How much do investment bankers really work?

Spoiler alert: Investment bankers work long hours, but not quite as long as you think.

The issue of grueling working hours in high-pressure investment banking jobs has been a major point of conversation this past year. Many people in the industry have been asking whether this work culture is unreasonable, and whether something needs to change. One of the biggest moves has been from Goldman Sachs, who started requiring their summer interns to leave the office by midnight and arrive no earlier than 7am.

In order to determine with more certainty just how much investment bankers work, we reached out to our friends at Wall Street Oasis about running a poll. They asked their users “How many hours per week do you spend at the office?,” and have received 962 responses up through the writing of this article. There’s probably no better place than WSO for asking this question, since the website is a Reddit-style online forum for young people who either have, or are aspiring to obtain, a job in investment banking or a related finance field. While the results need to be taken with some caveats – and we’ll go over those, of course – the poll provides a trove of information on who’s filling these jobs, who they are, and how long they’re working.

WSO PollResults

First, the results.

The first thing that jumps out is that “40-50 Hours” is the most common response among those who have full time jobs. That seems pretty on par with normal working hours, right? Or, as one commenter aptly put it, “I thought everybody at WSO worked 80+ hours a week.”

Just about any WSO reader would feel the same sentiment – numerous conversations on the site revolve around working long hours, often far in excess of 80 per week. And yet, only 98 respondents, barely over 10%, report working more than 80 hours per week. So what’s going on here?

Two easy – but superficial – assumptions would be: 1. WSO is populated by too many students and aspiring investment bankers to make for a good sample; or 2. Investment bankers don’t work as much as the media makes us think they do.

Fortunately, we can learn more about who the respondents are. WSO puts a “Votes” tab on their polls that lets readers see which users picked which response, and most WSO users indicate their industry and/or their job title in their public profiles. If we exclude the “N/A” category, bringing the total votes down to 728, 461 (63.33%) respondents indicated their industry and 474 (65.11%) reported their title. So let’s zoom in on that 40-50 category.

116 of 214 (54.21%) reporting their industry

122 of 214 (57.01%) reporting their job title

These alone don’t answer many questions. The most represented industry is IB, with 27.2% of respondents, and 21.3% of respondents are interns and another 13.9% are first year analysts. These are the exact jobs with fabled long working hours, and yet they are the most represented in the quite sane 40-50 category. So what gives?

The picture becomes clearer when you compare the proportional representation of various industries across all of the results.

As you can see, the representation of investment bankers increases steadily as hours increase, dropping off only at 110+. At the same time, corporate finance and asset management both peak at 40-50; corporate management declines steadily from there, and asset management plateaus at a little under 10%. Real estate also peaks at 40-50, notwithstanding a handful of outlier results in the 110+ category (this could mean real estate analysts either work “normal” hours or all the time, but there are too few results on the higher end to really tell). PE climbs more or less steadily until it reaches its peak representation at 81-90 – a category notably only populated with IB and PE. Overall, the median result for investment bankers – putting proportionality aside – is 71-80.

What does this begin to tell us? It seems to indicate that there’s some truth to all the talk – investment bankers work very long hours, PE is almost as high, and fields like corporate finance and asset management, while still very demanding of their workers’ time, tend closer to the “normal” 40-hour work week. This supports a common sentiment in IB, that you stick with it for a couple years before throwing up your hands and moving over to a well paying but less extremely demanding job in finance.

Since the fabled IB working hours revolve around interns and younger analysts, let’s also zoom in on job titles across the results. Note that this does not include more senior titles, like VP, manager, director, etc., because there were too few in the results to be statistically relevant. That in itself is significant: It’s important to keep in mind that this whole data set skews young and early-career, so it says more about people in that state than about all of IB.

Interestingly, the intern and 1st year analyst categories reach their low at 71-80 and increase on either side – suggesting a significant division between young IB workers and those in other fields. Also, note that the representation of interns peaks at 101-110. Compare this with Goldman Sachs’ rules for summer interns: out by midnight, in no later than 7am, putting the work week at 85 hours if interns take the weekend off (which Goldman Sachs encourages, but does not require). 85 is more in line with what investment bankers on the whole, not divided by title, reported in this poll, but still above the median response of 71-80.

All of this said, one thing problematizing these results is the presence of the “Prospective Monkey” title throughout. On WSO, “Prospective Monkey” means someone who is trying to get into an IB, finance, or other related job – either they are studying, or they have a different job and are trying to switch. Prospective Monkeys are highly represented throughout the results, and have a notably high presence in all response categories over 80. Here’s a breakdown:

If you exclude 110+, Prospective Monkeys hover between 15%-30% of respondents, and show a clear upward trend as you move toward the higher registers. What does this mean? Well, it doesn’t necessarily mean much: The trend could simply be attributed to people neglecting to change their titles in their profiles as they move into IB jobs. But one thing that’s at least worth considering – especially when this is taken in combination with the fact that the most common response to the poll was N/A (24%) – is that a significant contingency (note: not high, but perhaps statistically significant) of people exaggerate the number of hours they work. Maybe it’s to fit into the discourse, maybe it’s to look “serious” in a public forum, or maybe it’s simply because they feel like they work more than they do. The takeaway point isn’t that everyone is a liar, but only that if you are an aspiring investment banker and feel intimidated by the attitude of people around you that you should be working more, then relax, because sometimes it’s just a thing people say.

But that point aside, these are the bigger takeaways from this poll:
-Investment bankers do in fact work very long hours.
-Interns do in fact work even longer hours.
-That said, with a median of 71-80 hours per week among a relatively young and junior sample (i.e., among people who work longer hours), investment bankers as a whole work less than the mythology would have you think.
-If you work more than 80 hours per week, you are working more than a “normal” investment banker.
-Goldman Sachs’ guidelines put interns slightly above the norm.
-There’s a real reason why that job in corporate finance looks attractive after a few years in IB.

We love talking data, so if you have any thoughts, tweet them to @Firmex.

Greg Bouchard

Greg Bouchard is a former Content Marketing Manager at Firmex.