How I ranked top of the BAML analyst class by using my brain

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Next time someone tells you about the crazy hours you'll work as an analyst in an investment bank, don't listen. Same, don't listen when they tell you how junior banking jobs are for mindless academic geniuses, or how you'll soon be replaced by a machine. I've been there and it's not true.

I spent five years as an analyst and then an associate at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. I was one of the top ranked analysts in my year. After the first eight to ten months, I didn't work crazy hours - I left at a decent time most days and had most of my weekends off. I engaged my intelligence, and there was no way my role could have been automated out of existence.

I took control of my working hours because I worked smart. I learned to be efficient at understanding what the client and the managing director actually cared about and delivering to that. If I thought the vice president (VP) or associate was asking for work that was unnecessary, I pushed back hard. I also tried to make sure that I was the one drafting the shell (ie. the preliminary pitch book draft) - you have how idea how much random stuff goes into a deck when it's drafted by someone who isn't actually going to do the grunt work.

The thing is that you will need to work hard as a junior banker, but contrary to a recent article on this site, success is about more than simply slaving away and following orders. It's the least talented young bankers who follow orders to the letter and work long hours: the hours compensate for their lack of talent. The best juniors take ownership of the orders and bring something more to the table.

For example, when I was an associate, a client asked us to put together an executive summary for an equity pitch. I spent a day assembling a 15 deck slide with the key ideas and the extracts of data to substantiate them. My VP took a look and decided we needed more pages - that every point needed to be a standalone slide. Unusually, I didn't push back and made the VP's amendments over the next week and weekend until the deck became 60 pages long. It wasn't what the client wanted: he got upset because there were so many concepts flying around. The VP was too insecure to be brief: he wanted ALL the ideas (because you can't technically be wrong if you bring everything to the table, so when in doubt, put in the hours). And he wasted all our time.

This is also why analyst and associate jobs will never be automated. Banking is a people business. When an MD goes to pitch they are trying to convince a prospective client that they have what it takes to cater to the their needs.The backup material that the analyst works on serves to help the "sell" the MD's (and the bank's) capabilities. A computer will always lack the empathy needed to put this together.

Another example - an MD might ask a junior for a share price chart because she wants to talk to a private equity client regarding a potential take-private. A talent-less long-hours analyst will simply execute and put together a share price chart with comments on quarterly performance. A talented analyst will put together a share price chart, realizing that the MD will want to talk to the PE about a take-private because they think the company's stock is taking a beating and that institutional investors (and activists) are unhappy with management and are potentially open to selling. The work of the talent-less analyst can be automated. But the talented analyst will set up the comments to stress the fact that performance has been lagging vs. peers (and not just the performance in itself); and add a backup analysis on which institutional investors have changed their holdings. The amount of time to do both things is roughly the same (i.e. sifting through quarterly reports and providing meaningless comments on performance takes roughly the same amount of time as taking some comments from brokers on the performance and putting together a standard table on shareholder movements), but the latter analyst will show that they understood the point of the slide and look a lot smarter.

So, don't complain that your junior IBD job is boring. Stop being so entitled. It's not up to the bank to make your job interesting. This isn't university where professors are meant to stimulate you. The bank is in the business of executing deals and generating fees and by accepting the offer and taking home your pay every month you're signing up to their business model. The job is interesting when you use your brain. The extent to which you do so is up to you.

The most interesting parts of the analyst and associate role aren't spoon-fed. They're the fruits of taking initiative and demonstrating that you can add value. When you do this, you might start enjoying your job. Your superiors might even start trusting you with even more value-add tasks (from drafting slides, to taking the lead in presenting the analysis in meetings) in future.

Cedric Lavergne is a pseudonym



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