GUEST COMMENT: Moving out of your team in an investment bank is like tightrope-walking
Moving teams in banking is a bit like picking your way across a rope between two skyscrapers. It’s possible in theory, but in practice it is fraught with danger. There is a terrifying stage when you’re out there on your own and if you put a foot wrong it will be decisively Game Over for your career.
The whole process can get pretty ugly, since you risk becoming an unwilling pawn between two different senior bankers: your current and your future bosses. Egos and power plays are one of the few things which make senior bankers happy.
They have it all – the big house, the fast car, the exotic mistress and the even more exotic holiday villa. Getting one over on a colleague can assume epic significance in the Twilight Zone of investment banking. And the outcome is zero-sum and binomial – either one huge ego or the other has to lose.
So how do you, the hapless person without any of the above, succeed in affecting the ‘internal move’?
Let’s start with two simple assumptions:
A) You are absolutely desperate to leave your current team, but you are not willing to quit banking.
B) You’ve looked around, talked to friends, considered your situation long and hard and decided that the chances of finding a job at another bank are pretty slim right now.
As a result, moving teams is your only option. Given current circumstances, I don’t think it’s controversial to come to that conclusion at all.
What you should know going into the process:
1. The level of politics and back-stabbing typically found in investment bank would make Machiavelli or Sun Tzu blush. Old friendships are betrayed, traps are pain-stakingly set by dealmakers for senior colleagues they view as a threat to their own franchises, and scores are kept for long periods of time, only to be repaid when least expected. Trust no one.
2. Some managers pride themselves on their low staff turnover statistics, if only because they have nothing else (like that old-fashioned idea of profitability) to show for themselves. You may think you’re just a worthless peon to your boss but often these internal, “soft” (i.e. not related to profit) benchmarks are incredibly important. Retaining those who are left (and avoiding head-hunter fees spent replacing leavers) is in many ways more important than the share of profits managers can lay claim to, especially in cost-cutting times when staff have been whittled to the core, and all the fat has been cut away. Mainly, this is because there aren’t many profits to be had these days.
If you want to survive the tightrope walk, my advice is to make a run for it. Spend some time familiarising yourself with your putative new boss and the team you might work for. Only when you are absolutely certain that there is a space for you and absolutely certain that you can fill that space, should you declare your intention to your existing boss. And then cross over as quickly as possible.
Moving teams is still not a process that I'd recommend to anyone, and if you can to do it with your career prospects and reputation intact, you’ve earned City colours.
The author works investment banking. She has moved internally several times.