December 3, 2023

Investment Banking

Let Your Investment Banking Do The Walking

Junior Banker Explains Why Working at a Boutique Investment Bank Is Better

  • I’m a first-year investment-banking analyst at an elite boutique firm.
  • I’m paid more, treated better, and get more hands-on experience than people I know at bulge brackets.
  • Boutiques are smaller and don’t have much name recognition, but that doesn’t really matter to me.

As Insider reported earlier this month, first-year analysts at boutique banks are reporting higher work satisfaction than their peers at most bulge brackets.

The four highest-scoring firms in the experience rating section of a survey of over 1,000 junior bankers from across the industry were all boutiques. In fact, only two bulge brackets (Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse) were among the top 10.

In an effort to better understand why so many junior bankers are gravitating toward boutique banks, Insider spoke to a first-year investment-banking analyst who works in New York City for a boutique bank that ranked high in the above-mentioned survey. Here is her story in her own words, edited for length and clarity:

Insider verified this person’s identity and employment, but is obscuring those details due to the banker’s fear of reprisal. 

I’ve known since I was a freshman in college that I wanted to be an investment banker. Admittedly, it started as a pretty shallow interest. I’d read posts on College Confidential about how it was this amazing dream career with the best positions accessible only to Ivy Leaguers.

The public university I was attending had a strong finance program, but it was no Wharton. Goldman wasn’t kicking down doors to take resumes. In fact, as the blogs had indicated, it was very rare for a top firm to even give looks to students from my school. So by the time internship recruiting began my sophomore year, most of my peers were shooting for middle market firms. 

But the upperclassmen in the program I looked up to most — and who were at the very top of their classes — were heading to elite boutique firms. I wanted to be like them. So when offers for interviews, Super Days, and internship positions began to come in during the spring semester of my sophomore year, I opted to skip the goliath, name-brand firms for a boutique. 

Three years later — after having gone through recruitment, a summer analyst internship, and now my first months of full-time work — there are a lot of reasons why I think my decision to work for a boutique was the superior choice to the typical balance sheet banks. 

People here actually care about their jobs

It’s a given that people who work on Wall Street are both smart and dedicated — you’re putting together multi-billion-dollar deals and often spending more than 12 hours in the office a day. But I accepted the internship offer (and later the full-time return offer) at my firm because I thought the people were, frankly, much smarter than some I was talking to at other banks. And they seemed to enjoy what they do for a living. 

Every time I spoke with someone who worked here, I was impressed not only with their intellect, but with how they seemed to actually care about their jobs. When I would talk to analysts or associates at other places, I got the sense that they just sort of hated their lives.

Granted, now that I work full-time at my firm I’ve realized everyone here also kind of hates their lives. But I do think we care more about doing a good job than most others. 

Boutiques pay more, in salary and bonuses

The biggest factor for me, and one that was very hyped up during recruiting, is that boutiques pay quite a bit more than other firms. My base salary this year is $120,000. I’ve heard that first year analysts at Goldman have a base of $110,000, and a friend I know at RBC is only getting paid $100,000.

But the biggest difference is when it comes to bonus time. Bonuses at my firm, and most boutiques in general, seem to be significantly higher than for my friends working for balance sheet banks.

I don’t get my bonus until next year, so I can’t quote specific numbers yet. Though this year everyone is expecting lower bonuses because of the market downturn, I’ve overheard some second-year analysts discussing last year’s bonuses above $100,000, and first-year associates’ total compensation in the mid-300 thousands. 

Bottom line: If you’re looking for longevity in banking, there’s more potential for better compensation at a boutique.

We get more hands-on experience

Boutiques are smaller, so deal teams are leaner. In layman’s terms: There are fewer people working on each project, meaning each person has more responsibility on their shoulders. That has given me a significantly more valuable experience than what I might have gotten at other firms.

For example, at my firm, it might just be me as an analyst with one VP and an MD running an entire transaction. Whereas at a big bulge bracket, one transaction might have five analysts, three associates, two VPs, and multiple layers of managing directors. At my firm, my MD knows my name. I can’t say the same for huge name-brand firms, where there are hundreds of IB analysts in each class.

The downside to that may be a big workload, and therefore more hellish hours than is already standard in the industry. There’s a stereotype that boutiques are more “grindy” than bigger firms for this reason. But in my experience, how late you stay at the office is totally team-dependent, not firm-dependent. There’s going to be a group at every bank that stays until 5:00 a.m. each night, and in the same bank, there’s going to be another that leaves the office by 6:00 p.m. It depends on deal flow in that sector, of course. On my team, I’ve had my fair share of 4:00 a.m. leaves. But for the past few weeks, I’ve been going home by about 8:00 p.m.

