The next steps

Becoming a successful analyst is only the beginning. Hannah Langworth speaks to Joshua Ponniah, Vice President at Nomura, to find out what lies beyond, and how to get there

Could you start by outlining your own career so far?

I joined Lehman Brothers in 2004 as an analyst. Before that, I studied at UCL, where I did an undergraduate degree in physics and a masters degree in astrophysics.

I started in the EMEA equity capital markets team, specialising in financial institutions, so I was helping banks, insurance companies, hedge funds and private equity funds to raise capital through the sale of shares in their companies (transactions like IPOs, rights issues and block trades). In 2008, around the time that Lehman's European businesses were acquired by Nomura, my role expanded to include working with equity derivatives for corporate clients. This work involves structuring bespoke solutions for clients to provide financing for them, or to hedge against equity exposures they may have. I've been doing this kind of work ever since, and am now a Vice President, with responsibility for our equity derivatives business in the UK and the Middle East.

From your more senior perspective, how do you see the role of an analyst?

Being an analyst is all about learning everything you possibly can so that you can become impactful to the people you're working with as quickly as possible.

We want new analysts to be articulate, confident, numerate, logical, and to demonstrate good common sense. It doesn't really matter what your academic background is for many roles, but intellectual curiosity is important.

Once here, you should aim to develop your ability to evaluate situations and to work effectively with your peers and senior bankers alike. You will improve further your communication and numeracy skills, and your commercial instincts, that is, your awareness and understanding of business opportunities.

What differentiates excellent analysts from ones who are just competent?

A top performing analyst is one who really adds value to projects. It's the difference between executing a task allocated to you well and thinking creatively about new ways to do things, or considering how we could provide additional services or advice to the client.

The other factor I'd highlight is personality. Some analysts are a pleasure to work with because they're always enthusiastic. The demands of the job are such that you need to know you can relate to your colleagues and rely on their support, even when everyone's under pressure.

How is being an associate different to being an analyst?

Typically, a graduate recruit spends three years as an analyst, before being promoted to associate. As an associate, you'll have more opportunity to exercise your own judgement, and having built a solid network across the bank, you'll be well placed to get some things done with greater independence. You're also a sounding board for the analysts. If they have questions, you're their first port of call and part of your job is to have the answers, or to know where to find them.

What should an analyst do to make sure they get this promotion?

When we hire people, we're looking for those we think have the potential to go far, not just to be good analysts. To fulfill this potential and progress as an analyst - and beyond - it's important that you're always aspiring to reach the next level. So by the time you're a second year analyst, you should be aiming to operate in the same way as a first year associate.

What do you need to do to progress into the senior ranks at an investment bank?

It's important to demonstrate, even as an analyst, that you've got the potential to bring in business at some point in the future. It may take several years for you to get there, but your seniors need to see that level of drive and hunger, essentially a willingness to work as hard as it takes.

More specifically, there are few attributes which the all the senior bankers I work with demonstrate day to day. They have good judgement, work constructively together to get deals done, and have a "can-do" attitude, that is, they always try to find solutions to problems.

What are some of the common mistakes made by junior people at investment banks which can inhibit their progress?

Some people fail to recognise that, while they may have been the best and brightest at their school or university, everyone else around them at the bank is also highly educated and intelligent, and may well have more professional experience than them. Some fall into the trap of thinking they know better than everyone else, an attitude which helps no one.

A second common mistake is not recognising the pressures that other people face, meaning that you look at tasks from your perspective only. You should never forget to be empathetic to the environment around you and learn to adapt to all situations. Try to speak to people in person or on the phone rather than on email - this will always be more effective.

What should a junior person at an investment bank expect the bank and their colleagues to do to help them develop and progress?

There are several different kinds of training provided here at Nomura to help staff develop.

We have courses on specific areas of the business. There are also ones on general technical skills, like Excel, or business writing, and on "soft" skills like speed reading, public speaking, negotiation, or people management. There's also day-to-day informal feedback and training. Analysts who join us can take it for granted that their colleagues will want to help them learn because the faster we get you up to speed, the more useful you are.

Here you'll have two formal reviews per year, where you'll get constructive feedback on your work, covering the areas that you need to work on to progress - and then it's up to you to do so. It's important to remember that banking is a tough industry, particularly so at the moment given market conditions, so to a great extent progression is about finding ways yourself to demonstrate you have what it takes to progress. But the bank has invested a lot in its recruits, so will ensure its people are given opportunities to excel.

What final advice would you have for those contemplating a career in investment banking?

You should approach investment banking with your eyes open, and with the understanding that you're going to work long hours in the first few years, and beyond. But the hard work and the hours that you put in will usually be intellectually stimulating, rewarding and, when working on a live transaction, exciting.

You're in control of your career, and should never stop challenging yourself.