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Which career will earn you the most by the age of 30?

Pay in banking vs. consulting vs. tech vs. medicine vs. law

Take your pick

We've been here before (many times), but a new and significant discussion point has been added to the perennial debate about which career is best if your principal objective is earning money, and so we are addressing the issue again. Which career will best set you up financially in the first 10 years of your working life?

A mysterious spreadsheet says that, yep, it's still banking. Circulated on forums like Wall Street Oasis and Blind just after Christmas, it suggests that over a 10-year period working in investment banking (ie. M&A and equity and debt capital markets roles, not banking tech and not quant roles) for a top tier bank you can earn a cumulative $3.7m. This apparently compares to: $1.3m in medicine; $3.5m in software engineering at a FAANG company; $2.3m in management consulting at a McKinsey, Bain or BCG; and $2.1m in big law at a Cravath Swaine and Moore or Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Created by someone who describes himself as a first-year analyst in an investment bank, the figures are for high achievers only. This is purportedly how much you can earn as a top performer at the top firms in each industry - not how much you can earn as a middling employee at a non-elite-household name. Validation isn't easy, particular for senior roles where variations between individuals can be enormous.

We've added the figures underpinning the conclusion that you're still financially best off in banking so that you can see them in the chart below. We've also added a screenshot given that our charts don't always seem to work on mobile (we're looking into this). 

Needless to say, earnings alone don't take into consideration the number of hours worked or hourly pay. With junior bankers still complaining about working weeks of 80 hours+ banking may be seem less lucrative when you factor-in the amount of life sacrificed for the $3.7m.

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance. Whatsapp/Signal/Telegram also available. Bear with us if you leave a comment at the bottom of this article: all our comments are moderated by human beings. Sometimes these humans might be asleep, or away from their desks, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Eventually it will – unless it’s offensive or libelous (in which case it won’t.)

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • ju
    justtalkin
    11 August 2022

    This is just plainly incorrect lmao. You do not need to be a top performer at a Big Law firm to make the current starting base salary of $215k (+ $20k bonus). It's also not really accurate to compare an iBanker total comp with the other fields' base comp.

  • Ja
    Jack Chewski
    8 September 2020

    what about private equity salaries?? Can someone give me an accurate list of compensation?

  • Jo
    Joe
    20 May 2020

    I think this is grossly overstating the increase in salary for IB. I work as an investment banker and very few make over 700K in their 30s

  • Ca
    Ca Fis
    16 January 2020

    To clarify the tables' figures, I assume Management consulting shows $0 for years 3 & 4 due to entering a full-time MBA program. Similarly, medical MD graduates aren't paid much during their intern & Resident years. Examples shown are four years of medical school, three years of Law schools, etc. And assumes career workers already completed respective undergrad degrees, and related tuition expenses. Would fellow readers (or author Sarah Butcher) agree ?

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