The world of investment banking may seem foreign, even forbidding, to outsiders. Yet it is highly attractive to Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE) graduates like Rannia Al-Salihi, and many alumni like Wayne Kent and Matt Wilson have built highly successful careers in the field. I speak with them to find out more about about the path that led them to investment banking, an industry that seems to require endless perseverance, long hours, and talent beyond measure. All three agree that mentoring and being mentored, multi-disciplinary talent, and an aptitude for client service are vital in this intensive yet highly rewarding field.
Sitting with a coffee in her hand, Rannia Al-Salihi looks every bit the university student. Within a minute of talking about her Bachelor of Commerce experiences, however, I realise I am chatting with a rising star. President of the Financial Management Association of Australia (FMAA), she takes pride in educating FMAA members outside the classroom through events such as the Women in Leadership Forum, which is dedicated to discussing the issues of gender equality and diversity in the commercial space. A position in the Citi Investment Banking Summer Analyst Internship cemented her desire to become an investment banker.
You were only halfway through the Bachelor of Commerce when you chose to work in investment banking. What attracted you to the industry?
Through the FMAA, career counselors, and mentors in some of the senior students, I discovered the world of investment banking, but was still hesitant. However, I was fortunate to be awarded the Women in Banking Scholarship in 2014, which later led me to apply for the role of a Summer Analyst under the Citi Investment Banking Summer Analyst Internship (2014- 15). There I joined an intensive training program and had the opportunity to work on multiple projects as if I were a full-time analyst. When I realised that investment banking fed my desire to be challenged on a daily basis, I knew it was what I wanted.
What do you think are the skills one needs in order to work as an investment banker?
It requires a combination of things: – The need to employ a self-check system. This is a career where one can easily get consumed by the industry, so you need to be able to self-regulate. I was in Sydney one morning, taking a stroll on the beach, and bumped into a Managing Director of Citi enjoying his morning run. It showed me that you don't need to be chained to your desk, and that it is necessary to be able to switch off. – Obviously, you'll need to have an interest in financial markets. It's not enough to simply be drawn in by the prestige of investment banking. – You need to possess highly-developed inter-personal skills. Your presence makes a difference in how your client perceives you, and at the end of the day, you do have a client base that requires looking after.
Do you have any messages for aspiring investment bankers?
This is for the girls. Some of the most successful bankers out there are women, not because they are tough, but because they are the most helpful and caring females around. Your mentor relationship can be an informal one: girls tend to band together, and it's not necessarily a bad thing; in this industry, it is beneficial to have a support group to lean on.
You have been offered a graduate role with Citi, beginning in 2016. Congratulations! Where do you see yourself in the future?
I am particularly excited about working alongside and learning from leaders in Australian business. I also see the changing image of financial institutions, and I want to be part of the change, where hiring processes lead to better reputations and lower costs for the institution.
BCom (Hons) 2000, LLB 2001
Matthew Wilson grew up wanting to be a doctor like both of his parents. Then a career as a barrister appealed so he completed a Law/Commerce degree. During this time, the world of finance opened up to him and he decided to pursue a career in banking. Wilson is currently an Executive Director at J.P. Morgan in Sydney. For nearly 10 years, he has regularly returned to FBE as a guest lecturer in Corporate Finance for the Bachelor of Commerce, and recently completed an 'Executive-in-Residence' in the Department of Finance. He is an active member of the Finance Honours Alumni Committee.
Why do you think investment banking is often regarded as a stressful industry?
There is no doubt that investment banking is a demanding profession. There are times when the job can be stressful, but it is episodic—the key to longevity in the profession is to make sure you have 'gears' to manage work levels and the physical and psychological demands of the job. There are times when you don't have to be in fifth or sixth gear—knowing when to take the foot off the pedal (if only for brief periods) is critical to an extended career. However, successful bankers need to be able to function at a high level under pressure—it's a critical capability.
Are you a mentor to anyone?
