Leaving Banking: The Why, When, and HowNavigating Career Transitions

Park Avenue Looking onto Grand Central Station

You’ve lived the high life. The slicked back hair, the contrast-collar button up underneath the custom tailored pin-striped suit, only to get splashed on by a New York taxicab as you exit the subway into the bright lights. Now its time to take those skills elsewhere. You itch to be a client for a chance, so you can call your banker on a Friday night and have them rerun the nums while you get to take the weekend off. Maybe you yearn to head to California and continue on with the deal-flow in Silicon Valley. You don’t want to retire the trusty HP12C just yet(you didn’t spend the extra $ on the 12CP did you?), but what’s next?

Why Leave Banking

Assuming, you aren’t a pre-MBA analyst, who is leaving to follow the tried and tested “Track” (Top 1% HS, break, Ivy League, break, Banking, break, PE / HF, break, Greatness), there are several possible reasons to leave banking:

  1. The career was designed for departure. The long hours, the client service career, the increased travel as you get senior. There is a reason less than half the associates who join post MBA become Vice Presidents, and less than half the Vice Presidents become Managing Directors.
  2. Lifestyle is the biggest reason. Chances are that somewhere between you starting your MBA and your 3rd year as associate, your personal life and your priorities changed. Its a common misconception about banking that the long hours are what cause attrition. The hours do get better, although the responsibility and nature of stress changes. Its the lack of predictability that gets to you. The debris of cancelled plans, postponed vacations, and unkept personal commitments quickly piles up and leads to a decision to leave for many people
  3. Changed or different career aspirations. For many, banking is a stepping stone career. For some, the client and industry exposure create fantastic opportunities that are hard to turn down

To be clear though, there are many reasons not to leave banking. As the famous eponymous banker, The Epicurean Dealmaker, writes on his blog, banking sure is an exciting and a challenging career. There are few other careers where young professionals can have an impact at a senior management and board room level, in the way you can in investment banking. And for those who are genuinely good at this career, the monetary rewards can be compelling as well. That said, the worst reason to stay in banking is because your lifestyle requires it. Lifestyles are more malleable than we believe, while doing a job as intense as this without genuinely enjoying it is unenviably difficult.

When to Leave Banking?

There tend to be two post-MBA windows when people typically leave banking. The first is somewhere between 2nd year associate and 1st year VP. The VP role is where the intense finance training tends to wean off and the career translates to more of a project managerial and sales role. This is the typical time when bankers look for greener pastures or choose to implicitly renew their vows to the career. Typical corporate career transitions are to Director of M&A, Corporate Development or Treasury roles at clients. Investor relations and FP&A roles are also popular. Some bankers also transition to “the buyside”, which implies Vice President roles at PE or VC firms, or roles at hedge funds, which are typically rarer.

The second window is as a junior MD. This is typically more opportunistic and is where bankers choose to navigate to a senior role at a client such as a Vice President or senior M&A or finance role, or take on a partner level role on the buy-side.

How to Leave Banking?

Gracefully. Leaving banking can be a challenge since the intensity of job can make it very difficult to search for a new job, let alone a new career. Therefore it is not surprising that bankers tend to transition to a role with a client, which is both easier to identify, and often accepted by their employers, if not encouraged. A few simple tips to get started:

  • Get your name out to head-hunters. They probably already contact you and you likely have friends who maintain a list of headhunters. 90% of their calls to you will be for jobs at other banks that you don’t want but every now and then they also have corporate or investment management jobs
  • Keep a look out for open positions at clients. This is often the easiest career transition. Pre-IPO / pre-Sale clients are often in demand since they are likely growing fast, and opportunities and financial rewards can be attractive
  • Network. As you look for more senior positions, the chances of applying on the company website and getting in get lower. Build your network and leverage them as you seek positions

But network discreetly. As Mike Davidson cleverly remarked on Twitter

Finally — keep an open mind. Its easy to narrow your search to M&A roles, or investment management roles. But there are many exciting roles out there that might suit you. From product management roles to strategy roles, whether at startups or established companies — the banking skill set can often be in great demand in places you never thought to look. Check out our curated job channels for great roles as you start to plan this transition in your career.

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Tapwage co-founder; Previously on Wall Street, and in consulting. Crazy about technology. Has too many open browser tabs.