Roll back a few years, and I’m at an information session fielding questions, some thoughtful and some less so.
One guy keeps raising his hand and has asked just about every question that is taboo or could get you banned from Wall Street Oasis for not using the search function.
“What’s more prestigious, Credit Suisse or Deutsche Bank?”
“How much did you get paid? What was the biggest bonus you’ve heard of?”
“Can you get fired as an Investment Banking Analyst? Can you get fired for buying groceries with your meal allowance?”
“Is it pronounced Credit SWISS or SWEEZ?”
So, he’s in the less thoughtful category, but I am somewhat grateful because other than him and this nerdy kid with glasses who threw out some capital structure questions that exceeded the rigour of “Investment Banking 101”, the place is a morgue (no names, but it’s a very academic school). Also, it isn’t the most awkward info session I’ve been at by a country mile (also at an academic school).
Eventually, he is satisfied with making the rest of the room very uncomfortable and shouts.
“Last question,” without raising his hand.
“How do I demonstrate my passion for finance if I don’t have any work experience?”
“Well, you can speak to your personal portfolio…”
“I don’t have one.”
“You can talk about a special project or case competition you participated in.”
“I haven’t done any.”
“Then your views on the market and why you’re interested.”
“Well I don’t have any, can you give me some?”
To not go deeper into the rabbit hole I just speak briefly about the current Euro situation (i.e. a while ago) and the potential ramifications of Grexit. Everyone lines up and spits out some canned lines before handing me an undergraduate business school card, before shooting lead inquisitor a dirty look.
Obviously, the real answer to his last question was “then you can’t, because you don’t have a passion for finance”.
The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with that, because probably 75% of the room was thinking the same thing. These people are intellectually curious and might be very good financiers, they just don’t know where to start.
Every once in a while, you get someone who was truly born to be a titan of the industry – like Warren Buffett, who starts his first business before he’s 15 and continues to be the quintessential capitalist throughout his life. Ken Griffin started his hedge fund from his Harvard dorm room. For computing, Mark Zuck started building things early too.
But be assured that precociousness of that nature is not at all necessary to develop a passion, and anecdotally, most of Bay Street that I’ve come across is there by circumstance rather than merit. There are not a lot of Warren Buffetts, and so with the many spots that are available, a good number could be filled by people in that room.
Finance is inherently interesting. Investing is inherently interesting. People with an aptitude for problem solving should be given a foundation to build upon by knowing how to get their start in understanding the industry.
Going to Ivey is as good of a way to grow your passion for finance in Canada because you are surrounded by other students who are obsessed (some actual Warren Buffetts) and the perpetual overhang of alumni achievement. You have access to bankers and there is a sharing of resources. You know what to expect for interviews and you hear about recent market news in the hallway.
As such, the world of finance becomes less intimidating and the mindset becomes so ingrained that even totally disinterested candidates can land excellent jobs with the “Ivey polish”, communicating a “passion for finance”.
Unfortunately, not everyone goes to Ivey.
I remember the first time I read the Wall Street Journal after my very first class of economics. I didn’t know anything about finance – I thought the mutual fund sales guy at TD Canada Trust was the pinnacle of investment knowledge. But the spiel that the lecturer gave was interesting, and I had always been fascinated by the mystique of finance from afar – whether it was the crisis or seeing a stock champion in the news, and just the svelte culture of money and suits. So, I cracked open the Journal.
It was intimidating – I didn’t know what it meant for the Dow to go up by 200 points. I didn’t know why JP Morgan’s analyst (surely the most junior position), Thomas Lee, was being solicited for his opinion. I could not understand what “bullish” or “sanguine” meant and I resented the jargon. It seemed like even after years of reading articles similar to that one, I would still be clueless.
I chucked the Journal and figured that there would not be a career in finance going forward.
I got lucky that night because I had an epiphany – I, like many other students, spent all my non-class hours (of which there were many, because I had an aversion to class) not doing any value-added work. I torrented movies, played online poker (made around $3 an hour, over an amount of time I’m not proud of), ate a lot of free Campbell’s Soup that they handed out for free on campus and read ESPN probably 6 times a day, many times reading the same articles.
And I had enough of that, so I was determined to go back and tackle the finance conundrum. The catch was that I knew that my nature meant that I would always fall back to procrastinating. The optimal solution was that every time I needed to procrastinate, I would procrastinate somewhere for my edification. This meant that whenever I didn’t feel like reading up on statistics, I ended up on Deal Journal (which merged with Marketbeat, which I also read, to form Moneybeat, which sucks).
The next time I read the Journal, things started to piece together a little better. Bloomberg was a lot easier to read (and a lot more clickbait-y). Eventually, things started to snowball.
I harassed most of my poker buddies into joining an Investopedia pool with me – we bet beer and pushups. Every month we chose a new restriction – long only, short only, options only. Competition was excellent inertia. Soon, everyone was into it.
Fast forward a little more and I had developed an interest in the energy industry. I read every text I could and by the time interviews rolled around, it astounded even myself how far ahead of the curve I was (how could someone not know about the implications of a higher gas-oil mix on profitability?). And the more I knew, the more I realized I didn’t know, and the more I felt I had to learn.
I continued to be a lifelong student – during my first internship, I didn’t have a great smartphone. I had an iPod and that was that. I also didn’t have data.
When I woke up in the morning, I used the house Wi-Fi to download every Bloomberg article for commodities, Canada, the US and FX for the day. I would read it all throughout my transit (not that I would have been able to use data there anyway). When I got to the desk on my first day, I saw an issue of Bloomberg Markets and I freaked out. I was where I wanted to be.
It’s the same mentality of a kid who has always been good at mathematics (we all know that kid in high school, it was me). Because they are good at math, math is interesting. They like to see themselves at the top of the class and they get used to winning. When a problem they encounter doesn’t have a clear answer right away, they spend time solving it. If someone knocks them off their perch for one test, they study harder because they need to prove that they are the best. It’s a virtuous cycle, and a lot more of it is based on psychology and foundation – and foundation that leads to psychology and vice versa.
And then I went to Ivey.
A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. And you can start yours today.