How to Answer the “Why Our Bank?” Question in Investment Banking Interviews, Assessment Centers, and More
You’ve just finished investment banking application #57 for this year’s recruiting season.
It’s 3:14 AM, your eyes are glazing over, and you really wish this last bank would just ask for your resume/CV and cover letter and stop there…
But they don’t.
They have a list of questions for you to answer, somehow believing that they are “special” or “different.”
You look down at this list and want to slap yourself repeatedly as you see the first question:
“Why our bank?”
After having already attempted to answer this one in 17 previous interviews with 12 different banks, you really wish you could just skip over it or that there were some universally “good” answer.
But as with other silly questions, there really isn’t one…
Though there are some foolish answers that you definitely want to avoid.
And then there are incredibly dumb answers, which you really, really want to avoid.
Let’s break it down and see how you can best answer this nonsensical question:
Why This is a Dumb Question… But Why It Still Matters Anyway
It’s a silly question because most banks are very, very similar regardless of size, location, industry or deal focus, or any criteria like that.
You know… there’s a “Work hard, play hard” culture, crazy hours, lots of long hours spent revising pitch books 57 times, and so on.
It’s also a dumb question because you’re interested in their bank for simple reasons: because they gave you an interview (or a potential interview) and because finance is a prestigious industry where you can make a lot of money.
A banker asking this question of you is like a supermodel asking Fogell why he’s “interested” in going on a date with her: because she is the most attractive woman that has ever shown interest in him.
As you’ll see below, this question can be more meaningful in other industries where companies are actually… different, but we’re just dealing with banks for now.
Oh yeah, and unlike other dumb questions such as the “greatest weakness” one, there isn’t even a real answer here that differs from candidate to candidate.
But your answer to this question still matters.
If you say something dumb, it could ruin an otherwise good interview and stall your momentum.
And if you say something that’s at least somewhat decent or “less bad,” your answer could confirm what the interviewer is already thinking: that you’re a good candidate to win the offer.
It matters for the same reason that avoiding screw-ups matters for bonuses at the analyst and associate levels in finance: sometimes, the job is more about not screwing up than doing anything right.
Oh, and more cynically: much of what you do in the industry involves BSing people when you don’t have a real answer – whether it’s your MD or a client.
So if you can’t even bluff your way through this question, what hope do you have with well-informed CEOs?
What Are They Really Looking for with This Question?
My snarky opinion on this one is “Nothing” because this question reflects a lazy interviewer more than anything else.
But if I were pressed to give real answers, they would be:
- Evidence that you’ve networked with people at this firm already and can drop a few names.
- Evidence that you’ve researched recent news and deal activity for the bank.
You already know how to do #1, or at least I hope you do, from all the networking coverage on this site.
If you don’t understand how to use tools like your alumni database and LinkedIn to do that, click this link and read everything under “Networking” because I’m not going to repeat it here.
The main point for this interview question is that you need names of specific people, and ideally their locations and titles, if you want to point to your networking efforts in an interview.
For #2, your best source is the WSJ Deal Blog. Go there, type in the name of the bank you’re interviewing with, and you should find some recent stories and deals they’ve advised on.
Getting actual league tables can be tricky and it’s not necessarily a great use of time. If you want a summary view of what different banks are doing, though, check out:
How to Answer “Why Our Bank?” Anyway
It’s not very complicated if you follow both of the points above. An “acceptable” answer in an interview might be something like:
“I’m interested in your bank because I’ve met quite a few people there already, including [Person Name 1], a VP in the New York office, and [Person Name 2], a Senior Associate in the San Francisco office, at an information session last month, and I’ve gotten along well with all of them. Also, I noticed you’ve been advising on lots of cross-border natural resources M&A deals lately, like [Company X]’s [$Y billion] acquisition of [Company Z], and I’m really interested in oil, gas, and mining and working on deals there.”
If you’re in Europe and you’re writing this answer during an assessment center or as part of your competency questions, you may have to shorten this response due to strictly enforced word / character count limits, but if you’re reading this article you’re smart enough to figure out how to do that.
But I Haven’t Networked with Anyone There / I Can’t Find Out Anything About the Bank!
If you really haven’t spoken with anyone at the bank before, then no, don’t lie about it and claim that you have. This is fairly easy for banks to detect and it can only hurt you if you make up names, meetings, or informational interviews.
Instead, you’ll have to rely more on research and recent deals that the bank has advised on.
And if you can’t find either of those, then either it’s the most secretive bank in the universe or you don’t know how to use Google.
Remember that banks are sell-side institutions, so they have no incentive to hide the deals they advise on – they want to market themselves.
