking skills required. While you follow these, it is also important to consciously evaluate whether you actually love this profession and want to pursue it for the foreseeable future. You must not get swayed by the external factors (money and glamour). You must internally feel the passion to be an Investment Banker. Only then will you be successful.

Amol Aranake

Chartered Accountant May 2016 IIM Bangalore PGP 2017-19

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