The Need for a Staffer Role
As you may know from frequenting this website, investment banking is very much a brokerage role with senior staff in coverage groups operating on an eat what you kill model. This is less pronounced at the bulge brackets and large integrated banks but the model is alive and well at mid-market investment banks and boutiques (as well as comercial real estate brokerages and anything that is heavily commission based).
Investment banking junior staff – such as analysts and associates, do not have revenue tied to their name.
Meanwhile, senior investment banking staff see investment banking junior staff as expensive (in reality they are super cheap compared to the commissions paid out to senior brokers) and are naturally inclined to leverage these human “resources” as much as possible to get materials delivered to the client.
You can see where this may become a problem – senior bankers, since they are not doing the work themselves and a part of their revenues are paid out to junior bankers, could theoretically get analysts and associates to spend hundreds of hours on impertinent details in pitchbooks or go on wild goose chases at 2 in the morning for very marginal work that is likely to be glossed over by a client. If you can get it, why not have it.
Through working in banking for several years, it becomes apparent that the best investment bankers actually do not require a ton of materials going into a presentation because they have a coherent thesis in mind and are able to communicate that effectively to a client.
Good investment bankers can work with light materials, so accordingly, investment banks do not want to have relationship managers burning up resources (i.e. junior bankers) in pursuits of profits (and not getting them!) – especially given the relative attractiveness for the brightest talent compared to the tech giants like Google or Palantir and the negative media attention painting a picture of a greedy industry where junior staff work so hard that they literally die (this is rare).
Given this dynamic, most larger investment banking groups will have a designated staffer who filters through staffing requests from senior staff and allocates work to junior staff based on capacity and capability.
So a senior banker can say, I need a pitch for athenahealth next week, should be around 10 pages with market updates and some strategic alternatives work. I want an analyst and an associate to check the work.
The staffer will look at the list to see which members of the team are available. Theoretically, if the team is fully staffed up the staffer should say there is no capacity. In reality, work is rarely turned down unless it is a particularly egregious request and it just means that analysts and associates will have to work until 4AM instead of 2AM.
Before staffers, MDs would just slam slide skeletons on junior staff desks and say “get this to me by tomorrow morning”.
Who is the Investment Banking Staffer
Ideally, the staffer is a middle management banker – 90% of the time a Vice President but sometimes a very senior associate or a very junior Executive Director.
So the staffer will have staffing duties on top of their regular responsibilities in quarterbacking presentation materials and coordinating activities with clients (as well as starting revenue generation activities).
Sometimes, staffers become “full time staffers” and start to eschew some of their other responsibilities, allowing them for a fairly cushy role before they have real revenue generation expectations.
Generally speaking, being a staffer is a checkbox that promotion committees like to look at before VPs make the jump into an Executive Director (revenue generating) role as they know about the constraints of the bank and the battle for resources.
Good Staffers and Bad Staffers in Investment Banking
Staffing is not an easy job. Good staffers are empathetic towards both senior and junior staff. They know when their junior team is burnt out or close to the breaking point and can reject marginal requests.
“Listen Jeff, I understand that you want to put together this internal deck, but we are at the brink right now and everyone is working on live mandates with imminent deadlines. This may have to wait until next week.”
The worst type of staffer is worried about his own promotion prospects or revenue generation and accordingly not paying close attention to workflow needs. They are not necessarily bad employees, but can leave staffing needs to the last minute – not giving junior staff adequate time to do the work.
Signs of a bad staffer are fairly light work for a few days when in reality a deadline is creeping up – and when the MD asks the staffer where the book is, they scramble to dump a few people on the file with a very aggressive timeline.
Now that the staffer role is established, juniors are technically only supposed to work on what is assigned to them and be free to live their lives when not on a mandate.
Nonetheless, everyone from associate to MD (and some very, very aggressive managing analysts) can “rogue staff” someone without bypassing the staffer’s filtration system. Going rogue!
This is extremely annoying to junior staff who are about to leave when another VP comes by and says “hey can you do this by tomorrow morning? Should only take 15 minutes,” while they stay in the office until 3AM.
Staffers are generally protective of their role and see this as an overreach – they may have a conversation with the rogue staffer or ignore it. Depending on how important the guest rogue staffer is (a rainmaking MD that makes $30 million for the bank every year versus an annoying associate), analysts and associates can reject these requests with limited repercussions.
Being Friends with the Staffer
As a new hire to the investment bank, you are at the complete mercy of the staffer. If you are staffed, you do the work and if you do not, you are probably fired.
Once an analyst or associate is more established and respected for doing quality work, this is when they can be more strategic about pushing back. However, this still depends on the staffer acquescing to demands.
If the staffer understands and likes an analyst, they will know what MDs they like to work with and which ones they do not – and accordingly shield them from make-work and non-meaningful mandates (like buy side goose chases).
If a staffer likes an associate, the associate can request which analysts that they want to be paired with.
Obviously, an associate wants to be paired with a rockstar analyst where they can lightly check the work because the analyst is trustworthy and they can expect the analyst will get the book done in a timely manner.
Getting stuck with weak analysts means that the associate will have to dip down on the responsibility curve and do analyst work to get the book done on time. “The analyst sucks” is not a good excuse – associates have to budget more time when working with weaker analysts and wait until review season before sewering them.