Claiming ignorance might be a little more acceptable in hedge fund recruiting since so many funds are incredibly secretive, but it’s a poor excuse in IB interviews.
You could use other approaches here, such as talking about how a bank’s “strategy” is different from those of similar banks – expansion into a certain region or a flatter hierarchy, for example – but you need to be extremely certain of what you’re talking about or the interviewer will call you on it.
It’s easier to look up recent deal activity than it is to verify the bank’s “overarching strategy,” so these answers can be riskier.
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What to Avoid
More interesting is what to avoid when answering this question.
For my own amusement, I searched online for suggestions on how to answer this question just before I started writing this article… and some of the suggested answers were shockingly bad – or sometimes just shockingly mediocre:
- Say you like “the culture” – this is way too vague, sorry, especially since most banks have the same culture. If you want to use this argument, you need to back it up with names.
- Say that “the people are smart and hard-working” – again, way too vague. Yes, sometimes bulge bracket banks hire stupid and lazy people, but most employees are the opposite.
- Say that “you applied everywhere” – do I really need to explain why this one is dumb?
- Say that you want “exposure to bigger and more complex deals” (if it’s a boutique to bulge bracket move) – Not as dumb as the other answers, but a little too vague for my liking.
- Say that you want “more hands-on client interaction” (if it’s a bulge bracket to boutique move) – Same issue as in #4 above – not a horrible answer, but you could make the same argument for almost any bank you’re interviewing with.
If your other interview and/or application answers are good, you have a great story, and you nail your technical questions, stating one of the answers above won’t sink your chances – well, except for #3 maybe – but why leave something as simple as this to chance?
The More Interesting Version
Slightly more interesting variations of this question include “Why our group?” and/or “Why our team?”
“Group” or “Team” could equal M&A, Leveraged Finance, Debt Capital Markets, Equity Capital Markets, or industry groups such as Healthcare, Technology, or Mining.
The same strategy applies: cite the people you’ve met in this group and the recent deals the group has advised on.
Do you need to have networked with people in this specific group, or do you need to know deals that this specific group has done?
It helps if you have or you do, of course – but you could just say that you’ve met people at this bank or that you know of deals that this bank has done, and then tie your interest back to your work experience and background:
- You’re really interested in DCM because you previously worked at a state government agency going through a budget crisis due to high debt levels and required interest payments, and now you want to see how debt financing works on the corporate side.
- One of your cousins is in the oil & gas business in Texas and just sold one of his oil fields, which made you interested in learning more about and working on natural resource deals.
- You want to work in M&A because your family consists of serial killers and you’d like to continue the tradition of murdering dozens of people each year (this one was inserted to see if you’re still awake – please don’t actually use it).
You get the idea.
In Other Settings and Industries…
More broadly, the “Why Our Firm?” question is more interesting and relevant in areas like private equity, hedge funds, and venture capital because… wait for it… those firms CAN actually be different from each other.
Most of these buy-side funds tend to have a specific industry focus, a deal/investment size focus, or, for hedge funds, a specific trading strategy.
Also, while “the culture” is mostly the same at large banks, it can vary tremendously at these smaller investment firms because it’s heavily tied to the PM.
So it’s your job to research these factors in advance – yes, it’s easier for PE and VC – and then link the industry/strategy they focus on to your own experience.
If you’re interviewing for, say, a tech private equity firm but you’ve only worked in the healthcare group in banking before, you just need to be “creative” with your explanation:
“Sure. I’m very interested in technology companies because many of the healthcare companies I worked with relied heavily on new technology and were in the midst of upgrading all their systems, so it impacted me directly and we actually analyzed a few healthcare IT companies. On my own, I’ve also done some investing in my own portfolio in the tech space and, as one of the key growth areas in the economy, it’s especially interesting to me.”
That just explains why you’re interested in tech – after that, you would then go on to state all the usual reasons about why you want to do PE.
The key point is that you should tie your response to something you’ve done in the past, as opposed to a simple “interest” you have.
For example, working on a related deal or researching a related industry or investing all count as “doing” – just “liking” something or thinking it’s “interesting” count as… “not doing.”
Why Our Bank?
It’s the (specific names of) people! And the deals!
And please, nothing about “the culture” or “the smart and hard-working people.”
Unless you want to use the interviewer’s reaction to you as your answer to the “Greatest Failure” question in your next interview, of course.
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Thanks for this. I have an interview coming up for a FI FX Sales Associate role at a Swiss bank. I currently work at a UK bank, doing the same role. In terms of why the Swiss bank, do you think the below three reasons suffice (are not too vague):
-Want to learn at a faster pace and working in smaller team will help do that as you have more direct responsibility to cover existing accounts and build relationships with new ones
-I’d like to step out of my comfort zone and do something more challenging in a new environment. The fact that the clients are multifaceted on your team means you can be more entrepreneurial and take ownership of a broad range of accounts where you see growth potential.
