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Are these the most exploited juniors in finance?

If you're interning in an investment bank this summer, you're probably prepared to work some long hours.  You're probably also fine with working 70 hours or so each week given that you will be earning a pro-rated version of full time analysts' salaries that's likely to be around £4k ($5.2k) in the front office.  But how would you feel if you were doing an internship in finance whilst being paid nothing at all?

This is the way of the world at Tobin & Company Investment Banking Group LLC, a mid-market investment banking boutique in Charlotte, North Carolina, which takes on banking interns and analysts pays them zero in return for the opportunity to gain actual deal experience and embellish their résumés.

The company, which was founded in 2001 by Justine Tobin, a former Bank of America MD and Goldman Sachs associate, makes no attempt to hide its business model. "We teach people how to work, how to excel, about the investment banking industry. It’s not about studying and taking tests. It’s about doing," Tobin tells us. Is this akin to an unpaid internship? "It is," she says.

Despite the absence of pay, Tobin & Co. doesn't take just anyone. It interviews all its hires and has recruited around four interns this summer. The company offers both summer and winter internships along with an unpaid "analyst program" typically lasting six to eight months, or until analysts find jobs elsewhere. 10 people are usually hired onto the analyst program each year and participants get to, 'build financial models and Excel worksheets, update pitch books and write offering documents for multiple clients.'

Far from being exploitative of its young trainees, Tobin says the company has a mission to make the world a better place. The goal of the company's program is to, "help change the world of investment banking. Or just the global work world in general," she tells us. "We train people to be better, kinder, more ethical investment bankers. Our interns go out in to the work world and hopefully make a positive impact for the rest of their working lives with the help of the training that they received at Tobin."

Do Tobin's juniors agree? None of them responded to our invitation to comment for this article (although one said Justine wouldn't want analysts talking to reporters). Tobin has mostly good reviews on Glassdoor (four people loved it, one person didn't), although it has long been disparaged on the Wall Street Oasis forums.

This could simply be bad feeling from anonymous ex-employees though. Tobin herself says 90% of her unpaid analysts go on to secure full time jobs in finance and that those who don't go into things like the Peace Corps, tech, or the U.S. army. "We think that these outcomes are just as powerful as the ones in the world of finance. Some of our interns learn that they don’t like investment banking, or even finance, by working with us, and choose another field based on what they learned here," she says.

Although Wall Street Oasis claims that Tobin juniors rarely get to work on live deals, Tobin's own Twitter account suggests there is some action to be had there. Tobin & Co tweeted that a client, Roberts Properties, made an offer for Brookside Apartments LLC on June 28, for example. Prior to that, it Tweeted that it closed a deal in June 2016.

Nonetheless, some of Tobin's ex-analysts are certainly employed at major banks. Tobin & Co. boasts a big list of companies who hire its trainees. However, we only count around 17 ex-Tobinites currently at well known organizations on LinkedIn, including someone at Goldman Sachs, someone at UBS and someone at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Wells Fargo seems to be one Tobin's biggest employers. Is that worth giving up your summer for free? Maybe.


Photo credit: Wendy in the Wheel by Carrie Cizauskas is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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