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Investment Banker Career Guide

What is an investment banker?

An investment banker acts as a bridge between corporations and investors. They are financial advisors responsible for helping companies, governments, and other entities plan and manage financial aspects of business or service operations. Their core function revolves around helping corporations raise capital, often by issuing securities or facilitating mergers and acquisitions.

Investment banking is a crucial component of the financial sector. These professionals play a key role in shaping the economic landscape by enabling growth, facilitating job creation, and promoting investment flows. Their expert advice and services are sought after in deciding financial strategies, navigating regulatory complexities, and exploring potential growth opportunities.

Duties and responsibilities

An investment banker is responsible for a range of duties that include advising clients on investments, helping businesses raise money, managing IPOs (Initial Public Offerings), and working on mergers and acquisitions. They analyze the state of capital markets, develop financial models to predict outcomes, and create persuasive presentations to sell their recommendations to clients.

They also spend considerable time on due diligence processes to evaluate an entity’s assets and liabilities and understand the risks involved in a deal. Their work further involves conducting extensive market research, crafting investment strategies, and negotiating deal terms on behalf of their clients.

Work environment

Investment bankers usually work in office environments, often within the finance department or division of an investment bank or financial institution. Their work involves extensive collaboration, not just with their own team but also with clients, potential investors, and other financial professionals.

The world of investment banking is fast-paced and high-stress, with significant pressure to deliver results. It’s worth noting that this field is competitive, and professionalism and polished communication skills are of utmost importance. Due to the global nature of finance, these professionals may also have to travel frequently and work across different time zones.

Typical work hours

Investment bankers typically work well beyond 40 hours a week. The nature of their job may call for long and irregular hours, including early mornings, late nights, and weekends. Particularly during major deals, they might need to work straight through the weekend or be available at all hours to communicate with clients in different time zones.

For those with a passion for finance and the drive to perform in a high-stakes environment, the demanding nature of the role can be rewarding. It is a career that offers the potential for significant financial compensation, along with opportunities to help shape the dynamics of the global economy.

How to become an investment banker

This career guide section outlines how to become an investment banker. Essential steps involve acquiring essential education, developing strong financial analysis skills, and navigating competitive internship opportunities.

Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree

The first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Preferred fields of study include finance, economics, mathematics, or related fields. The coursework should provide a strong foundation in financial concepts, business principles, and analytical methods.

Step 2: Gain relevant experience

Being an investment banker calls for real-world experience. You can acquire such experience through internships. This practical exposure can give a clear understanding of how financial markets operate and could potentially lead directly to a full-time job offer.

Step 3: Pursue an MBA (optional)

Securing an MBA isn’t mandatory but can be highly advantageous. It can help elevate you to senior investment banking roles. It typically takes two years to complete, teaching a higher level of organizational management, strategic decision-making, and financial analysis.

Step 4: Pass the FINRA exams

Candidates must pass the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Series 79 exam, which is a licensing requirement for entry-level bankers. Passing this test shows a firm understanding of investment banking practices, debt and equity structures, and mergers and acquisitions.

Step 5: Network

Networking in the investment banking field is imperative for career advancement. Attend industry events, join professional organizations, and utilize alumni networks to meet professionals in this field. These relationships can contribute positively to one’s career growth and opportunities.

Step 6: Apply for investment banking positions

The final step is to apply for entry-level investment banking analyst positions. These jobs typically last two to three years, after which you may be promoted to an associate role and then potentially advance to a senior-level position.

How much do investment bankers make?

Investment banker salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Their compensation can be particularly influenced by performance, as bonuses and commissions often constitute a significant portion of the income.

Highest paying industries

  • Securities and Commodity Contracts – $169,000
  • Investment Banking and Securities Dealing – $167,000
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises – $162,000
  • Money Market Mutual Fund Management – $155,000

Highest paying states

  • New York – $170,920
  • California – $167,110
  • Illinois – $162,500
  • Texas – $158,890
  • Massachusetts – $157,390

Browse investment banker salary data by market

Types of investment bankers

This career guide section highlights the various career types and areas of specialization for investment bankers. Below, we highlight the unique attributes and responsibilities of each job title.

Industry coverage group

Specialists under the industry coverage group umbrella investigate and scrutinize specific industries. This role includes understanding trends, detecting opportunities, and providing commercial insights about the industry to assist clients.

Product coverage

Professionals falling under product coverage concentrate on banks’ various financial products, such as mergers and acquisitions (M&A) advisory or debt and equity offerings. This type of investment banker is tasked with in-depth knowledge and execution capabilities of specific financial products.

