What does the financial industry look like beyond the bulge bracket banks? 

More than 250 students had the opportunity to meet with 15 companies at the Beyond the Bulge Bracket Industry Showcase on Tuesday, September 11th.

Companies featured included independent financial firms: boutique banks, hedge funds, commercial banks, and firms specializing in risk management, asset management, and private equity. Students heard straight from a group of experienced panelists about the unique aspects of the field, and followed up with a night of networking.

Moderator and Employer Panel

Companies included Broadhaven, Brown Advisory, Chappuis Halder, Earnest Research, Fitch Ratings, M20 Private Fund Advisors, Natixis CIB Americas, New York Wealth Planning Group, Northwestern Mutual — NYC Midtown, PepsiCo, Petsky Prunier, Regal Healthcare Capital, Torreya, Tortoise Investment Managment LLC., and Virtu Financial LLC. 

There are Many Ways to Enter the Financial Field and Build Your Career outside of the Bulge Brackets

Panelists stressed that there are many ways to enter the financial services industry, and encouraged students who are interested in a less structured, more entrepreneurial experience to look outside of on campus recurring and the bulge bracket banks. “There are so many companies you can look into,” said John Bond (CBS ’05), Equity Research Analyst, Principal, Brown Advisory.

Benefits & Challenges of Working in the Field

Many of the panelists started their careers at the bulge brackets banks and shared the positives of moving into boutique finance.

Corinna Wong (CBS ‘95) Executive Director, Senior Foreign Exchange Sales at Natixis CIB Americas shared that at boutique firms early career professionals have better access to senior level executives.

Across the board, panelists highlighted benefits like:

  • More opportunity for taking on higher level work, earlier
  • Quicker recognition and more responsibility given to high performance employees
  • Direct access to clients as analysts and associates
  • More nimble adaptability to market conditions, demands, and client needs
  • Being part of a group of disrupters – changing the way investors get information and companies raise capital
  • Less structure and scrappier environments that breed an entrepreneurial spirit
  • Less intense regulatory environments leading to more time to spend on deals
  • Flexibility to  jump in on other work at the firm as needed, no matter what desk you’re assigned
Students and employer rep.

Gerald von Dohlen (SEAS ‘91 & CBS ‘96), Co-founder and Partner at Broadhaven, said “There is a better path than ever before in boutique banks, which offer faster advancement and better deal flow.”

He shared that after the 2008 financial crisis, when large banks went through layoffs, there was a brain drain into private equity, hedge funds, and boutique firms. Now, students can learn directly from experts in the field with 20+ years of experience, in their very first job.

Wong shared that she left Morgan Stanley because she got the opportunity to build something from scratch. She enjoys the challenge and entrepreneurial nature of her job, and was able to leverage previous relationship to build new business. In her role, she says she has a lot of leverage and agency to effect change and direction at her firm.

Panelists also shared insight into who would be best suited to a boutique environment:

However, the panelists shared that the boutique environment isn’t for everyone, emphasizing that if you’re more comfortable with structure in your day to day and in your career path, you’ll get that at a larger bank. “If you want a predetermined path, that’s what the large banks offer,” said Mark Hallock (CBS ’82), Partner, M20 Private Fund Advisors. The panelists also shared that there are definitely challenges they face at smaller companies. These including fewer resources, fewer staff, and more demands on one’s time. And, von Dohlen shared, if you’re struggling and not a top performer, there’s “nowhere to hide” in a smaller firm.

Student talking with employer rep

Skills AND Personality Valued In the Field

Panelists spoke about skills and personal qualities valued in the field.

First and foremost, Bond recommended that students in internships “Come out, work hard, put in the time and learn as much as you can.”

Panelist recommendations for how to succeed in the field:

  • Read every day — whether it’s the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Bloomberg, or any other financial news source. Follow the news that interests you.
  • Paying attention to detail is key. Make sure your work is always organized and well presented.
  • Show a deep interest in and take ownership over your work.
  • Have a baseline skill set in Excel and programming – technology is driving change in the industry and these are really helpful skills for any team.
  • Develop global awareness, as there are always forces outside of the country or deal you’re working in that will impact strategy and products.
  • Personality is important. Be upbeat, energetic and humble. If these qualities don’t come naturally to you, find opportunities to hone them.
  • Go outside of your comfort zone — think about your strengths and be honest with yourself about where you fit in the field.

On this last point, Wong shared a story of when she was in school and thinking about different career paths in finance. She had never considered trading, but a Columbia alum invited her to shadow his desk during spring break, and she ended up loving it.

Students and employer rep.

The Connections you make are just as important as the projects you work on 

The panelists recommended that at your internship; don’t just stay at your desk.

Talk to people, go out, and explore opportunities across the company. In terms of finding your fit at a company, panelists recommended doing your homework by talking to people who work there and looking at the product/service you’re most interested in and finding out what firms are the strongest in that particular area.

In terms of finding the right fit in the field generally, Wong suggested that students look for patterns in what particularly interests them in a financial story — for instance, micro or macro issues.

Students and employer rep.

Looking to learn more about the finance industry?

To learn more about the financial services industry, visit our Financial Services Industry page.