by Brian DeChesare Comments (3)

From Wealth Management to Investment Banking: How to Make the Leap

Wealth Management to Investment Banking

As internships and full-time jobs begin each year, new hires flock online and start asking the same question repeatedly:

“Help! I hate this job. How can I move from wealth management to investment banking? I’ll do anything!”

The good news is that it is possible to do this.

The bad news is that it may be extremely difficult to near impossible unless you get a top MBA.

It’s arguably the most difficult “front office to front office” transition within finance, so you should probably start by considering why you want to make this switch:

Why Switch from Wealth Management to Investment Banking?

We cover many of the trade-offs in the earlier wealth management vs. investment banking article, but in short:

  1. Investment banking has better exit opportunities at all levels.
  2. The work might not be for you, even if you’re good at it – for example, maybe you find deals far more interesting than building a client book or managing their portfolios.
  3. The average compensation in investment banking is higher (yes, top wealth managers can earn millions per year with great hours, but we’re talking averages).
  4. It’s easier to grind your way up in IB without being “good” at the core skills of winning clients and closing deals; these skills matter as you become more senior.
  5. Many people find wealth management work boring or repetitive and do not like the heavy sales/cold-calling aspects.

The problem with this list is that only #1 (exit opportunities) and #2 (the deal work in IB being more interesting) are good reasons to move into investment banking, specifically.

If you want higher compensation, the ability to advance without being great at sales, or more interesting work, many other options are far more accessible.

For example, corporate banking would satisfy many of these goals.

The compensation ceiling is lower than in IB or WM, but it’s still quite high (mid-to-upper-six figures), and recruiting is much less competitive than IB.

So, this career transition is a bit like the “age and investment banking” question: Unless you need something very specific, there are probably better ways to achieve your goals.

The 3 Basic Pathways from Wealth Management to Investment Banking

If you are dead set on aiming for an exit opportunity only investment banking offers or you really want to work on deals, maybe this transition makes sense.

If so, there are three viable times to do it:

  1. Right After an Early-University Wealth Management Internship – It’s feasible to switch at this point because you don’t have much experience, and you can spin the WM internship as you “wanting to learn the finance industry” or work at a large bank.
  2. After Your Final Internship in University – This one is a lot more challenging because banks do not hire many full-time Analysts outside their internship programs.
  3. From a Full-Time Wealth Management Role – This one is even more difficult because wealth management is not a common source of lateral hires, as the skill sets are quite different. So, you’ll usually have to take more of an indirect path through several other “hops” if you do this.

There isn’t much to say about Case #1 because it’s a variant of the standard “How to Get an IB Internship” plan – start early, earn high grades, and network/prep aggressively.

It helps if you can get one additional, more relevant internship besides your first wealth management one, but it’s not necessarily required if the rest of your profile is good.

The other two cases require more explanation:

Switching Into IB After Your Final Internship in University

We published a great story from a reader who made this last-minute switch.

This story is older, but the strategies and tactics are still very relevant.

In short:

  1. You need to start preparing and networking by the early-to-middle part of your summer internship to have any shot at full-time IB roles.
  2. Focus on locations outside major financial centers and smaller banks, as the “intern quality” will vary a lot more, creating opportunities for you.
  3. Bankers will not care about your WM experience at all, so you need to point to specific M&A or financing deals that have interested you and the additional work you’ve done to learn more.
  4. Be prepared with “Plan B” options because this strategy depends heavily on a favorable deal/hiring market combined with underperforming interns in smaller offices.

Your “Plan B” options could be anything discussed in the lateral hiring article: Big 4 roles, independent valuation firms, corporate banking, corporate finance, corporate development, credit analysis, real estate lending, etc.

You will encounter the same objection repeatedly if you use this strategy:

“If you’re so interested in investment banking, why didn’t you do an IB internship instead of a WM internship?”

You can answer this objection and tell your story using two main approaches:

1) Say You Missed the Recruiting Cycle – For example, say that you became interested in finance and deals midway through your second year of university, but due to the very early start dates, this was too late for most internship recruiting in the U.S.

You applied for different roles at banks and felt this internship was your best option because it would allow you to gain client experience and learn how large banks operate.

2) Say You Became More Interested in IB During Your Wealth Management Internship – For example, say that you were advising clients whose portfolios included companies involved in deals, and you became more interested in deal execution from that.

