ALL ABOUT INVESTMENT BANKING
1. It's a ton of work, all the time. Let alone the office work, which becomes less important as a banker rises in seniority; just constantly being immersed in the world of finance is mentally and physically exhausting. Money never sleeps, so senior investment bankers rarely do either. 2. It's also reputation-conscious. Everything you say in public can harm your professional brand and deals you are working on, and give ammo to your enemies (and over the course of a successful IBK career, you will have made many of these). Together, these facts make it unlikely a current ibanker will find the time to write a detailed answer to this question. So, you'll have to settle for me--a former very junior banker for a small boutique who lived the dream for a few years then skedaddled after getting the Associate promotion.
Investment banks' primary businesses are:
Raising capital for corporations, governments or other financial institutions (Stock or bond offerings, loans for LBOs, e.g.). Old powerful banks like Salomon Bros., JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs all got started doing this. Making markets in all sorts of securities, from stocks and bonds to CDSs and futures (so-called "Sales & trading"). Every bulge bracket plus hundreds of smaller firms in many countries do this. Advising on corporate restructurings, corporate finance and capital structure (Exactly what it sounds like). Most banks have groups dedicated to this, and some, like Rothschild and Lazard, are legendary for it. Advising on mergers and acquisitions (Providing negotiating, analytical and other support during deals). Since all it takes is to do this well is a handful of bankers' time, this is the most profitable IBK business. Former Morgan Stanley M&A god Paul Taubman is currently one of the world's top M&A advisors--and he doesn't even have a secretary. Helping institutions manage financial risk (Derivatives structuring, e.g.). In the recent past, some of this activity got a few very powerful banks in very deep trouble (lookin' at you, Merrill and Citi), but the biggest problem of them all, AIG, wasn't even a bank.
The skill sets, qualifications, personalities and day-to-day work will vary widely from business to business. Someone who is very good at equity capital markets doesn't necessarily have much credibility in M&A, for example, and conversely, expertise in the latter is by no means a guarantee of business in the former. Each of these fields is fairly specialized and in some cases, such as derivatives, a lot of the bankers have PhDs in areas like physics, statistics or mathematics.
Paradoxically, the services that investment banks provide are quite commoditized, so competition between banks is ferocious. This competitive aspect is sharpened by the fact that companies often play the banks off against each other to obtain better pricing, for instance, or for other purposes. For example, you may wonder why on some headline-grabbing megamergers, Giant Corp. A will be advised by Morgan Stanley, Evercore, Deutsche Bank, Citi, UBS, Barclays and RBC, and Giant Corp. B will be advised by Lazard, Goldman Sachs, BofA Merrill, JPMorgan, Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas. Why would you want to sign up that many advisors? Well, for one thing, to keep them from joining the other side, which, sure as the sun rises, any bank would gladly do for a nice chunk of a fat fee; and also because you would like lots of banks to participate in the syndicate for debt offerings that are sometimes done in conjunction with M&A.
At the junior level, investment banking is actually quite simple (though not easy) and the qualifications for it are somewhat standardized. But I won't go into that because frankly, there's already an entire cottage industry devoted to helping recent college grads get into this set of absurdly lucrative jobs (name me another sector where the absolute lowest-paid 22-year-old employee who still has acne clears $100k a year...
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