Risk management

Crucial to the investment banking sector, risk management professionals analyze the potential risks involved in investment decisions. They analyze market conditions, political climates, and credit risks to minimize potential losses and ensure the bank’s compliance with relevant regulations.

Restructuring and reorganization

The realm of restructuring and reorganization is geared toward companies facing financial distress. Investment bankers in this specialization provide solutions to corporations, allowing them to reduce debt, enhance liquidity, and rebuild their businesses.

Private equity

Investment bankers specializing in private equity assist companies with raising funds from private investors rather than a public market. From structuring deals to sourcing funds, these professionals handle transactions that help businesses grow without an initial public offering.

Investment management

Investment management focuses on generating wealth for clients, which may be individual investors, corporations, or nonprofit organizations. Professionals in this segment create and manage portfolios of investments that align with a client’s goals, and they handle securities such as stocks and bonds and assets like real estate to meet specified investment goals.

Top skills for investment bankers

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as an investment banker. In this section, we will explore numerous abilities, both technical and interpersonal, that are imperative for achieving excellence in this challenging profession.

Financial acumen

Gaining in-depth knowledge in finance is a necessity, involving understanding complex financial strategies, market trends, and economic datasets. It also includes mastering financial analysis techniques to evaluate a company’s financial health or determine an investment’s value.

Analytical skills

An aptitude for numerical reasoning is crucial in this profession. They should have strong analytical skills to assess and process quantitative data, predict outcomes, address financial risks, and craft sound investment strategies.

Attention to detail

Overlooking minute elements could be detrimental in this field. These professionals should possess alertness to every detail, ensuring nothing is missed when reviewing contracts, financial reports, or investment plans.

Problem-solving abilities

The unpredictable nature of the finance sector demands a knack for addressing complex issues quickly and effectively. Whether interpreting confusing financial data or diagnosing a struggling portfolio, problem-solving skills play a vital role in this field.

Interpersonal and communication skills

Despite being highly numbers-oriented, investment banking requires strong interpersonal and communication skills. They often interface with high-level corporate clients, requiring elegant communication and robust relationship-building skills.

Stress management

The high stakes and fast-paced nature of this job demand an ability to function effectively under pressure. Professionals in this role should have proficiency in staying composed in stress-induced scenarios and managing work responsibilities in a demanding environment.

Investment banker career path options

As an investment banker, many career progression opportunities lie ahead. Like any other career, the journey upward requires dedication, enhanced skill sets, networking, and an understanding of the industry. The path typically starts at an associate level, progressing to vice president (VP), then managing director (MD), and potentially reaching as high as group head or partner.

After spending a few years as an analyst or associate, you may move up to a role as a senior associate or vice president. These roles require more responsibility, including direct client interaction, sourcing new deals, and leading deal teams. As a VP or senior associate, you play a pivotal role in deal negotiations, requiring both strong interpersonal skills and technical expertise.

Nearing the apex of the career ladder, you might graduate into roles such as director or managing director. These positions involve sourcing, structuring, and closing deals. Managing directors are often in charge of specific sectors or regions and are responsible for generating and managing relationships with key clients in that area. The skills needed at this level are more strategic and big-picture-focused. You must navigate market trends and align them with your client’s goals.

For those who rise to the top, positions such as group head or partner are achievable. These individuals have significant influence over the bank’s strategic direction and are involved in high-level decision-making processes. They are responsible for building and maintaining the bank’s reputation and must have an impeccable understanding of market trends and business opportunities. It’s a demanding role, but the financial and professional rewards can be substantial.

In addition, lateral moves into different areas of finance are common. After gaining a solid understanding of financial markets, mergers, and acquisitions, you may decide to use your skills in private equity, hedge funds, or venture capital. Switching to a different industry, like corporate finance or moving into academia, is another potential route.

The role of investment banker has transformed considerably over the years, largely catalyzed by advanced technology, increasingly stringent regulations, and a more focused understanding of societal impact beyond just profits. Breaking the traditional mold is now a trend. These professionals no longer exclusively club up with large corporations or high-net-worth individuals; they also extend their services to smaller businesses and startups in diverse industries. The democratization of banking services is seen as a promising path to generate new revenue sources and tap into underrepresented markets.

With stakeholders paying increasing attention to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) aspects, the demand for sustainable and impactful investment strategies is also on the rise. As a result, investment bankers are frequently involved in crafting and promoting sustainable investment opportunities. This requires them to stay updated on evolving ESG metrics and communicate their value propositions effectively to their clients.

