The career trajectory of a banker simply isn’t as straight-forward as it used to be. Would-be Masters of the Universe have traditionally been driven by the notion that if you worked hard and networked with the right people, your reward would be promotion to Managing Director. No longer.
In a world where regulation is increasing, pay is falling, and even those with a healthy salary will have to wait until they are booking holidays through Saga to get their hands on the cold hard cash, there’s a new career conundrum: MD promotions seem to be in decline.
The result is that even those who appeared nailed-on for promotion a few years ago are now settling at base camp rather than reaching the summit. So what are your options if you don’t get the nod?
Downsize to a smaller pond
The ‘big fish, small pond’ idea can sound very appealing if you fail to make the grade at a large firm: simply move to a smaller shop, get that MD promotion and show your former bosses what they missed out on. The drawback is that it’s not necessarily that simple.
Some people will be snapped up, but these tend to be those that have managed to build a track-record of origination. Without the guarantee of bringing on new deals, you’ll be regarded as a luxury. You may also have to be willing to take a drop in pay: an execution-focussed director-level banker can command a base salary of up to £200k at a big bank, this will seem an unnecessarily expensive hire in a boutique and you may have to lower your expectations by as much as half.
Take the private equity route
Ah yes, PE. You may be convinced that this was your calling anyway. There are some notable examples of those that have made the move, but they remain few and far between. Most bankers simply do not have either the skillset or experience to convince buyout partners that it’s worth carving up their carry for a new recruit.
On a more positive note, private equity can be worth a shot if you have a genuine interest in buyout deals and the contacts who can open the right doors.
Find your inner entrepreneur
Maybe it is time to cut and run. Those late nights at work have always been beset with dreams of entrepreneurial success, so now’s your big chance. Whether it is opening up a deli selling your favourite jamon iberico or teaming up with the school geek to create the next Flappy Bird app, going it alone can be an enticing thought.
Obviously these options are risky, and come with an acceptance that you will earn a lot less, at least initially, so setting up your own venture isn’t for everyone. Having said that, now is the perfect economic environment to be following those entrepreneurial urges, so it might be a good time to take the plunge.
Move to the other side
You’ve sat on the other side of the table from them. They said “Jump” and you said “How high?”, and they always seem to be out of the office come dinner time. Why not try the other side? In the right company, the role can provide more deal exposure than you experience on the advisory side, a central strategic role and regular dialogue with the board.
Within a FTSE 100 you may be able to secure a ‘Number 2′ role, and looking lower down the leagues you could even land the top-job. The downside is that these opportunities are not as numerous as those in investment banking, and quite often get filled from within or via networking. A specialist recruiter might be able to open up some doors, but it will also pay to dust off the rolodex, pound the pavement and be patient.
Dig in and stay put
There are worse things in life than being a respected deal captain at a global institution and earning the best part of £400k a year including bonus; it’s a living wage, at least. Your pride may take a slight knock, but you still hold a relatively senior position in the bank, and your chance may come next year. Maybe the best option, therefore, is to stick with it and fight your corner.