-Cross selling capabilities: bank is active in commodities and has a large presence in EM. I’d like to broaden my horizons outside of FX and cross selling the business will provide exposure to different asset classes to expand my knowledge.
Any idea how to answer this for firms in AM? Everywhere from BlackRock to T Rowe Price? Is there an equivalent to the IBD “deals” you can get here? Especially when you might not know what team you’re applying to from the get-go.
You can’t talk about specific deals. The best you can do is talk about specific types of funds or strategies the firm as a whole uses, or recent innovations that set it apart from other AM firms. Or, go back to the firm’s history and talk about how it changed the industry… with TRP, for example, you could talk about how they were one of the earliest AM firms to start investing in private tech startups.
I’m currently completing my A-levels and I’m from London. I am going to apply for a work experience program run by JP Morgan, suited to 14-18 year olds and one of the questions on the application is “Why would you like to complete work experience at JP Morgan?”, with a 4000 character limit. How would you recommend answering this question, as the character limit is quite large? Should I just discuss more deals in greater detail the firm has advised on?
The approach is the same, talk about anyone you’ve met at the bank, recent deals, recent initiatives you’ve read about in the news, it could be literally anything. The point of this question is to assess whether or not you can do 5 minutes of online research.
Where is the best place to find deals the bank has recently been involved in? As I’m struggling to find a website that contains that information.
Ideally you will be able to get Capital IQ access from someone else (many universities and business schools also offer it to students). If not, you will have to do Google searches or look up specific, recent deals and see if you can find the banks attached to them (sometimes the official press releases state this).
Should we mention the name of people we met at a different office than the one we are applying for? (i.e: mention someone from the SF office when applying for the NY or london office)
Great article as always! Can you also suggest how I can learn from doing research on a bank’s website, like what section should I pay attention to? I feel that reading “Our Values” and “Who we are” is a waste of time since they are pretty similar
Don’t go to the bank’s website. Do Google searches for recent deals the bank has worked on. Ideally, gain access to Capital IQ or other paid subscription services that give you information on recent deals and the roles of banks in those deals.
What if I am applying for Markets – Sales & Trading position? Would it still work if I talk about their M&A track record? If not, how should I answer the “why bank” question?
No, don’t bring up the bank’s M&A deals if you’re applying for a division that does not do M&A deals. Talk about a particular strength the bank has in its S&T division or a type of client it works with, or just talk about a security you’re interested in trading and point to the traders/salespeople you’ve spoken with there.
I really need your opinion!
Let’s suppose that I said specific people and deals for a J.P Morgan interview. Then, they reply: Why not Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, BAML…?
PS: I know people from these other banks and they do big deals as well.
What would you suggest for me?
Thank you very much,
There is no real way to answer that question because effectively, bankers are almost the same across all firms, and deals are very similar at large banks. All you can really say is that you’ve felt that you fit in more at JPM and have gotten along better with everyone you’ve met. You can’t give a scientific or mathematical explanation for why that is, but it is your gut feeling.
The WSJ Deal Blog link didn’t yield any useful results for researching recent deals by RBC.
Is this link still the best to use?
You can use this to find deals by bank: http://wsj.dealogic.com/FeeQ316-GS.htm
But I’m not sure what code they use for RBC or if they list it.
How do I convey my interests for working for a small boutique? They don’t list any of the deals on their website. Other than the typical “take on more responsibilities/more hands on client interaction,” is there anything else I should touch on?
Google the firm and find deals or press releases about them, or get access to Capital IQ and use that to find deals. If you can’t find anything, all you can do is make it generic.
I’ve networked and built good relationships with two analysts in a mid-market bank but they both recently left for boutiques.
Would it still be a good idea to mention their names in the interview?
Thanks in advance,
Feels like a huge bump since the last comments were made in 2013, but here we go anyway.
Regarding the use of contacts acquired through networking, is it wrong to name analysts and associates or is it just as relevant as naming VPs and MDs?
You can name anyone, but it generally helps more to name more senior people.
I am currently writing out my answers for “Why this role / our bank” in an online application that I have to submit for full-time recruiting. Aside from including the names of contacts I spoke with at the bank and firm-specific research on recent deals, should I also incorporate my why IBD “story” too?
I was thinking telling something personal (even in written form) would help me distinguish myself.
You don’t need a really long answer to this question, and in online applications a long answer would be tough to fit in anyway. So I would not go into your own personal background unless you can somehow make it concise and still tie it in to the firm.
