Boutiques v big banks – which is the best bet for your career?

This article was first published in eFinancialCareers – “Job News and Views”

Boutiques v big banks – which is the best bet for your career?

It was 7.00am on a Monday morning and as I sat on the train on the way to work I found myself behind two gentlemen in designer suits who I instinctively expected to be bankers. I was right. They soon started talking about their respective workplaces.

I became further intrigued as they tried to convince each other that they should jump ship to each others’ firms. The first man worked at a well respected global investment bank which he said was expecting a “big year” in 2011. On the flip side, this meant more time away from his family.

The second guy worked for a boutique bank. He was happy that his travelling days were behind him but moaned about the lack of training that his company was providing to new hires, especially at graduate level. He was spending a lot of time working one-on-one with new employees, which he wasn’t happy about.

Working out the benefits

The man from the global IB mentioned a new gym membership for all employees but said with his hours, working out was not on the agenda. His friend didn’t get this benefit but had vowed to work fewer hours this year to make more time for himself and his family.

Listening to both men got me thinking about the pros and cons of large banks and niche ones. While the fundamentals of your work will be the same, the application of that work can vary.

Where everybody knows your name

The major difference I think is culture. Employees in a boutique are more like family and the whole firm knows your name. In a big bank you probably only interact with members of your team and know little about other people and their duties.

A boutique can therefore have a friendlier feel to it and people work together rather than competing against each other. You have a strong support network, which can be accessed a lot easier than at a larger institution.

Working for a big bank typically means you have one distinct job function, while at a smaller company you are often exposed to several different roles based on current projects. With less hierarchy and fewer processes, boutique employees have a greater chance to expand their knowledge. Being part of a smaller team can also let you stand out and be recognised for your contribution.

Size sometimes matters

However, the prestige of working for a large, well respected bank can be a huge advantage, and you will get fantastic perks and benefits. Although there is a feeling of being small fish in a large pond, having a specific role that you are solely responsible for can provide better future opportunities if you want to process your career in that job function. Training opportunities are generally much greater and more highly regarded by potential employers.

Overall, you need to find the right firm for you, based on factors such as those above. And no matter where you’re working, the atmosphere will be demanding. That’s the very nature of the banking industry – it’s a sink-or-swim culture.

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