Dynamic world of investors
Intellectually alert, business-oriented selfstarters with high energy can aspire for a career in investment banking, writes Kirsten Lees
WHEN I grow up I want to be an investment banker’ is not a common catchcry in playgroups and parks around the country. After all, a dark suit, and a daily commute to a city office do not have the appeal of, say, driving a train, from the perspective of an average four-year-old career planner.
Yet when we do grow up, investment banking is one of the most competitive fields for top graduates with — according to Cathy Tomkins of Merrill Lynch — a ratio of around 100 hopefuls to every successful applicant. But unless you have had direct exposure to the world of investment banking, it is difficult to know exactly what it is all about.
It is a world Andrea Fletcher knows well. She has spent 13 years working in equities sales, first in London with UBS and subsequently with Citigroup in Sydney. Since the day she first walked onto a trading floor (‘‘It was like walking onto a football pitch — noisy, manic, full of men’’) to today, she says her working life has been one of excitement, intellectual challenge and constant variety.
I went straight from university to a traineeship with UBS. I didn’t really know what to expect. But there was a great training scheme — a series of three-month rotations around the business exposing you to all its activities. In my first year I found myself visiting vast paper mills in Sweden and even had a chance to drive their massive logging trucks.’’
Now Andrea is director of equity research sales and head of account management at Citigroup and her role spans both that of equity sales with a portfolio of institutional clients to whom she provides investment advice, and a more strategic role heading up the account management team.
In practice, this means that Andrea has to know a lot. I might need to understand the production profile of an oil company, or provide a perspective on whether a fashion house has shipped in too many jackets for the winter season, for example. I may have one eye on the hurricane season off Mexico and an ear to developments in treatments for sleep apnoea.’’
It’s this need to know, to be in a position to provide an informed opinion on a considerable range of industries and businesses and their viability within local and global economic ebbs and flows, that extends the role of equity sales beyond the office and engages it in everyday commerce and with daily life. We deal with businesses as diverse as tiny companies in India, or something as global as Microsoft. Sometimes you need to sit down with a CEO, to see the whites of their eyes, if you are going to judge whether they can really make their business do what they say they can. You don’t know if Woolworths is a good fresh food retailer if you have never visited a Woolworths, for example,’’ she explains. It also means Andrea has to be ready for anything.
It is a very dynamic environment. You can be having a relatively relaxed day, and suddenly there’s announcement like Wesfarmers is making an offer for Coles. You need to have an opinion straightaway. Clients want to know what it means for them and whether they need to do anything about it.’’
Eighteen months ago Andrea added to her responsibilities when she accepted the role of head of account management. It was a step into the strategic side of the business, looking at longer-term trends and structural changes in the markets. It means creating business plans and advising on allocation of resources to maximise our returns from the business. It has also been an opportunity to step into management and to manage a team.’’
Michelle Jablko of UBS switched careers from commercial law to join an investment bank, and considers it the best decision I have ever made’’. Now executive director of investment banking, Michelle specialises in mergers and acquisitions, advising companies about merging with other businesses or growing their business through buying other companies.
It’s an exciting business. I get a buzz from the large transactions, and the fact that we get to see the transactions right through. We think up ideas, take them to the client, and then work with them to realise them. It is strategic and tactical.
We work with high quality clients and the top echelon of international and Australian business. Everyday has an international perspective, whether it is Australian companies looking to invest internationally or international businesses looking at Australia. Everyday there are new mental challenges. I love what I do.’’
It is this passion for her job that Michelle considers to be a key to her success. It’s not a job that you can be half-hearted about. It’s people who love what they do that go the extra mile, and that makes them successful.’’ Michelle also emphasises the importance of relationship skills.
Investment banking is about having trusted relationships with clients. Technical skills are important — but the bank has experts in the various disciplines that you can call on. Accounting and financial skills are certainly helpful, but 95 per cent of what I do, I learned on the job. In the end the job is about creating and maintaining trusted relationships. We work with our clients over a long period in the hope that when they need to do business, they will readily look to us as partners they can trust.’’
Neither Michelle nor Andrea are ready to move on from their current roles in the short term, but see their experience and the business networks they are developing as great door openers when they are ready for new challenges.
People go into a variety of ventures — nonexecutive directorships, or they might start their own businesses. There is no shortage of options, the challenge will be finding something that is as stimulating and as challenging as the work I do now,’’ says Michelle.
What do you do if you would like to get into investment banking?
Tomkins, responsible for graduate recruitment at Merrill Lynch Investment Bank, says that entry into the industry is competitive, and that leading investment banks attract some of the highestlevel academic achievers. But she stresses it is not exclusively about achieving perfect scores. We look for motivated all-rounders who are able to articulate why they want to go into investment banking. It is an extremely rewarding career, but it requires a lot of hard work. From their first year, our recruits are delivering our global platform to our clients.’’
Andrea Fletcher agrees that it is not simply a question of high marks. It is a given that we want bright people, but when I look at CVs I want to see people who can demonstrate they are selfstarters. Whether they are pulling pints or selling hamburgers, if they are getting out and taking responsibility and showing initiative then that is a definite tick. People who are involved in teams — rugby, netball or debating committees — come across well. Finally, it is important to really understands what we do. People who think equity trading is all about Michael Douglas in Wall Street, don’t impress.’’
The leading investment banks recruit on campus every year. There is also a range of summer internships that university students can apply for. Merrill Lynch awards an annual scholarship giving potential recruits the opportunity to work at the bank for around three months.
The recruitment process is rigorous and demanding although we try and make it straightforward,’’ Tomkins emphasises. We realise students are busy with papers, exams and so on. We make sure that all applicants have the opportunity to interact with lots of different people throughout the bank. They get to know the business — and every interaction is an opportunity for us to assess them. We aim to sort through and find the intellectual rigour we need, and the passion that makes investment bankers successful. It is a high energy demanding industry. We want to get it right.’’
Once recruited, investment banks (despite, or perhaps because of some high-profile cases) are now among those organisations working the hardest to retain their talent with a particular focus on assisting women to stay on in the workforce.
Competitive: Cathy Tomkins, of Merrill Lynch, says investment banks are difficult to get into