If you’re at a target school with on-campus recruitment, option #1 will probably work best; if you’re at a lesser-known school, option #2 may be better.

Your odds with this strategy are not great, but if you’re willing to do a ridiculous amount of networking and interview prep in a short period, sure, go for it.

The transition only gets harder and more expensive if you wait, so it’s better to put in the time and effort earlier in your career.

Moving from a Full-Time Wealth Management Role Into IB

This is a very, very, very difficult transition.

I have covered finance careers for ~20 years, and I can think of exactly one person who has made this move directly.

The skill sets and cultures are too different, and it will be tough even if you aim to move from a bulge bracket wealth management team to a regional boutique investment banking team.

That leaves you with two main options:

  1. Move Into a Less Competitive Deal-Related Field and Lateral Into IB – See the options above in Case #2.
  2. Complete a Top MBA Degree – This is always an option, and all the standard tips apply: Apply and accept admissions in the first round, start preparing very early, and consider a pre-MBA internship to maximize your profile.

The MBA route is very expensive and time-consuming but also offers a higher success probability if you can get into a top program.

Also, it works best if you’re in the “sweet spot” of around 3 – 5 years of full-time work experience.

If you have 10+ years of wealth management experience, bankers will question your motivations for switching now (why didn’t you do it in Year 3 or 5?).

Common Challenges in All Wealth Management to Investment Banking Transitions

Regardless of your path and timing, you’ll have to deal with similar challenges in making this move:

  • Bankers will always look down on you because many don’t consider wealth management a “real” finance role – even though some wealth managers earn more than bankers.
  • You will probably have to take a step down in firm prestige/reputation because even with other roles in between, the perceived gap between WM and IB is still quite large.
  • Avoid “prerequisite”-type stories to explain why you took the WM role because wealth management is not a stepping stone into anything else. Stick to the “missed IB recruiting” or “became interested in deals after doing WM” options.
  • Expect to be grilled on the technical questions because bankers will be skeptical of your motivations. There are so many articles, guides, and resources about IB interview questions that you have no excuse to be caught unprepared.
  • Avoid mentioning the parts of WM you don’t like, such as sales or cold calling, because it is much better to point out the additional skills in IB you want to gain over what you learned from WM.
  • You need to go beyond your WM experience for your “Spark” and Growing Interest because bankers will not care much about what you did on the job. You need to point to significant efforts outside your day job to make these convincing.
  • Give yourself ~6 months if you’re trying to leave a full-time WM role – If you can’t even get solid responses from your networking efforts to steppingstone roles, such as corporate banking, consider a top MBA in the future.
  • If you do an MBA and don’t win an IB offer from that, aim for corporate development at a normal company or one of the other “Plan B” roles mentioned above. Your odds aren’t great if you end up here, but there’s always a chance if you can gain some post-MBA deal experience.

Final Thoughts on Moving from Wealth Management to Investment Banking

This is probably the most difficult transition of all the “front office to front office” moves in the finance industry, so you must think very carefully before investing time, money, and effort.

People sometimes claim that sales & trading or equity research to investment banking are difficult, but they’re much easier than moving in from wealth management.

The key point is that you shouldn’t do this because you dislike X, Y, or Z aspects of wealth management.

If that is your only motivation, there are dozens of other options in tech, finance, and related fields.

For investment banking to make sense, you must either want to work on deals because they interest you or because you need IB for a specific exit opportunity that is not otherwise available.

But if you understand these points and all the factors working against you, this transition might be worth the extreme effort required.

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys lifting weights, running, traveling, obsessively watching TV shows, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Great article. For anyone that maybe interested in doing so.
    I recently made the exact same move, from FullTime Weath Management to IB but I had to sacrifice a lot in order to accomplish this, in addition to my non traditional background. So it’s definitely possible but you have to be ready to put in great effort to do so.

    1. Great, thanks for adding that.

    2. Malaysian

      Congrats, may I know what are the key points of your success? I am in WM at the largest bank in Malaysia (Maybank/CIMB) and have done the CFA L1 exam and write an equity research report with comps/dcf. I got a few contacts that can pass along my resume to the “right person” but have not been able to network, like call or coffee chat with anyone in the industry yet. Would really appreciate your insights.

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