The upside is that it gives analysts and junior workers more opportunity to shine. One way this has played out for me is in financial modeling. I’ve only been on the desk for 2 ½ months now and I’m running the entire model for a sell-side transaction right now. That’s unheard of at many balance sheet banks.

I’ve done DCF models, LBO models, accretion, dilution … the list goes on. From what I’ve heard from friends at other banks, first-year analysts there are not even touching this stuff. Maybe in their second year, but a lot of the time their associates take hold of it.

I have great exit opportunities

During recruitment my sophomore year of college, I had multiple interview processes going on simultaneously at bulge brackets, middle markets, and the boutique I’m at now. But during my decision-making process, I was really trying to think: Where will give me the most flexibility after I finish up banking? 

I thought going to a boutique would make me a better candidate for whatever career path I wanted down the line. And I’ve found that to be true, especially since I’ve decided I want to do private equity after the program ends. My senior colleagues are very well connected people, and they support the aspirations of analysts looking to graduate into new jobs. 

During my first week full-time on the desk here, I was being scouted by PE headhunters. Even though I didn’t plan on participating in this year’s on-cycle recruiting, it was pretty crazy to see the amazing list of firms dying to talk to me — that included offers to interview at Blackstone, Apollo, KKR, and more. When I do begin the recruiting process, I’ll stand out compared to analysts from other firms because I’ll be able to draw on my experience playing a larger role on smaller teams and show off all of the technical skills I gained from modeling so early on. 

At my firm, exit recruitment is an open conversation I have with my associates and VPs. I think it’s partly because we have a supportive environment, but also that we are viewed as potential clients down the line. But I don’t think people talk about it openly at other firms or the bulge brackets. I once spoke to someone at Goldman about his on-cycle experience, and he described having to sort of disappear from the office for interviews.

Since being here has given me more responsibility on teams and therefore more direct collaboration with senior colleagues, I feel strongly that they”ll be willing to make calls to PE firms vouching for me. 

There are other perks to working for a boutique 

This is something I’ve come to realize only after actually hitting the desk and being in the office: Generally I feel like the firm cares about me more than other big, corporate places. From employee morale to simple things like in-office amenities, there are a few key examples of this. 

Within my team specifically — and I think a lot of others do this as well — we do things together outside of work all the time. Sometimes it’s dinner and drinks where we drop $3,000 on the bill. Other times it’s a monthly group activity or class. But the firm pays for it all, and they don’t mind doing that. I don’t think that happens at other banks, it’s a much more corporate environment. My friends at other banks don’t get free shit. They don’t get anything. But when you’re smaller, there’s definitely more room to spend money on your employees. I guess it’s the idea that when they treat us employees well, we’re more happy to do work. 

Another thing: My office has free snacks, and often free lunches right in our office. A few weeks ago I went up to the cafeteria and there were at least 100 boxes of pizza just sitting there, just because the firm just wanted to treat us to lunch. And that’s not to mention the constant supply of things like free protein bars, chocolate, chips, yogurts, and unlimited drinks. 

I know this sounds kind of ridiculous. Are free granola bars really a big deal? Maybe not. But I think it does contribute to the quality of life at this bank. The extent of amenities at other firms might be whatever burnt coffee is left in the bottom of the Keurig pot and a vending machine. There are other examples — we’re given phones so we can separate our work and personal lines; we get a big meal allowance voucher every night. It’s those little things that make a difference to me.

The downsides are limited

I think the only downside about boutiques, really, is that the firm brands aren’t known outside of Wall Street. For instance, my grandma knows the names Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. But she never fails to totally butcher the name of my firm, because she really has no idea what it is. People outside of finance just don’t know names like Centerview, Perella, or Moelis. So for someone who might be considering transferring to a career outside finance after being an intern or analyst, it might be a little bit more difficult to flex.

A common belief is that a smaller firm means smaller deals with smaller companies. At some boutiques, that may be true. But not across the board. A top-notch boutique firm like mine works on huge deals with major companies all the time. Without giving anything away, my team has a sell-side transaction in the works now worth tens of billions of dollars.

Also, given current market conditions, the biggest fear is not whether the banking job is the best, but whether you have one at all. I’m not worried that the looming recession is going to leave me or other analysts without jobs, but I am thinking about how opportunities might be more scarce a year or two down the line when I’m making my next career move. 

I’m sharing my opinions and experiences because so few young people in this industry talk openly about theirs. I hope to help change that, and that this article empowers current and future analysts.

Are you a junior investment banker on Wall Street? Contact this reporter to share your experience. Emmalyse Brownstein  can be reached via email at, or SMS/the encrypted app Signal at (305) 857-5516.