COMMENT: “I quit Hong Kong IBD for a trading job. But now I’m back in banking”

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I started my career at a US investment bank in Hong Kong about seven years ago. The role ticked all the right boxes. Getting a job in IBD had been my career goal throughout my college days in the US, and after my graduate rotations I became a specialist in the technology sector, which was just taking off in China at the time. Moreover, having been brought up by Chinese parents in America, I’d always wanted to live and work in Asia.

After three years, however, I was suffering from burnout. The constant late nights and the monotony of pitch books and presentations were all taking their toll. My so-called dream job was no longer enjoyable. This is a common enough scenario, of course. Many analysts attempt to join hedge funds or private equity firms once they hit the three-year mark in banking. But far fewer people do what I did. I negotiated a move within the same bank to another front-office department: equity trading.

I’d always been interested in markets and I’d always wanted to experience the public side of the bank. But career moves like this are rare and I was only able to pull it off because of the strong networks I’d built up at the bank, and (if I’m being honest) because the bank was promoting ‘internal mobility’ at the time to try to reduce hiring costs.

At first, I enjoyed my new career. When you’re working in markets you’re dealing with new conditions everyday – things don’t change as fast during an IPO or M&A deal. But what I discovered is that when you move up a rank in trading (from analyst to associate, for example) you’re still essentially doing the same job, but just for more money and a few extra responsibilities. You’re still trading.

In IBD, the whole nature of what you do day to day substantially improves as you get more senior. You move from execution to rainmaking, for example. Your job gets less administrative and more strategic. Last year, again through my internal networks, I found out about a fairly senior position in my bank’s TMT investment banking team. The head of the department wanted to hire me back.

This was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Tech is obviously one of the hottest sectors in North Asia right now – TMT bankers are being hired, not fired. Moreover, my new job is senior enough that many of my gripes about IBD are no longer valid. The work isn’t mundane – it’s very focused on building long-term relationships with some of the most innovative companies in Asia.

My experience in equities is benefiting me now as a banker. When I’m taking companies public, for example, I can draw upon my experience on the other side of the fence. I can help a company better sell its story to investors, because my time on the public side taught me about how investors think. I have no regrets about moving into trading and I have no regrets about moving back into investment banking. I only wish more people had the chance to do the same.

Mary Keung (a pseudonym) works for a major US bank in Hong Kong.

Image credit: artisteer, Getty

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