What do analysts, associates, VPs, and MDs actually do in investment banks?

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What do investment banking job titles really signify? Do analysts really analyze? Are vice presidents in charge of whole divisions? And do managing directors run the entire bank? No, no, and no again.

Banking job titles aren't what they seem. If you haven't come across them before you need to know this: they often make people sound more grand than they actually are. If someone tells you they're a vice president in an investment bank, for example, you might think they're something very fancy. They're not: Goldman Sachs has over 10,000 vice presidents (VPs) and that Goldman VP you meet is just one of many. The same applies to managing directors (MDs): most banks have several thousands of them.

Why do banks give people such fancy job titles? Ex-Goldman banker turned academic Alexandra Michel suggests it's because banking careers were historically short. In the past, the average career in an investment banking division (IBD - including M&A and equity or debt capital markets) lasted less than a decade. Banks are trying to change this, but it remains the case that a lot of banks' graduate hires leave of their own accords in the first three years after they've been hired and that more leave voluntarily at associate and vice president level - Banks use big job titles to persuade people to stick around.

What analysts really do in investment banks:

If you leave university after a first degree (or a Masters), you will enter an investment bank as an analyst. Analyst is therefore simply a euphemism for being at the bottom of the banking hierarchy.

What do analysts do? If you work in an investment banking division (IBD), you usually will research companies that might be involved in a deal, you will build the financial models which value the companies you're looking at. And you will assemble your findings into a Powerpoint presentation.

"Junior bankers are experts on financial modeling," says Michel. They are also experts in Excel and VBA. And they are experts in building the PowerPoint presentations that banks use to communicate their ideas to clients. "The more junior you are in M&A, the more time you will spend working on Excel models and PowerPoint Presentations," says Mark Hatz, a former Goldman Sachs analyst who now helps students prepare for banking interviews.

A current M&A analyst at a European bank says analysts usually do what they're told: "The analyst is the person who does all the administration work necessary in the deal process. As the most junior person, you might work on research, you might create the materials for the pitch-book which presents banks' ideas to clients, and you might work on the financial models - but what you do will be quite basic." Some analysts complain that their work is very boring and repetitive:  “As an analyst, you spend 75% of your time on PowerPoint, making presentations,” says one. “Excel modelling is the most valuable and interesting part of the job, but you don’t do very much of that.” A few years ago, he claims that most of his work was updating so-called "comparables,“ where each analyst was asked to update data for 25 companies each quarter.  Increasingly, however, this kind of routine task is being automated. 

Michel says analysts don't like to be reminded of their status. During her detailed research in two Wall Street banks, she came across an analyst who burst into tears after being introduced to a client as such. “You introduced me as an analyst!”, the analyst complained (crying) to a vice president.

How long will you be an analyst for?

Traditionally, people have been analysts in investment banks for three years. However, this has changed. Analyst programs at most banks have been cut by six to 12 months and now last between 2.0 and 2.5 years. - Morgan Stanley was one of the last banks to shorten its analyst program in August 2018.

How much are you paid as an analyst?

Despite being at the bottom of the pile, analysts in investment banks are paid pretty well. In your first year as an analyst in M&A in London you can expect to earn up to £88k ($106k) if you work for a big U.S. bank like Bank of America or Goldman Sachs. 

How many hours do you work as analyst? 

The downside to being an analyst in an investment banking division (IBD) has always been the working hours. When people talk about 80 hour weeks in banking, it's investment banking analysts their referring to. Most banks have got policies in place to cut analysts' working hours, especially at weekends, but it's still common to work from 9am to midnight - or later - on weekdays.

The chart below, from consulting firm Quinlan Associates, shows each bank's policy for reducing working hours.

What associates really do in investment banks:

Associates are one notch up from analysts. After you've done your two or two and a half years as an analyst, you should get promoted to an associate. You can also enter a bank as an associate after studying an MBA - although this is harder now than it used to be.  Associates are like analysts, except more important. Associates' immediate purpose to manage the analysts below them and to communicate the wishes of the vice presidents (VPs) above them.

"As an associate you're still working on the PowerPoint slides, still managing the presentation," says the M&A analyst, "- But you also work more on the [financial] models."

The associate's role is partly to, "guide the analyst in preparing the presentation and doing the research," he says. The analyst does the work and the associate checks it. "The associate's still an important part of the process. If you have a 50 page presentation, the analyst will usually do 30-40 pages and the associate will check them and do the rest." Nowadays, these presentations are (theoretically) shorter as banks are trying to cut down on unnecessary work.

Associates are still expected to do analyst-type work, says one former associates, although she says that, "analysts are technically the "producers" of all the work and the associates are the "checkers" of it."

How long will you be an associate for?

If you last the course, you'll usually be an associate for three years.

How much are you paid as an associate?

On average, first year associates at big banks in London make anything from £150k ($181k) to £170k ($205k) according to recruitment firm Arkesden Partners. Second years make anything from £181k to £192k and third years make anything from £201k to £206k.  By the time you're making £206k ($250k) you will likely have worked in banking at least seven years. 

How many hours do you work as an associate?

Associates usually - but not always - work a few hours less each week than analysts. "You'll often see the associates going home at 11pm instead of midnight," says one analyst. "But that kind of depends upon the person and how good the analyst is. If you're a lazy associate with a good analyst, you can leave early. If you're an ambitious associate with a bad analyst, you'll still be working at 2am."

