Living your life in a human-sized pressure cooker, constant bouts of anxiety, work weeks that are notorious for crossing the hundred-hour mark — what’s not to love about investment banking? Sure, the money is there (most of the time), but you need a superhuman stock of either endurance or pure adrenaline to cut it.
So, yeah, we get it. Whether you’re an M&A associate or an IB analyst rising through the ranks, it’s hard not to have at least a little space in your mind for exit planning. But is the grass really greener on the buy side? Let’s explore what the chronic exit planners don’t tell you.
Exit Plans and Exit Realities
It’s no secret that humans tend to idealize what they don’t have, but the truth is, work in the most common positions investment bankers who’ve made the transition end up in isn’t really all that different from work in IB. Long story short, you’re still going to be doing financial statement analysis. And you might not be working 80-hour weeks, but you might still be working 70-hour weeks.
The usual exit opps also tend to call for a lot more self-starting, sourcing, and searching than your day-to-day IB tasks — meaning you’ll have to get used to cold-calling, pitching, and hearing the word “no” more often than not. And tasks like driving deal processes and coming up with investment pitches tend to fall on you as an individual rather than on a team.
That’s to say nothing of getting there in the first place. Buy-side jobs highly favor those with experience at bulge-bracket or elite-boutique banks, and the job markets are heavily tilted toward New York, London, and Hong Kong. A prestigious alma mater, high GPA, on-paper deal-making experience, and hands-on work with venture capital or private equity can also get you hired in these positions — and none of those things come quickly.
Clearly, switching isn’t easy. But if you do decide to pursue change, you won’t be short on options. And, yes, that is definitely a segue.
So What Are Your Exit Opps?
You’ve heard it before: “I’m gonna do two solid years in IB, then take the resume, experience, and battle scars to a new career.” So for those working in investment banking, exit opportunities must be pretty appealing, right?
While there’s no set path for leaving IB behind — you might transition into private equity, you might buy a cannabis farm, who knows — some of the most common, and often appealing, post-exit possibilities include
- Consulting: one of the most flexible options, consulting or strategist paths take you out of the direct line of fire (often for less pay, and less workload) while still enabling you to exercise your passion for finance.
- Private equity: demands top-class IB experience (or really good connections) and often comes with similar time commitments in a more research-oriented role.
- Fin-tech: at the crossroads of banking and tech spheres, this sector offers a home for those with experience in IB as well as areas like programming or software development.
- Hedge funds: calls for auditing or trade strategy experience, offers a high-risk, high-reward path.
- Venture capital: for self-starters and (soon-to-be) former investment bankers who want to be their own boss, are willing to invest despite potentially risky beginnings, and really prioritize flexible schedules.
That said, recruiting for buy-side jobs has moved up the timeline even more than it has for IB jobs in the past decade or so. So if you’re looking to jump ship, you might have to start the process a whole lot earlier than you’d think.
Let’s Talk About Exit Mentality
That sort of endless gazing into the future isn’t always healthy, though. No one’s ragging on having a solid plan for the future, but let’s be real: being on a constant lookout for your next big chance, the next leap to something “better,” can be a shortcut to burnout, unhappiness, and being a shitty team member.
As Mergers & Inquisitions founder Brian DeChesare says, “Don’t rule out staying in banking. The obsession with investment banking exit opportunities is a U.S.-specific phenomenon, and it makes less sense now than it ever did.”
The perks of staying in IB can’t be brushed off, starting with pay that can dip into the seven figures at senior levels (and is more likely to be cash at elite banks, compared to the deferred comp you’ll get on the buy side). IB also offers a lot more consistency, free from the constant risks of funds imploding. And you can’t put a price tag on that sort of stability in an increasingly unstable world.
Above everything else, though, the most successful exit planning starts with a single, foundational “why” — and that’s your own personal why. Why do you want to move on from investment banking? In plenty of ways, the skills you accrue in IB make the finance world your oyster; your answer to that question colors every aspect of your journey, whether you ultimately decide to stay or go.
It’s All About You
Look, we’re not your therapist (though maybe IB should always come with one), and we’re certainly not, well, you. All platitudes aside, the choice to move on from investment banking is as situational as it is deeply personal.
But if your happiness is in question? Making the play is always worth it. Don’t force it, but if you just can’t deny the impulse, start with exploration, education and mentorship. The best way to start doing is to learn from those who are already doing. And don’t worry — we’ll help you explore along the way.
Dan is a Dallas-based small business owner, media professional and freelance writer of more than 12 years. In that time, he’s been lucky enough to collaborate with business brands like The Motley Fool, Office Depot and Fortune as well as tech companies such as Samsung, Verizon, Vizio, Sony and beyond.
WallStreetMojo – Investment Banking Exit Opportunities
Mergers & Inquisitions – Investment Banking Exit Opportunities: The Myth of the Buy-Side Job
Corporate Finance Institute – Why Investment Banking?