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Effort/reward ratio: where to work in finance if you don't want to work too hard

Banking is hard work. If you don't want to work hard, don't work in banking. That's long been the message that banks and bankers have put about to the world at large. Nor is it likely to change. Last months' tragic death of Moritz Erhardt, the 21 year Bank of America intern who died after unconfirmed reports that he worked '72 hours straight', has shone a light on the crazy hours worked by some interns, but is unlikely to change anything fundamental. "Erhardt was an anomaly," the head of graduate recruitment at one international bank told us. "Interns have been overworked for years and no one died. There won't be any alterations because of this."

Erhardt worked in M&A at a U.S. bank, a combination synonymous with all-nighters and lost weekends. However, not all banks and not all jobs within finance require the same levels of commitment. While most finance jobs have become more arduous in recent years (take equity research, which used to be a solitary role for bookish types but now involves far more travel and marketing), senior finance professionals and recruiters say you can still work to live if you're careful what you do and where you choose to do it.

Jobs in equity capital markets 

Jobs in equity capital markets (ECM) pay well. ECM bankers can easily earn six figures and senior ECM bankers can earn seven figures, but practitioners say the hours are less than in M&A.

"I've worked in ECM and in M&A," the head of ECM at a U.S. bank in London told us. "ECM is definitely easier."

While M&A bankers pride themselves on offering a bespoke, labour-intensive service to clients, the ECM banker we spoke to said his colleagues have an easier time because they can typically use existing templates for IPOs and rights issues. "ECM is about churning through the existing system - it's more process driven."

(Related articles:

Secret perks and perils of working for SocGen, J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs 

Meet the happiest investment bank on the street - no, it's not Goldman Sachs

Desperate banker identifies redundancy proof class of jobs in banking. )

Jobs at captive fund management firms 

Roles at captive fund management firms - fund managers running in-house funds for insurance companies or big pension funds - have also been a traditional sinecure in financial services. Fund managers in these firms have an assured pool of money to manage and are absolved of marketing duties required of manages at houses which need to attract investors. Or at least that's the theory.

"The pressures may be slightly lower if you work at a captive fund, but more of this work is being put out to tender and that means that even in captive funds people are having to prove themselves," one fund industry consultant told us.

Richard Parkhouse, a director at PwC, said it's outdated to think fund managers have an easier time of it generally. "Fund management used to be a 9-5 job, but that's disappeared with international competition. It's become a much more demanding industry to work in."

Jobs in fund accounting

Lewis Talbot, programme director at City Internships and former head of equity and multi-asset investment at Blackrock, said his time in the asset management industry inclined him to think that fund accounting was a good career choice.

"In my experience, the fund accountants had the best lives," said Talbot. "They were paid very, very well and although the hours weren't entirely at their discretion, they weren't far off. They often also got the chance to take a sabbatical to a fund accounting centre like the Cayman Islands, where they had a very, very nice standard of living."

Robert Walters' most recent salary survey suggests fund accountants in London can earn salaries of up to £65k, with heads of fund accounting earning salaries of £100k+. However, pay is far less in near-shore fund accounting centres like Ireland and Luxembourg.

Jobs in French banks 

If you want a life outside work, you could also try working for a French bank. Although French banks are notorious for paying badly compared to American banks, they're widely considered to offer a far higher standard of living. This is confirmed by the recent Vault survey which solicited comments from banking insiders on the advantages and disadvantages of working for their firms: bankers at SocGen and BNP both celebrated their good work life balance.

"If you need to leave early one afternoon you can," a banker at BNP told Vault. By comparison, Goldman Sachs was said to involve "insane working hours," while Deutsche Bank was very competitive and people there were treated, "like machines."

No formula for a life of leisure with luxuries

On the whole, however, good money and bearable hours may be more about the individual than the job or the institution. "There are no jobs in finance where you can say that you'll always get big money without working too hard," said Jonathan Nicholson, managing director of recruitment firm Astbury Marsden. "If you want a good lifestyle, it's usually about tenure and the success you've had over the years."

For many, the banker with the best lifestyle in recent times probably remains Yannick Mallegol, the former head of equity derivatives sales at Barclays who combined a banking job with professional Ferrari racing. Unfortunately, Mallegol left banking in 2011. All good things come to an end.

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • To
    5 September 2013

    I find the comments about ECM very curious. Sure, it's not as mentally challenging as, say, M&A but the hours are brutal (or at least have been in the last 12 months; it's a mix of market hours (i.e, very early starts) and IBD hours (late nights and weekend). I'd avoid it like the plague if work life balance is what someone was looking for

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