I am a great believer in mentor relationships, and am a formal mentor to several junior bankers, and informal mentor to several other staff members. I have been very fortunate to have had a number of fantastic professional mentors, who have helped me with a whole range of topics, including career progression, skill enhancement, network expansion and managing work and home life. Not only have these mentors had a profound influence on my professional career, but I am also lucky enough to consider them very good friends.
I firmly believe that staff members need to recognise that they are guardians of an institution—there is an implicit obligation on all senior staff to ensure that a firm's collegiate environment and culture of inclusiveness and success be reaffirmed in each generation as they progress through an organisation. Our aim is that when those junior bankers become more senior in due course, they will look to do the same with the next generation.
What is your top tip for students and young graduates who wish to enter or progress in investment banking?
It's general advice, but if you have the good fortune of being able to pursue a profession that you have true passion for, you should do everything within your powers to make that ambition a reality.
Given the demands of the profession, you need to have a real interest in finance and the markets. I encourage students to speak to as many professionals as they can (whether that be through personal networks or via the various networking functions which are now common) to get a better grasp of the profession. That insight is incredibly valuable in helping students size up their career options.
If you ultimately become a young banker, the key to progression is to work hard and seek to absorb as much as you possibly can—not only through continually focusing on expanding your work skillset, but just as importantly through asking a lot of questions and observing how more senior bankers conduct themselves, not only with clients but also with colleagues. You can learn a significant amount simply through focused observation.
BCom, LLB 1985
Wayne Kent is most well-known for having been global head of Macquarie's Equity Capital Markets (ECM) business. Under his guidance, Macquarie became, and continues to be, one of the top ECM houses in Australia and certain markets overseas. In July 2015, Kent added the role of Vice-Chairman at Credit Suisse Australia to his long list of career highlights and achievements.
Why did you get into investment banking?
It was the ability to create and deliver outcomes that attracted me to investment banking. While practising as a lawyer, I was fortunate to work under the guidance of leading lawyers like Michael Hoyle. Michael and I had a discussion about investment banking: he was not only a great lawyer but also innovative, and was involved in a lot of the new financing structures around that time.
The challenge with investment banking is that in involves a lot of pitching and working on things that may not eventuate. It's a very different environment to law, which is more about working with the one client. He highlighted to me that in investment banking, you would work on ten deals and be fortunate if one of them is successful, or has an outcome.
One thing that Michael taught me was the importance of relationships. I was drawn to the fact that I could combine relationships with innovation to create successful outcomes for my clients.
We've noticed that a lot of our successful investment banking alumni have legal as well as commerce backgrounds.
Training as a lawyer prepares you to be a critical thinker. Combining a knowledge of finance with the ability to think critically — getting back to what I said before about relationships, innovation and understanding the numbers—you have a broader perspective.
A lot of other successful investment bankers are typically multi-dimensional, so whether it's someone with an engineering or a nuclear physics background, or whatever it may be, having more than one discipline gives them a broader perspective on issues.
We all hear comments around investment banking as a career not typically having a lot of 'work-life balance'. Do you agree?
That's pretty accurate. It's difficult to work in an environment when your client is going through possibly one of the biggest events in their business life, whether it's taking over another company or floating their own company, and so they expect you to be fully committed to their business. If you're not, there will be someone from another firm who is more committed. If a client wants something you need to deliver on that.
You need to be passionate about what you're doing, enjoy it, and not be doing it for, let's say, the money. Unlike in funds management or broking—where you might get paid commissions for doing a good job—typically, in investment banking you either have success or failure. That just means you need to be committed. However, I think investment banks will change. I think there's a different definition of work-life balance now, in knowing when there is a need to do something where there's an outcome for a client, and needing to be present to do that, but that does not mean working until two o'clock in the morning, seven days a week, 365 days a year. There needs to be an environment where people are prepared and committed to work where it's necessary, but if it's not necessary then you go home and catch up with your family, or do something else, because you can't sustain that level of commitment decade upon decade.