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Why I switched out of M&A into fintech at J.P. Morgan

Elizabeth Polanco Aquino of J.P. Morgan

When I started my career as an investment banker at J.P. Morgan, it was months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers and height of the financial crisis. The already competitive sector to break into became a very challenging job to remain in. One of the most important skills I was learning was how to adapt to changing market conditions quickly to ensure our clients’ needs were met.

After three years of focusing on syndicated leveraged finance and then M&A, I decided to take the adaptable skill-set I had learned and apply it in a wider platform. I made an internal switch out of investment banking to help establish a new research-and-development group hoping to bring fintech innovation to the banking wholesale business.

Since then, I’ve been working to bring transformation to the firm via fintech, from creating new products to developing corporate partnerships with start-ups.

Getting into investment banking at J.P. Morgan

I was a double major in Economics and East Asian Languages and Literature with a concentration in Mandarin at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. J.P. Morgan did on-site info sessions as part of the investment banking recruitment process at my school. I attended these and met with campus recruiters to know about the roles they were looking to fill. In addition, I also attended a “Winning Women” event they hosted on campus, a company program designed to expose undergraduate women to female leaders in the firm. This event was followed up with a visit to New York to shadow bankers for a day. These activities helped me learn about the firm and the role before applying and getting an internship at the firm. I received a full time offer after my internship.

Investment Banking in New York, then London

My first role at J.P. Morgan was in the syndicated & leveraged finance group for technology, media and telecom based in New York in 2008. I performed credit and capital structure analyses to structure leveraged-loan and high-yield-bond transactions for financings of non-investment-grade clients such as IAC/InterActiveCorp and Ticketmaster.

In 2009, I moved to London to work in our M&A group covering natural resources companies across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, where I performed acquisition and sell advisory to top utilities and oil & gas companies in Europe such as Gas Natural Fenosa and GDF Suez.

Energy company Gas Natural Fenosa was going through the process of selling some of their gas and electricity generation, supply and distribution business in Spain, and I was involved in that process, which ended in separate sales to the Morgan Stanley Infrastructure,  GALP Energia, Red Eléctrica de España, and Alpiq Holding. Another client, GDF Suez, was also searching for investors to do an equity investment in its exploration and production (E&P) division. We advised the company on its multi-billion euro equity stake sale to the Chinese Investment Corporation, which was a significant milestone in cooperation between both businesses and regions.

I loved the intensity and fast-paced nature of the job, the incredible places I got a chance to travel to and the detail-oriented nature of the work required to build financing and acquisition models for clients. However, I was itching for something different.

I wanted to be involved in the success of the company in a more entrepreneurial role. I thought back to my first days at J.P. Morgan, a few months before the Lehman Brothers collapse and at the start of the financial crisis. Change had become a frequent word in our vocabulary and our ability to adapt frequently dictated success. I decided that I wanted to explore groups within the organization that were leading the charge in instilling transformational practices at the firm to explore it further.

Back to New York for fintech product development

I moved back to New York late in 2011 and became one of the founding members of the new product development team of our wholesale banking business. A three-person team came together and thought about the challenges at J.P. Morgan and the way the firm was reacting to disruption in the industry. We helped to set up a 40-person team of product managers, engineers and data scientists to transform the way we do business with innovative technologies.

Today, I am a VP and product manager in this newly formed group focused on the creation of new data products in our wholesale banking business.

Fintech transforming banking

My work has focused on creating new data products for the firm, specifically incorporating predictive analytics, machine learning technology, and APIs, to drive beneficial impact both for internal and external uses.

I’ve had some unbelievable experiences in my role: building first-of-their-kind technology products from conception to enterprise production, seeing my name listed as “inventor” in a patent application for the firm and developing partnerships with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

My advice to anyone looking at switching careers, groups or divisions is to focus on the company just as much as the roles you’re looking into. A firm’s value, standing and culture can help accelerate your career in a variety of roles you may not have explored before. For me, this meant an opportunity to live abroad in different cities, experience different businesses within banking and explore an innovative new role in product development.

Elizabeth Polanco Aquino is vice president and product manager at J.P. Morgan.

Photo courtesy of J.P. Morgan

AUTHORElizabeth Polanco Aquino Insider Comment

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