Accordion Partners Seeks Investment Bankers With A Twist: Limited Term Assignments For A New Employment Mentality

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There's a new kid on the investment banking block-Accordion Partners. They offer investment banking and other services to private equity portfolio companies, I-banks and other firms who may require limited-term transaction services or CFO support. And Accordion is on the hunt, looking for bankers who'll warm to an entirely "new model in finance," says company CEO and co-founder Nick Leopard.

Leopard, who founded Accordion with partner Andrew Blechman only 21 months ago, says the firm is benefiting from the recent shift to a more flexible workforce for highly-skilled positions.

A new report from McKinsey and Co. observes that the American workforce overall is becoming more and more characterized by "disagreggated" jobs, with one executive explaining, "With our move to contingent workers, we need people that come in at short notice and immediately begin work-this usually means people with specific skills and experience." Last month's report predicts swift growth in part-time and contingent employment that will allow firms to bring back some services positions from overseas.

From Leopard, though, one gets the impression that the banker-as-project-worker model he's promoting (he eschews the term "temp") really calls for a specific type of professional-sort of a hybrid I-banker and entrepreneur-a type most Wall Streeters with five, 10, or even 15 years of experience haven't much imagined for themselves before. The typical the Wall Street worker still works 80 hours on Wall Street, or doesn't work at all.

"One woman on our staff ranked top of her investment banking class at Merrill Lynch every year and ran a photography business taking pictures at weddings and kids parties on the weekends," says Leopard. The Accordion model has fit well for her since she's now able to take on engagements working with private equity portfolio companies or $10 million emerging growth companies, and say "I only want to take on assignments Monday to Friday."

Today, Accordion has close to 2,500 banker resumes on file, and 24 people on its current roster of qualified banking professionals. The company has new offices in SoHo, not far from Leopard's home in trendy downtown New York City. Here, he and Blechman are busy interviewing some 4 to 5 people a week to find people who fit the Accordion profile because "it fits their lifestyle," Leopard says." We are interviewing so many to find the right fit," he says.

The pay is actually quite good, Leopard told eFinancial Careers in an interview.

As project workers, Accordion professionals work an average 60-hour week instead of the 80 or more hours they'd put in at the big banks, and since they don't get bonuses, Accordion sets out to pay them as much as a bulge bracket banker would get throughout the year if that bonus were paid out evenly over 12 months. "Usually, associates and vice presidents make most of their pay in unpredictable year-end cash and/or stock payouts," says Leopard.

Instead, Accordion payments are "time based."

Consider, for instance, "someone making $300,000 at a bank, including a $100,000 base and working 90 hours a week. They're waiting till February to get their bonus-these days, who knows if it's even coming, and if it does you're getting a small amount of cash and lots of bank stock."

All-cash, no stock worries-and insurance, too.

At Accordion, however, "You could make $20,000 to 25,000 in cash per month for a 60-hour week, either on a per-assignment basis or by billing by the hour like a law firm or an accountant."

Accordion's people have access to the company's health benefits plan, which Accordion funds at 100% when bankers meeting "a determined assignment threshold," Leopard says. This comes along with the ability to choose their assignments and set their hours.

So, what kind of skill sets is Accordion seeking? Basically, the firm is hiring corporate finance, investment banking, and private equity professionals with 5 to 15 years of experience. It is looking for people "who can execute an M&A opportunity or help to support a capital raising exercise by putting together offering memos and investment presentations or building out a merger model on behalf of a venture capital based firm."

The I-banking associates and VPs in question tend to be the workhorses in any deal.

"Often, for the first time in their banking career, our people have direct career direct access to CFOs and VC partners, being their go-to research people," says Leopard.

Like Leopard, who spent several years at Bear Stearns on a specialized I-banking team where he focused on structuring and executing capital markets transactions on behalf of public and private companies; many of these candidates have names like Bear Stearns or Bank of America on their resumes.

Among Accordion's clients, meanwhile, are boutique banks "that would love someone who came out of Harvard and worked for JP Morgan for five years but they can't commit to that, given the volatility of deal flow throughout the year," as well as non-financial companies with an occasional need for talented bankers to help unravel and execute a complex, limited-term project.

"That's why I left the bank," he says. "...To bring not only Accordion professionals, but also myself a more manageable work/life balance in a highly entrepreneurial environment. Everyone involved in Accordion feels like they finally have control over their careers and are making a difference with the clients.

"I love building a team of highly personable and entrepreneurial banking professionals that have as much passion outside of the office as they do inside. We joke, throw the football or lacrosse ball around at the office, and often enjoy a few cold drinks together at the end of the day. It's like a really fun family at Accordion."

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