Hi, I’m in my final year of sixth form and Goldman Sachs are offering an inset day in their London offices to young girls. Their application includes this question and I’m quite stumped by it. Any suggestions on what you think they’re looking for? We weren’t given the option to choose which division to go into otherwise I would’ve chosen legal and said something about that, instead this seems to be just a general “Why Goldman Sachs?”
Goldman Sachs’ culture is key: http://www.goldmansachs.com/careers/why-goldman-sachs/our-culture/ I’d talk about the teamwork and their culture. They even have a book on their culture: http://www.amazon.com/Goldman-Sachs-The-Culture-Success/dp/0684869683
Great article!! I have an interview for Market Risk at a BB but am not sure whether to talk about a recent deal when answering, ‘why do you want to work for us’, as that is not really market risk. Do you have any other suggestions that I could talk about?
I would research some of the strategies the bank is pursuing within market risk, or new hires/expansion plans there, and speak to those instead.
Great article Brian!
What are some good perspectives other than recent deals, since they’re mostly related to IBD, to show that I’ve done research if I’m applying for an Equity Research internship?
I’d suggest you to take a look at recent stock/industry trends and select 1-2 companies as your stock pitch. Make sure you know the companies inside out https://mergersandinquisitions.com/stock-pitch-guide/
Judging by what ive read on this website about recruiting and on some other sites too , think all bankers when it comes to recruiting are nothing but hypocrites.
If they themselves went in for the money they dont want the interviewee to say the same
Money is part of it, but not the only reason they are in it. It is also about advancement, prestige, doing something exciting and fast-paced, etc. So yes, there’s some truth to what you say, but other factors contribute as well. Money plays into any decision, but it’s usually not a great idea to talk about it whether you’re applying for a job or anything else…
How would you answer the question: “If you simultaneously had offers from [Bank you’re interviewing with] and Goldman Sachs, which one would you take?”
Got asked that at an assessment center (London) by a veteran MD and I honestly thought this was probably the most useless question he could come up with. Looked like the perfect trap.
I’d say something along the lines of “To me, the people I work with and the culture of the bank is the most important. Given the people [perhaps name names] I’ve met at your firm, I think I am a particularly good fit here because of [XYZ] reasons, and [reiterate why you want this bank over anything else].” I’d probably throw a bit of humor and charm into the answer too.
To add to what Nicole said, I would probably say something like, “Well, obviously Goldman is viewed by some people as being among the ‘top’ banks or perhaps the ‘top’ one, so in that sense an offer would be appealing. That said, in my mind GS and your bank are both at the same level in terms of experience, deals, and exposure, and so I would be more inclined to go with you based on the people I’ve met here, such as [Names], and what I’ve heard about the [intern / analyst / associate] experience.”
That way, you acknowledge his objection upfront but then defuse it by pointing out that in reality, “prestige” doesn’t matter past a certain point and you’d pick based on the personal factors instead. But I agree that it is a dumb question.
Goldman is also one big hole of toxic filth
Good article- especially given how common this question is and how easy it is to mess up (I’ve been guilty of that, in hindsight).
Thanks! Yes, it’s an easy one to mess up especially if you don’t prepare in advance.
Is there a personal email where we can ask you individual questions? What’s the best way to get in touch with you please advise. Ty
Feel free to leave a comment on this site or within the BIWS site, or reply to one of my newsletters.
I’m a little conflicted though. I am a 3rd year undergrad from a non-target in recruitment processes for middle market internships. Because of my lack of experience in IB (I interned in corp. finance) would it still be okay to talk about how I want more experience in deal execution through the larger quantity of deals at their bank as oppose to only working on few large deals in BB? I talked to a MM Director and she actually suggested I mention it in interviews. Thanks.
It’s fine to use that for part of your answer, but I would also go beyond it and have something specific to the bank (people or deals) – because otherwise you’re just explaining why you want to go to any MM bank instead.
Good article, thank you very much for sharing.
So the “culture” factor is a big no-no. What if you are not applying to a deal-making role but rather a support one?Can you still bring up the “deals” side of the answer?
Culture can be OK, but only if the firm’s culture really is different somehow. At most large banks it is not.
For support roles, yes, you could still bring up the deals side but there it’s probably a bit better to focus on people in the group you’ve met.
It’s great article! Thanks a lot!
Thanks for the great article!
For mentioning recent deals, if I am interviewing for London office, should I go for something done by the office instead of some high-profile deal done by the NY team?
It might help a bit, but any deal done by the bank would be fine. Don’t kill yourself spending hours to find the perfect deal – not worth the time/effort.
Great article! I have an interview coming up and will definitely be using this.
Thanks! Hope it proves helpful.