What vice presidents (VPs) really do in investment banks

It's when you get to vice president (VP) level, that things start to get interesting. Suddenly, you're more outward facing - you actually get to talk to clients. However, you also have to manage the team and oversee the process of putting the client presentations together and this can be stressful. "Being a VP requires more “ownership” in the team and well-established client relationships," says one associate at an international bank.

Vice presidents help to manage clients on a daily basis, says Michel. They also manage the associates and (by default)  the analysts and make sure the necessary financial models and Powerpoint presentations are being built. "VPs lead the layout of the presentations," agrees Hatz. "They're responsible for making sure the pitch documents are put together and they will also have an active daily role in executing any deals that go ahead."

"The VPs guide the analysts and associates," says the analyst in M&A. "They're running the deal process on a daily basis. - They're the ones saying which materials need to be created. However, they're also the ones who speak on the calls to the clients. They help keep the clients up to date with how things are progressing."

How long will you be a VP for?

Once you get to VP-level, the process of rising up through the investment banking ranks suddenly becomes more erratic. In theory, you're supposed to be a VP for three years but sometimes people get stuck at vice president forever (and ever) - particularly in non-front office (ie. non-revenue earning) areas like technology. Most banks are trying to cut the number of expensive people they have at the top of their pyramids, and this is making it harder to get promoted. Goldman Sachs, for example, only promotes around 500 people to managing director every two years and has around 12,000 vice presidents (it promotes around 1,500 people to VP a year). On the other hand, talented VPs are being more responsibility (for the same pay) under a process known as "juniorization." 

How much will you be paid as a VP?

Because VPs can vary wildly in terms of experience, their pay often varies widely too. In London, Arkesden Partners says your VP years will be spent earning total compensation of between £249k and £338k ($408k). It’s at this level, then, that things start getting really financially interesting.

How many hours do you work as a VP?

As a rule of thumb, you should work fewer hours as a VP than as an analyst or associate. "The associate is running the process for the VP, so the VP gets to leave earlier," says the analyst. This doesn't mean they leave early, however. "Our VP goes home around 10pm," he adds.

What directors and managing directors really do in investment banks:

Some banks have an intermediate level of directors (Ds) between VPs and managing directors (MDs).

And what do Ds and MDs do exactly? Michel points out that their main responsibility is bringing in new business. There's a lot of travelling. It's not really as glamorous as people think. MDs also oversee everyone further down the hierarchy and make sure their treasured clients are happy.

"As a director, you'll speak a lot with the clients," says the analyst. "Your role is to act as the interface between the client and the rest of the team."

Managing directors are at the top of the investment banking pile. "They talk to the clients, meet the clients, bring in the revenues and build the business for the bank," says the analyst. "They're the connectors - the relationship builders - they're out there, finding out what's going on with their clients in their industry."

How long will you be a D or MD for?

Although some people are VPs forever, you're usually promoted to director after about three years in a VP position. Once you're a director, Michel says it should (ideally) take only another two years before you make managing director. This may be wishful thinking, however. - Research suggests most people only become MDs after 15 years in banking, and even then only 20% of those who are eligible for an MD promotion will make it. Some say that being a director is the most risky job in a bank – you’re expensive, but you don’t own the client relationships. Others say being a director is less risky than being an MD: directors are cheaper and can step-up to replace MDs when costs are being cut.

Once you make MD, the pressure will be on to bring in revenues. At UBS, managing directors have been given a target of 300 client meetings a year. If you don't deliver you'll be out. If you do deliver, you can expect to last a while. The average tenure of managing directors and partners at Goldman Sachs, for example, is thought to be around eight years.  

How much are you paid as a D or MD?

Pay for directors and managing directors varies wildly from person to person. As an MD in IBD on Wall Street you will almost certainly earn in excess of $600k in total compensation. In London, MD salaries alone are often over £500k.

How many hours will you work as a D or MD?

As a director, you'll typically work fewer hours than a VP. - You might go home at 8 or 9pm. As an MD, your hours will assume a life of their own. "Sometimes we don't see the MDs in the office much," says the analyst. "- Their jobs are a bit more freestyle and flexible. They might be out of the office for a week, meeting clients. They might have a lunch with a client, and then a coffee, and then a meal with another client. They might go and meet a COO who's also a personal friend." If you're an MD in investment banking, you want to work for a bank that's happy to let you build relationships, and which accepts that this can take time. At Goldman Sachs, for example, ex-COO Harvey Schwartz said it could take seven years for client relationships to generate fees. Even so, banks like to know what their MDs are up to while they're flying around schmoozing clients: HSBC recently introduced a system for tracking how its senior M&A bankers use their time and how many deals they bring in.  

Although banks are hierarchical, Michel says they can also be fairly egalitarian. If you perform well, you can progress through the hierarchy (at least to VP level) fairly quickly. In IBD, she says most people actually do get promoted up to the next level. This makes banks less competitive places than people expect. Power differentials are minimized and everyone (according to Michel) works for common purpose. Unfortunately, she also concludes that this can lead to overwork and burnout.

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Photo by Roman Fox on Unsplash

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