The Game: How the City really works | Investment banking on The Gateway

The Game: How the City really works

The Gateway presents an exclusive extract from Alex Buchanan's riveting description of the investment banking world

Investment banking and the progression of capitalism are one and the same. In a world in which the strong subsume the weak, the rich get richer and "biggest is best" cuts the smartest cloth, bankers and company executives/megalomaniacs can be each other's greatest allies.

Personality test

Companies don't (normally) hire banks because they have the most palatial offices or the most industrious graduates. They hire those that a) give the best advice, and b) get the job done. And while there are occasions when banks appear on the team sheet because of who they are and not because of what they offer, most of the time individuals clinch deals, not institutions.

Rainmakers, kingmakers or deal makers, call them what you will, senior bankers are under constant pressure to deliver. Like the snooker player who thinks two shots ahead or the DJ who spins three records at once, they're forever scheming, manipulating and manoeuvring, thirsting for fees as they run from client to client. In an industry where league tables can be sliced, diced and re-sliced to suit every bank's purposes, bankers are assessed and re-assessed on a constant basis. You're only as good as your last deal. And revenues are just one side of the story - market share matters too. Bagging a $3 million fee means nothing if the guy down the street/in the office next door brings home ten times that amount.

The successful banker is a jack-of-all-trades. Adviser, salesman, counsellor and sounding board to name but several, he must combine reason with resilience and temper gluttony with self-restraint.

Predatory instincts

Patience is a senior banker's greatest virtue. Transactions earn fees but advice costs nothing. You can spend years helping a client navigate the most shark-infested of waters and still not receive a penny in fees. A client might choose to sit on his hands or, as is more likely, deals that you thought were nailed-on certainties will suddenly unravel/lead to a dead end.

On the other hand you can't afford to rest on your laurels - if you do you'll soon be superseded. While UK companies (if not continental European ones) employ official advisers, in theory anyone can pitch an idea and win an investment-banking mandate. Even though this is an industry where relationships are all-important, it's not uncommon for one adviser to be elbowed out of the way by another. This can happen for any number of reasons. People fall out, management move on, somebody turns up with a better idea or a company grows too big for its boots, dazzled by the bright lights and yearning for the (not necessarily) superior services of a larger bank. In this last instance the cuckolded adviser can do nothing - kicking up a fuss will only damage the relationship - and so settles unhappily for a minor role.

Driving forward

Not for nothing do investment bankers regard themselves as the titans of the capitalist world. They drive the bandwagon and others follow in their wake. Reaching the investment banking summit is no joke - you must have brains and brawn.

But once you hit the peak you mustn't stop and admire the view. The intellectual high ground may look stunning, but those who stand still freeze to death. The successful banker never rests, combining creativity with obduracy and social flair with political nous.

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