Many graduates leave top universities weighing up jobs in banking or consulting. In this article we compare the differences in salaries, culture, people and the nature of the work. For many graduates, this is the big one. The Superbowl. Consulting v. banking.
The reality is that many apply for both. The most successful candidates can explain why they chose one over the other.
Before cracking on, have a watch of this:
We thought it was important to start here. This video shows the archetypal consultants and bankers. But how much of it is really true?
This is where most people want to start with their comparison. Compensation is an important part of any job’s glamour. For most consultants, your pay is unlikely to be as high as many people outside the industry estimate it to be. It is not unusual for people to consider consulting and investment banking to be in the same wage bracket.
They are not.
Consulting wages are significantly lower, although this is also reflected in the hours. Of course, that isn’t to say that its not a fantastic wage in the grand scheme of things. The big bucks in consulting firms arrive when you become a Partner and Senior Partner when you are paid in company equity. At this late stage, wages at consulting and banking firms certainly narrow quite a lot.
It is also worth noting that in real terms, wages differ immensely between countries. If you use LinkedIn’s salary tool, it is clear that the difference between America and everywhere else is huge. Say the average firm pays an analyst about £40,000. That could be as high as $100,000 in some US cities, which vastly outstrips any difference in living costs. Furthermore, where this fee drops off at the smaller firms in Europe, it is likely to remain high at the second tier in America. Deloitte and co. are considered to be much closer partners of the Big 3 than they are in Europe and this is reflected in their wage. It is safe to say that at all banks, the wages are pretty fat.
Contrary to popular opinion, the culture at banks and consultancies is usually quite different.
Consultants have a better work life balance. Where it is expected that an investment banker will stay until 11 by default, a consultant is much more likely to leave when their work is done. That isn’t to say that there aren’t long days at consultancies, and in the run up to big deals or presentations at both, there will be many late nights.
In terms of promotion, we would say that they are equally competitive. Banks hire more people at the start, but more people progress too. Consultancies whereas often operate an up-or-out mechanism where tens of people are asked to leave at each level.
It is true however, that bankers are much less forgiving. Mistakes and carelessness are served with a much sterner hand than they are in consulting. This is probably because the bank’s own capital is often at risk, whereas a consultancy’s is not. It can be a double blow to a bank when the project not only goes south in a reputational sense, but they have also lost bags of their own cash.
The differences between consultants and bankers themselves is contentious. Does it attract different people, does it change them, or are they really pretty similar?
First and foremost, many people apply to both. The offers they get determine which they become and so it is safe to stay that bankers and consultants start out as pretty similar people.
It is also sometimes suggested that consultants are more intellectual. Unless you are a BCG braniac, this isn’t that true. Investment banks and consultancies require great degrees from great schools. The only caveat to this is that consultancies have a tougher acceptance ratio and they are more likely to ditch applicants who haven’t got a top grade.
Finally, bankers are more commercial. They are naturally more focused on earning mega bucks. This doesn’t necessarily have an impact on how they are as people, so make your own minds up on that one!
Both groups work incredibly hard.
On the one hand, there are lots of similarities. They both require high levels of numeracy, the ability to present, network and be a good corporate soldier. At the very top of firms their work is even more similar. Partners at both banks and consultancies are focused on ‘winning’ work for the firm using their connections and reputation.
However, a bit lower down, they are very different. When you join a consultancy, from the very beginning, you are thrown in at the deep end. You will travelling to the client site, meeting C-suite executives and working on, if not actually presenting the firm’s strategy on a certain project.
Of course not all firms are like this, but the majority are. Sadly, the more prestigious the firm, the more averse to risk. Therefore, this trend tails off with the top 3 consultancies.
At a bank, you are likely to be stuck at your desk for at least 3 years. Banks essentially need vast amount of analysts doing the pitch book in M&A or reviewing and analysing stocks in the investment side. It is a long time before you are a trader pressing the buttons or an investment banker cutting deals in the board room.
What can they learn from each other?
There is one big thing that consultants can learn from bankers. That is what the Consultant Insider calls “materiality“. Consultants often fail to see the bigger picture in terms of revenue for their firm.
As the project evolves, consultants often make improvements for free and don’t charge clients. Perhaps they feel guilty about the colossal fee for an hour of their time. Perhaps they feel as though the main part of the project has already brought the firm enough revenue. Bankers would never forget to do this.
Consultants’ also have an inordinate obsession with detail. This often causes them to forget their own 80:20 rule. In fretting over the presentation of their 34th slide, they sometimes forget that it literally doesn’t matter in terms of earning money for their firm. Bankers are far more interested in the processes that create money. That’s why they chose the job.
Bankers could learn to tell a better story about ‘why’. When a consultancy presents its strategy, the ‘why’ comes first and foremost because it builds trust. Although bankers are usually brilliant at the ‘what’, they are less lucid on why. Partly because that is a shorter conversation, possibly more obvious, and certainly harder to understand for a client. Compare a plan to restructure a firm’s balance sheet via tens of cash instruments, with a simple plan to build a new type of product.
Consultants typically have regular review meetings and working sessions with client to review best practices, evaluate options, and refine and revise strategy. therefore, walking people through their thinking is crucial. After all, this is really what a case study is. Bankers could learn a lot.