Building a career in Investment Banking

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Karan Suri, IIM B

Hi Karan!

Thanks for speaking with us! A lot of people we know, start in investment banking and then move on to other things. You have been an Investment Banker for 12 years!

1) Tell us about your journey?

It's been a quite a fun ride so far - long hours, lots of traveling, highs and lows of deal making, crazy partying and meeting many interesting people. To be frank, I was never cut out for investment banking. I was not an outgoing person or a very sharp one to leave an impression in a first meeting.

I graduated from Rajasthan University. Not many people including my professors at IIM Bangalore had great words to say about my University. But when you are starting from such a low base, noone has high expectations from you, which eases off the pressure! My admission to IIM Bangalore itself was a stroke of luck.

Bangalore was a life changer. Met some crazy and brilliant minds. Learned how to party hard and still make it for exams in one piece. Bangalore taught me how to handle stress, pressure and still maintain your calm.

I spent my summer interning with a consumer marketing company and spent most part of it doing consumer surveys in the heat of Chennai. I realised I was horrible when it comes to consumer surveys and needed to try finance.

When I took a closer look, I learnt finance can mean trading desk, sales, investment banking, corporate finance, structured finance and so on. So you know it was quite confusing navigating through this. Finally, I decided that I want to be a Fx trader. Not that I was brilliant with analytics, but I was enamoured by Fx bankers who came to campus for pre placement talks! Again, things didn't go as per plan and I couldn't make it to any of the Fx trading openings. Instead, I landed up with EY in their Corporate Finance team in Mumbai. Rest as they say is history.

2) Why did you decide to do an MBA from IIM B? Do you think it helped you build a career in Investment Banking?

I think the question should be why IIM Bangalore decided to offer me an admission! First, I wasn't expecting to get into IIMs, but due to some stroke of luck, I got an unbelievable score in CAT. I still believe my mark sheet was swapped with someone else. Second, for some reason, IIM Bangalore decided to offer admissions to students with limited work experience that year. Third, I liked Bangalore as a city!

Those were two of my most memorable years. It shaped me as a person and made me not only suitable for investment banking but whatever I want to do in life. See sometimes we think that MBA is a gateway to getting lucrative jobs. I think that MBA and especially from a good institute shapes you as a person and prepares you for various professional situations. It is a finishing school and gives you the self confidence to take on the world.

3) What does a day in the life of an Investment banker look like?

I think you either see a completely relaxed day or a hectic one. There is rarely a balanced day. It would differ for an analyst and a senior officer, but work hours pretty much remain the same.

For an analyst, the day starts with your roommate kicking you out of bed at 830am, a quick shower and dash to office. By the time you reach office, your senior would have already reviewed your material and provided nth number of comments. By the time you process the comments and mail the revised version of the draft, you are informed that you have been staffed on a new pitch or transaction. Evening goes in debriefing on a transaction and night means turning around another presentation or financial model. By the time you are done, it's 2 or 3am and the day ends with the last email to a senior officer.

For a senior officer the day starts early with a quick coffee and a review of material before juniors come to work. The afternoon goes in meeting clients. The evening is meant for again reviewing the material and discussing it with clients.Yeah I know it all sounds boring and routine, but trust me the day flies by and by the time you realise, it's already been couple of years!

4) What skills or personal characteristics do you feel contribute most to success in this field?

Patience and the right attitude. There is no perfect recipe for succeeding in investment banking, but you must not be afraid of working hard and nonstop. There are days when you feel like questioning your work, but trust me, those are the days when one needs to put his or her head down and work. As one grows in investment banking, a person needs a very good balance to manage highs, lows and navigate yourself and your team through various situations.

5) What changes do you foresee in this industry? Which new skills do you think students would need in the future?

I think investment banking is fast changing from being balance sheet driven to becoming knowledge and experience driven. Earlier, even if you were not particularly bright, you could still survive, just because of the balance sheet provided by your bank. Now the deals are originated based on one's experience, knowledge of sector and relationships, especially in India. Either you cover your sector or a specific client, you got to be sure you know everything about it and more than anyone else. When it comes to clients, one thing that has always worked for me is that the client should start eating out of your hand.

6) How has the industry changed since you started out? What has been the impact of technology, especially big data, in this field?

It's a tough question to answer. If the question is specific to India, then there has been a mark change in investment banking, especially with the entry of the large bulge bracket international banks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan. I have seen the industry maturing in last few years. When it comes to the global stage, investment banking which used to be categorised more as a place for innovative structures, vulture deals have now become more subdued. This has also been the result of the banking crisis in 2008 when Lehman and Bear Stearns crashed and number of banks had to face survival issues. This resulted in regulators becoming more careful and stringent with respect of risk taking ability of banks. Some who had predicted the death of investment banks in 2008/09 though have been proven wrong because knowledge remains one of the most sought after commodity.

7) There are multiple career opportunities in Finance- Trading, Investment banking, PE, equity research etc. How should someone studying Finance decide what to opt for?

That's correct and it can be very confusing for a young graduate to be able to decide the best choice. There is no substitute to experience either two or three of the various segments of finance and testing yourself out in various environments. My suggestion would be to take up internships to experience the segments first hand. Private equity, research, trading and investment banking all require a different character, attitude, personality and analytical skills. Private equity requires a lot of detailed analysis, interpersonal skills, patience (not to invest even when everyone else is investing) and stability. Research requires a detailed analytical framework, grasp of various sectors, macro factors and ability to devote hours in perfecting the analysis. Trading requires ability to handle intense though short bursts of pressure and a mathematical bend of mind. Investment banking requires being a jack of all trades and having strong marketing skills.

8) What is the entry-level salary for an Investment Banker? What kind of a career path can a person expect?

I think that's an incorrect way to look at any career. I am sure investment banking offers a significantly high remuneration at the entry level compared to various other professions, bar consulting. But the salary should not be the only criteria to join Investment Banking. I can tell you that even if your bank account is swelling, you may want to leave investment banking in a couple of years as you can't take the pressure of long hours and deadlines. With respect to a career path, a senior level role (VP and above) may take anywhere between 6-10 years, depending upon the transactions that you do and your performance.

9) What are the biggest challenges that you face in your job?

The biggest challenge is to stay motivated, keep putting in lots of hours and think of new ideas. In Investment Banking, you are as good as your last deal, so it's like you are running non stop. It requires a lot of perseverance to keep running non stop for n number of years and keep getting a kick out of deal making. The industry is also becoming tough with various investment banking professionals happy to cut the fees to get transactions. That's where it becomes important to keep reinventing, keep updating your knowledge and stay focused. In India, a client only pays if s/he feels that they can't survive without you.

10) What do you like and not like about working in this field?

I am in Investment Banking because I love each day of deal making and clients calling me for advice on various corporate situations. I am yet to figure out what I don't like. The day I get bored, I'll pack my bags and figure out where to go next!

Karan Suri is an IIM Bangalore alum and an Executive Director with Morgan Stanley in Mumbai, India.

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