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You Don't Have to Work on Wall Street to Work on Wall Street

Published: Jul 18, 2013

Topics: Finance  Workplace Issues  

To many people, the phrase "Wall Street" conjures a young Michael Douglas, hair slicked-back, red suspenders over his shoulders, manicured fingernails curled around a microphone, standing at the head of a classroom filled with eager MBA students as the words "Greed is good" proudly spews forth from between devil-red lips. To others, it conjures a line of imposing skyscrapers inside of which clean-shaven men in blue and gray Italian wool lean back, place their feet on desks, and speak into headsets at very high decibels while punching numbers into keyboards as flatscreens conspiratorially blink back at them. And perhaps to others it brings to mind smug gray-haired men in brightly colored ties seated behind oak desks in front of aging elected officials, smirking as they field inquiry after inquiry about alleged misdeeds, dollar signs forming behind ice-cold blue eyes.

These images, however Hollywood, cartoonish, and tabloid-esque they might be, do tell part of the story about what it's like to work on Wall Street. But just a part of it. A small part. Which is to say there are a lot more sides to "working on Wall Street" than Gordon Gekkos, ravenous traders, and unrepentant CEOs. And, to that end, working on Wall Street often means not working on Wall Street at all. Working on Wall Street could mean working in the Windy City. It could also mean working in San Francisco, or Houston, or Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, or Washington, D.C. It could also mean not working all-nighters five days a week. Not working with sharp-elbowed men and women. Not working around the clock while getting zero job satisfaction. Instead, it could mean gaining the same type of experience you'd get working in the city that never sleeps whilegetting significant job satisfaction, just as much money in a lower cost of living town, along with a rather healthy work/life balance.

That said, this past spring Vault administered its latest Banking Survey to more than 3,000 investment banking professionals across the country, asking them to rate their firms in a variety of categories on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being not satisfied at all in a certain area and 10 being incredibly satisfied). A handful of the categories professionals were asked to rate were overall job satisfaction, working hours, compensation, work/life balance, and company culture. And it is these you'll see highlighted in the below charts, which compare scores in these categories based on location of professional.


As you can see in the above, banking professionals in Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco are much more satisfied overall with their jobs than their counterparts in New York. According to one very pleased Chicago banker, "The culture is humane, the people are pleasant, and the quality of the work is top notch. A**holes, ranters, and ravers need not apply." 


Perhaps surprisingly, Houston ranks lower than New York with respect to satisfaction with number of hours worked. Meanwhile, Chicago and San Franciso professionals are much more happy about the amount they work each week. Here's a Chicago-based banker talking about hours: "I work long hours, which are to be expected in banking, but what is not typical is the amount of work able to be done from home. I have two kids and so evenings are important for me to be with them, so I'm able to get home, eat dinner with my family, put my kids to bed, then log back on from home to keep working. I do this at least a couple nights a week." In San Francicso, a banker has this to say: "There's no expectation of weekend work. We do work weekends when required, but it's not a given."


It looks like it pays to work in Houston. Here's what bankers and traders there have to say when it comes to satisfaction with respect to comp: "We consistenly pay at the top of the Street in salary and bonus." "My firm is very generous when it comes to compensating entry-level positions; the bonuses have been great so far, and the insurance benefits are great." "Very competitive salary, at higher levels than competitors." "Analyst monetary compensation is above the rest of banks in Houston and paid all in cash."

work life

If you work in corporate finance, M&A, restructuring, or one of the many other investment banking groups outside of sales and trading and research, hours will be long no matter for which bank you join, and no matter in which city you work. However, some banks in some locations look more kindly upon outside, personal commitments. Here's a banker in Chicago on his work/life balance: "This is investment banking, and everyone knows the reality of what that means for work/life balance and quality of life (or lack therof). That said, if you have an event or important appointment outside of work and no deliverables are due, you can usually leave early with the expectation that you finish your work on an appropriate timeline."

A San Francisco-based professional who works for a bulge-bracket bank presents a similar sentiment: "Going into investment banking, no one would expect to have a significant amount of free time outside the office. However, the firm has taken great strides to promote a work/life balance at the junior level, including avoiding new staffings towards the end of the week and monitoring the distribution of work across the group. The staffers seem to have a good feel of where individual capacities stand."

firm culture

Those who work in Houston are much more satisfied with their firms' cultures than their counterparts in other cities. According to a young Texas-based banker, "Everyone takes an interest in your development. It's an easy environment that encourages questions. The firm likes to promote from within." Another Space City banker says, "I've had an unbelievable experience thus far. I've worked a tremendous amount, but also have learned more than imaginable."

Of course, all this doesn't mean that you can't find incredible satisfaction in all of these areas and more if you work on Wall Street, both literally and metaphorically. But it certainly underscores the fact that life as a banker doesn't have to mean life as a New York City banker.

For all the results of our latest Banking Survey, check back the week after Labor Day, when we'll be releasing our annual Prestige Rankings, a ranking of the 50 most prestigious firms in investment banking, and the Vault Banking 50, a ranking of the banking firms deemed the best to work for.

Follow me @vaultfinance.

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