The expanding reach of digital technology is another significant trend reshaping the investment banking landscape. Traditional business models are being disrupted by the rise of ‘fintech’ (financial technology). This is prompting professionals to continuously upskill by adopting new technological tools and platforms. This trend is expected to continue to fuel transformative shifts in the industry.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents, including investment bankers, can expect an employment growth of about 7 percent through 2023. Thus, the job prospects are predicted to stay competitive, as the demand for these professionals often aligns with the economy’s overall health.

Investment banker career tips

Understand the structure of investment banking

Investment banking involves several roles and functions. Gain a superb understanding of the structure and divisions within the field, such as mergers and acquisitions, sales and trading, equity research, and others. Solid knowledge of these areas allows for smooth movement across various roles and positions within the banking sector.

Master financial modeling and valuation

Financial modeling and valuation are the bread and butter of an investment banker’s work. Make an effort to develop strong skills in Excel and understand financial statements, corporate valuation techniques, and financial modeling. This includes learning how to build out operational models and cash flow projections and being able to value a company using different methods.

Stay current on market trends

These professionals must stay up-to-date with economic news and market trends. Regularly reading financial publications and reports from financial research firms will provide a solid knowledge base. Understanding the current climate gives you an edge in providing strategic advice to clients and spotting potential investment opportunities.

Build a professional network

Networking is an essential part of progressing in investment banking. This industry heavily depends on contacts, relationships, and referrals. Attending industry events and seminars and engaging on professional online platforms can help you to build your network.

  • Financial Management Association International (FMA)
  • Association for Financial Professionals (AFP)
  • Investment Management Consultants Association (IMCA)
  • Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA)

Pursue continuous learning

Investment banking is multifaceted and constantly evolving. Regular investing in your knowledge base and skills will be a significant investment in your career. There are several courses, certificates, and programs available that can offer more specialized insights.

  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
  • Certificate in Investment Performance Measurement (CIPM)
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
  • Financial Modeling & Valuation Analyst (FMVA) Certification

Where the investment banker jobs are

Top employers

  • J.P. Morgan
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Morgan Stanley
  • Citigroup
  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Top states

  • New York
  • California
  • Illinois
  • Texas
  • Massachusetts

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • eFinancialCareers
  • SimplyHired


What is the primary role of an investment banker?

Investment bankers serve as a bridge between corporations and investors. They help corporations procure funding from investors by selling securities like bonds and stocks. Also, they often advise on mergers and acquisitions, asset management, and financial restructurings.

Do investment bankers need specialized certifications?

While there are no mandatory certifications for entry-level positions, advanced roles often require licenses and certifications like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) license or the Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) charter. Such certifications enhance professional credibility and may lead to advanced job opportunities.

What are the typical working hours for an investment banker?

Investment banking is known for long and hectic working hours. Typical work weeks can extend up to 80 hours, with late nights and weekends often necessary, especially during busy periods. These demanding hours come with the territory, reflecting the high stakes and rapid pace of the financial industry.

What is the typical education path for an investment banker?

The typical education path starts with a bachelor’s degree in finance, business, economics, or related fields. After gaining some experience in the finance industry, many investment bankers further their education by earning an MBA. Some bankers might further specialize with graduate degrees in financial engineering or mathematical finance.

Do investment bankers travel a lot?

One’s travel frequency as an investment banker largely depends on the specific job role and firm. However, travel is usually a common aspect of the job, as it often involves meeting with clients, attending industry events, or visiting companies for analysis. The extent of travel can range from occasional short trips to regular international travel.

How is the work-life balance for an investment banker?

Work-life balance in investment banking can be challenging. The job often entails long hours and high-pressure situations, which can strain personal time and relationships. However, many bankers find the intensive nature of the work fulfilling and professionally rewarding. Efforts to manage time and stress efficiently can help maintain an acceptable quality of life.

What is the most challenging part of being an investment banker?

The most challenging aspect of investment banking often involves managing the high-stress work environment. Deadlines are tight, and the workload is high, making it challenging to maintain a steady pace without getting overwhelmed. Also, since the stakes in investment banking are generally high, maintaining accuracy and clarity under pressure can pose a significant challenge.

Can investment bankers specialize in specific industries?

Absolutely. Many investment bankers choose to specialize in certain industries, such as technology, healthcare, energy, or real estate. This specialization allows them to develop deeper insights and familiarity with the trends, challenges, and opportunities unique to these sectors, ultimately enhancing their ability to offer sound advice and make strategic decisions for clients within these industries.