Ah, the sweet life of an investment banker – wake up at 6 AM, perform your daily morning exercises from within the lavish couture of your Manhattan apartment while listening to Broadway classics from your high quality Bose surround sound system. Shower and suit up with Dolce and Gabbana’s ultra-fine linen. Breakfast atop the 125th floor of your building overlooking a splendid view of central New York City. Jump into your Porsche and go to the office and if someone asks for your identity, flash your visiting card with sheer vanity. Who wouldn’t want to live the life of Patrick Bateman (sans his secret life as a serial killer, of course)?
So does GS really help you realize this dream?
If you’re into finance and want a decent level of corporate exposure, GS is the place to be during the summers. You will get a taste of what most of the divisions of the firm do. The Bangalore office is a pool of extremely smart and determined people, and you will be spending a lot of time working closely with veterans in the field. There exists a flat organizational structure across the global offices when it comes to getting your problems solved – if you’ve got something you want to discuss with someone, you can approach them right away, be they a vice-president or a managing director, and they’ll listen to you. At the firm, talent is an asset that is held in high regard and is aptly rewarded.
Selection and pre-internship phase
It was 3AM when I texted Dad the joyous news as the final announcement was made to us anxiously waiting souls at the placement office. My heart missed a few beats as I heard the mention of my own name. We were taken to a conference room to be warmly congratulated and welcomed to the firm. Every one of us in that room had taken a written test a week ago. The test consisted of questions designed to test one’s mathematical (probability and statistics), programming and analytical aptitude. Once we were shortlisted based on our test scores, we were called for the interviews, which began at 6 PM and lasted till about the wee hours of the next day. There were multiple rounds of interviews, and shortlists were being announced after every few rounds. We were tested by people on challenging questions based on probability theory, algorithms and basic analytical aptitude. These people belonged to different ranks from within the GS hierarchy ranging from analysts to vice-presidents. These were the very people we would be working with over the summers.
Before our initiation into the corporate world, we were required to complete a few “pre-work” tasks. One of them included going through basic material (prepared for us by a division of the firm called GS University) meant to develop our framework of the financial world. There were modules on different topics that one would typically find in a management curriculum. These were helpful in smoothing our transition from academia to corporate finance. Since the amount of my financial knowledge was exactly zero when I started the internship, this proved to be a godsend when I had to learn something.
Life at GS
We took a firm sponsored flight to Bangalore and headed over to Hyatt, MG Road. A week of lavish luxury awaited us. Complimentary access to the gym, spa and the swimming pool were few of the perks the interns were entitled to. We stayed in splendid rooms with an equally grand view of the city. On the first day, we attended a few orientation sessions and met our teams for the first time. When I was led to the work floor, I was taken by surprise when I beheld the wall-less workspace – which was contrary to my mental picture of it being a giant cubicle farm. This wall-less setup with shared inter personal office spaces facilitates team work and not only intra team interaction, but also brings various teams together when the need arises, as I had noticed over the course of ten weeks. I can only do enough justice to the coffee machine at the corner of our floor by dedicating the tail of this paragraph to it. I am not exaggerating when I say that it produces lifeblood to the whole team of analysts on our floor.
We’ve had our fair share of dinner parties and networking events. We were taken out one night for bowling with some of the vice-presidents and the Human Capital Management guys. Just like everyone else, the folks at GS were not immune to the world cup fever. We had betting rounds based on winning probabilities of the participating teams as published by a GS division called Global Investment Research!
There’s a program called Community Team Works at GS that enables you to engage in activities over the course of a day that have a positive environmental/social impact. We were taken to a medical trust for aged people afflicted with the Alzheimer’s disease so that we can coordinate with the attendants in setting up some activities for the people.
Divisions within GS can be broadly divided into two categories – the revenue generating divisions and the others, known as the federation divisions. I was part of the Securities division, of the former category. I was in Fixed Income, Currency and Commodities within Securities (Equities being the other set of teams within Securities) – it helps clients reduce their risk exposure to a plethora of products, and tries to be an active market maker in a variety of markets.
Over the course of ten weeks, I worked on two projects – in the first one, I got a chance to study the exposure of different businesses of the firm to different products from various asset classes using the profit and loss data for different shocks and some basic financial concepts. I also got to correlate some historical trends in the exposure with some market/political events. This project involved some infra work, which can be thought of as writing preprocessing code (for eg., parsers) which retrieves the data correctly from the sources and stores it in certain data structures for easy access later. In the end, I made a summarized dashboard for convenient access by risk managers and worked on a means to graphically view this data.
In the second project, I implemented a heuristic to identify the top risk drivers and the change drivers for a given portfolio from the profit and loss data for a specific time window. It was more mathematically inclined, and in a few weeks I was dealing with correlation matrices, quadratic regression and even principal component analysis. In many ways, this was more interesting than the first project and there were moments when it felt really cool to be working on a project which would have a large impact on the risk management side of the firm’s business. I was mainly working with the local team and vice-presidents in London and New York, who were a bunch of super smart people and very helpful along every step. In the end, I had ample opportunities to showcase my work in the regular team meetings and catch ups to the teams as well as the risk managers themselves.
The programming is done entirely using proprietary software and languages, but it’d help if you have prior C knowledge, as the constructs are largely similar. As for the work timings, these are flexible but it would be best if there is a significant overlap between your work hours and those of the team that you’d be working with.
Having worked and interacted with various people across the firm, the least I can say is that this has been a very rewarding experience as I got to make new friends, established key contacts and learned a lot of exciting new stuff. Although working at GS hasn’t really made me a master at finance, I can now definitely speak the language of finance thanks to the firm.
Let me bare it down and lay it on the table for you – analysts are grunts. Associates are exalted grunts (I think this is true for an investment bank in general). The three things you can always expect to find on an analyst’s plate are the following – work, work and more work. Since they are the lowest occupants of the hierarchical ladder, they do most of the work, which includes analyses, presentations and the infra work. In my opinion, in many ways, working as an analyst is like wielding a double edged sword – one must be careful not to cut themselves with it. While there is an exponential amount of learning and growth, one must take care not to get stressed out – failing which would make it difficult to not rapidly spiral into chaos. It is very easy for this to happen if one is not careful enough because of the mounting pressure given the demanding environment they would be a part of. Strangely enough, to me the work felt like opium. The more I got done, the more I wanted. Beyond a certain point, I would overdose and plunge into the sea of negative productivity and have to cut my work hours short to ten. I guess the answer to the problem lies in effective work management and having a clear understanding of what you’re doing while being adequately motivated. It is also always fruitful to obsess over details because in a detail obsessed workplace, it can only do you good
GS is a firm where ideas are highly valued, and ideation is something that is not confined to the repertoire of the senior management. Even though you start off as an analyst, you are still carefully listened to by people high up the hierarchical ladder and are given freedom to pursue some of your own ideas while solving problems. You may have to put in more than the average work hours every day to get your job done, but it pays a lot and you get quite a few perks. It teaches you finance, and above all tells you how to survive in a cut-throat environment defined by extremely competent, demanding and smart people. As for the opening question, I think it’s very much possible to be living the very much coveted stereotypical life of an investment banker as perpetuated by the media once you’re well established within the firm – if you belong to the upper echelons of the employees at the firm such as a managing director or a wizened partner, the probability shoots up, but it goes without saying that it’s not easy to be part of the elite, which is why we they are called the elite.