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Junior Banker Explains Why He's Quit the M&A World

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I’ve written about how 2011 was an annus horribilis for bankers on Wall Street. Across the pond, in the world’s largest financial center outside of New York City, the situation is not any different, with banks like the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Societe Generale and Citigroup (C) all having announced layoff plans for 2012 already.
With so many bankers finding themselves out of a job, you would think that those who did not get the axe would be grateful and would try to hold on to their jobs for dear life. That was not the case, however, with a young British finance worker, who quit his mergers and acquisitions banking job after surviving a round of layoffs.
Speaking to the Guardian anonymously as part of their ‘Voices of Finance’ series, the 20-something, who did say that he worked at a bulge bracket bank (Banks part of the bulge bracket include Barclays (BCS), Goldman Sachs (GS), Morgan Stanley (MS) and Dow Jones (^DJI) component Bank of America (BAC)) shared what it was like to work at such an institution and why he quit.
The ex-banker, who in his first year our of university made £45k ($69,295) plus a 70% bonus, explained that on a per-hour basis, perhaps the salaries he and his peers received were not that outrageous after all.

“In the first year I would work from 9.30 am till 3am, every day. You keep telling yourself, this is going to get better. But it doesn't, not really.

"Compared with my years in university I have learned so much more in the past two years, so much more. Then again, given my 18-hour work days, these were actually four years.”

He said that working in the M&A department, he learnt to understand a company that he never could, and that it was “genuinely stimulating work” because you can “travel abroad with your team, meet captains of industry and other really interesting and brilliant people.”

And what about the dark sides of the industry?

"There's this idea of bankers, especially in a prestigious sector like M&A, as very sophisticated and civil. But you do hear things like 'we're gonna suck this client dry.' Sometimes we would advise clients on solutions that were primarily to our own advantage. They weren't bad for the client per se, but they were sub-optimal, there were better ones out there we didn't tell them about – as we wouldn't make as much money off of them.

"When we'd discuss a pitch or potential project with the team, nine out of ten times the first question would be: 'where's the "fee event"? How can we make money from this?' I mean, I understand banks need to make money, but you can't think of yourself as 'trusted adviser' – the big term in M&A – while at the same time putting your own fee first.”

Ultimately, the toll of the long hours got to him and he decided to leave the profession.

"As a young banker in M&A, you have no social life, I mean, none. A work week has seven days. There's no time for friends, and when you have a few hours off, you try to maximise it. Drink really hard, party wild, and you get confronted with drugs – which seems to be a taboo although many do it. You need to feel in those few moments that you're still alive. On Sundays, following one of these binges, I would wake up feeling so rotten, so empty.

"I used to be the kind of person who enjoys life, who gets up in the morning eager for another day. The past two years I found myself changing. I lost my interest in politics, in sports … I began to wonder: what's happening to me?

At the end of his column, the former Canary Wharf office rat said he hoped to enter going into financial consultancy, where he would get to do similar work at a less stressful pace (and also with less money).

(See also: Are Wall Street's Massive Pay Cuts Fair? & Cantor Fitzgerald Announces Ambitious Hiring Plans, Poised to Poach Bankers Disgruntled Over Salary Cuts)
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.