What's it like inside an investment bank?

Welcome! Here, we take you through the doors of an investment bank. We'll go round the key departments, in the company of some senior bankers so that you understand inside-out the work in which these institutions are involved - and how they make money. We'll also help you get a picture of an investment bank as a whole and look at how corporate social responsibility fits into business.

Location, location, location

Many of the London offices of the world's major investment banks are to be found in the City, close to financial landmarks like the London Stock Exchange, the Bank of England and insurance market Lloyds of London. A significant number of banks, however, have made the leap eastward to the Canary Wharf area on the site of London's former docklands, most notably Morgan Stanley which owns a portion of the Canary Wharf estate. A few banks can be found further afield - leading French investment bank BNP Paribas's London headquarters are in leafy and pleasant Marylebone, and a handful have chosen to base themselves in West London hedge fund-land, Mayfair.

In truth, however, location is of little importance to the business which goes on within the walls of these global financial institutions - whether you're talking corporate acquisitions or commodities trading, the vast majority of what happens takes place through electronic trading systems, on conference calls, or by email. And the ubiquity of BlackBerries and iPhones means that bankers don't even need to be at their desks to get their business done.

Screens and beans

Once you get past reception and, inevitably, some rigorous security and elaborate floral displays, you'll be able to take a close look at bankers in their natural habitat. Whatever the department, you're likely to find that things are open-plan, as swift and easy communication is critical in most banking roles.

You'll also notice that many workstations have two or three screens, and sometimes many more, which allows bankers working on complex spreadsheets, acquisition models, or financial product structures to look at several data sources at once. Traders, who usually have to monitor data from various exchanges as well as sending emails, keeping up with news and referring to documents like everyone else, are likely to have the largest number of screens - perhaps as many as six or eight.

Take a closer look at the screens on the desk of any banker, and you'll notice that what's flashing up on some of them looks a little different to the Windows display you know and love. It's a Bloomberg terminal - the access point for Bloomberg's vast financial and corporate information library which uses its very own specially designed monitors and interface.

You're also likely to see cups of coffee and sugary snacks on bankers' desks - working hours here are often long and intense and a quick break to source an energy fix from the firm's canteen provides a chance to stretch the legs as well as a jolt to the system. Note that most bankers won't leave their desks for long - things move quickly in finance and so, unless they're entertaining a client, it's generally not worth their while to stray far from their seat during the working day.

Team games

One of the key zones in most investment banks is the trading floor. It's here that, as you'd expect, the traders are based, and you're likely to find the sales and structuring teams here too, with the research department not far away.

Work here is all to do with using the sale and purchase of bonds, shares, commodities and derivatives to assist clients with their business objectives and to protect their interests. At some banks you'll also find proprietary trading teams on the trading floor who work with the bank's own capital to make profits, and to protect the bank against risks it might face.

The other main section of an investment bank is its corporate finance and advice division. Bankers here help companies raise money, buy and sell other companies, and restructure their financial affairs in the most advantageous way possible. Here you'll find bankers specialising in different types of fundraising. Some will focus on assisting companies with raising money through the capital markets, usually either by issuing shares or debt products, while others will help companies who want to borrow money from one or more banks. There'll also be bankers working on corporate transactions, particularly the sale and purchase of companies.

Teams in both of these key divisions - that is, those based on the trading floor and those focused on corporate finance and advice - are likely to concentrate on a particular financial product or service (such as equity derivatives, or restructuring), a particular industry (such as energy, or retail), or a particular region (such as the Middle East, or Latin America).

These teams often work together, but it's worth noting that communication is limited by law in certain ways between the trading floor and those advising clients on transactions to prevent the bank's trading teams unfairly benefitting from inside information on a deal.

To give you the best sense of how a bank's business works, we've chosen to focus in this section on the teams mentioned above because they are the ones which directly generate revenue.

However, it's important to note that every bank also has teams in other areas doing crucial work to support revenue generation, and to grow and protect the bank's business. These areas include internal finance, risk management, regulatory and legal compliance, operations, and IT, among others. For more information about these departments, which can also provide excellent opportunities for graduates.

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