In my post, “Suck It Up Already! Suffering Is A Rite Of Passage,” I discussed how going to the media to rat out your company is a dishonorable thing to do. If I was a manager, I’d never hire someone who couldn’t resolve his/her differences in private. What I didn’t expect was for a reader to comment that I had done the same!
See Virginia’s comment below,
“I kind of feel like you ratted out your company because you are constantly saying how awful it was working on Wall Street.”
Before this comment, I never believed I ratted out the companies I worked for. Discussing an industry is much different from bagging on a specific company. I shared stories about how it was tough work coming in at 5:30am and leaving after 7:30pm almost every day in NYC. The pressure to perform was immense. But not once have I ever spoken poorly about either of my two employers. How could I, when they took a chance on me for 13 years?
Yes, working on Wall Street is an ass-kicking, but there’s a lot of good as well. To dispel any perception that I didn’t appreciate my time there, I’m going to talk about the benefits of working in finance. I realize it’s much more popular to crap on Wall Street. But it’s good to see the other side.
THE BENEFITS OF WORKING ON WALL STREET
1. You get to make a solid income. Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Today, analysts right out of college make a base salary of ~$85,000 and a first year bonus of $50,000 – $75,000 when joining a major firm. When I left in 2012, a Director level salary was $250,000 on average, and a Managing Director salary was $400,000 – $450,000. That’s a lot of money, especially since bonuses can easily equal 1-2X your salary in a normal year.
2. You learn how to work under pressure. Whether it’s working a large order for a tier 1 institutional client, trying to rank in the top three in their latest broker vote, or getting a request to go back into the office at 11:30pm to finish a pitch, working on Wall Street toughens you up so that anything you do afterward becomes easily manageable. You begin to thrive under pressure, making you a valuable asset if you want to join a startup, a sports team, or any organization where production or death is the requirement.
3. You build a tremendous amount of endurance and tenacity. Wall Street is famous for working their analysts and associates 80 – 100 hours a week. After a couple years of working such long hours, you start building an endurance. Many people give up way to0 early before the good stuff begins to happen. They can’t take the rejections, the pressure, the late nights, and the early mornings. Once you regularly work 12+ hour days, you’ll be able to produce so much more than your competitors in many other industries.
4. You deepen your knowledge. In order to be good at your job on the front lines, you’ve got to be knowledgeable about economics, politics, companies, and investing. You’ve got to know your stuff if you want to add value for clients. Otherwise, they’ll just do a deal with the next gung ho person at another firm. Because there’s always something new to learn, there’s always a new challenge. When you’re constantly feeling challenged, you’re motivated to do much more. There was something new to learn every day I came into the office.
5. You’ll become a better communicator. It’s eat what you kill after getting past the first several years as a financial analyst. If you produce nothing, you won’t get paid, nor will you get promoted. You’ll probably lose your job if you’re not a consistent producer. Wall Street forces you to interact with intense people who are often very smart. By being a better communicator, you’ll meet more people, develop more friendships, and stand up for yourself better during any negotiation process.
6. You gain access to private investments. When I was working at Goldman, there was always some type of investment employees could invest in alongside institutional investors. Unless you had millions of dollars, you probably wouldn’t get the opportunity. For example, I was able to invest in the Andor hedge fund that actually went up a lot during the dotcom bubble given they were net short. It saved my retirement portfolio at the time.
7. You might become a better investor. When all you do every day is think about how to make your clients money through investments, it’s likely you will also become a better investor with your own money. Because I’ve been trained to look for specific things in each company or offering, I may often see investments much differently from my friends who haven’t worked in finance. As a result, while others may let their savings sit in a money market account, I’m more confident deploying my capital. Over time, the capital may grow much greater than the average non-finance person.
8. You appreciate life more once you leave. The public hates Wall Street just like it hates members of Congress. You can have absolutely nothing to do with the latest crisis, yet you are still blamed for all the latest economic woes. People will mistake you for the CEOs and top lieutenants who make the mega millions. It can be very demoralizing. Having experienced hatred, you appreciate life after Wall Street much more when people just treat you like a normal person.
9. You gain a lot of optionality. Making lots of money is nice, but gaining the optionality to do more things is even better. If you are able to avoid the temptation of spending like a crazy person, after just 10 years of work, you’re probably a millionaire. Once you have meaningful savings, you can explore new occupations, spend more time with family, or launch your own initiative. You might even be able to start a personal finance blog that gains a modest following!
10. You learn how to be independent. Because you’re so used to eating what you kill, you no longer rely on anybody to survive. Independence allows other people to live their lives the way they want without having you be their responsibility.
11. You can provide a comfortable life for your family. Assuming you finally leave, or have enough time to spend with your family, the money you make can be used to secure your family’s financial future – maybe even multi-generational financial security. The one thing about having money is not stressing as much about money. Being able to take care of your parents and help provide them a better life is priceless. Being able to donate both your time and money to helping other people is also very rewarding.
If you want to know about the cons of working on Wall Street, that’s easy. People who don’t know better will automatically think you’re a thief thanks to movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and Boiler Room. You have to explain to them that such firms are bucket shops where no decent person goes to work. But they will still lump everybody together because it’s easier to find an enemy than a friend. You’ll probably get fat and develop some sort of health problem if you work more than a couple years on Wall Street. The stress will shorten your lifespan if you don’t get out before you die. You you may very well die on the job due to all the hours, stress, and pressure to succeed!
WALL STREET ISN’T SO BAD
Due to the financial crisis, outrageous Hollywood movies featuring crooks from bucket shops (no qualified person works at Stratton Oakmont), and folks with eye popping salaries, there will probably always be a stigma attached to working on Wall Street. When people are losing money, it’s easy to blame the finance industry. But despite the poor perception, I’d gladly do it all over again for all the reasons above and more.
Providing capital is essential to a healthy functioning global economy. Companies are often created through fund raising. Markets work due to the liquidity Wall Street firms provide. Thanks to the innovation of ETFs and index funds, retail investors can now buy a plethora of low cost securities for a better retirement. A digital wealth advisor like Betterment is my pick for a low cost way to build a risk-appropriate investment portfolio.
If it wasn’t for 13 years on Wall Street, Financial Samurai wouldn’t have been born. As a reader of this site, you’re the beneficiary of all the things I’ve learned about finance in order to achieve financial freedom sooner. If I had some 9-to-5 job, I’d probably quit writing after a couple years in because it is damn hard to continue writing 1,200+ word articles 3-4X a week for years. But Wall Street conditioned me to keep on going like a juggernaut.
If you’re able to get an offer to work on The Street, take it. If you can get a front line job where you’re responsible for bringing in the revenue, even better.
Addendum: If you’re going to join Wall Street, you might as well get a front office job in sales, trading, or corporate finance. That’s where the big bucks can be made. Joining a Wall Street firm to do operations, tech, HR etc won’t get you paid, and you’ll get all the grief that goes along with working in finance as well. Do finance at a finance firm. Do tech at a tech firm.
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Updated for 2020 and beyond. Trump is deregulating the finance industry and compensation is going back up as a result. Further, competition from big tech companies is forcing Wall Street to be more aggressive.