How to Go From Big 4 Audit to an Investment Bank

Many people join a Big 4 accountancy firm with the sole intention of leaving as soon as they have qualified as an accountant. If you went to a top 5 university, got a first, and qualified as an accountant at the Big 4 with first time passes, you should get an interview without putting in too much effort into your CV. There’s still a lot of work to do once you’ve got the interview though, and for everyone else with at least a 2.1 from a half decent university, you will inevitably need to try a little harder. Realistically if you are from a uni outside the top 10 with a 2:1 or less, unless you have direct relevant experience you will struggle. However, below is an assortment of useful things we think you can do/need to be aware of to help you get to the interview stage of a decent Investment banking role:

  • Be wary of the’ window of opportunity’. If you really want to move from audit to an investment bank, some (but not all) places can be put off by you having more than 2 years post qualified experience as you may lose some of your ‘mouldability’.
  • Be very clear about why you are applying to that particular division (m&a, capital markets and equity research) and know what they do and how they make money. The firms are very wary of people who just want to leave the Big 4 rather than actually want to do the role they are applying for.
  • There is plenty of help regarding CVs online, there are normally people in your department at work that will let you have a look at their CV for tips. Be aware though, that whilst doing Audit at the Big 4 is nothing to be sniffed at, most people applying to Investment banking have very similar experiences, so you will need to have something on there to make you stand out a bit.
  • Try and get some corporate finance or deals experience. Work on clients that are active in M&A, as you’ll get some exposure to this, and the more aptitude and enthusiasm you show, the more you’ll be able to get involved. The key is to focus on getting some valuation work on your CV – it is important to be able to talk about the work you have done, the assumptions made and justify the valuation approach taken.
  • If you don’t have any clients where this is the case, try to arrange an internal move to the Corporate finance/transactions department, many people see a 6 month stint in either of these departments as their stepping stone into a Bank. It will be worth it just for the CV as many job specs say “CF or TS experience preferred”. From talking to people who have made the move across, the majority moved from Transaction Services.
  • This is a fairly rudimentary one but make sure you are on top of the financial news both generally and in the sector you are applying for. This involves not just skimming the FT, but making sure you have a coherent view and you know the key numbers. They will try to get into a discussion with you to see how you think.
  • A lot of people will tell you that the interview process does not require much more knowledge on valuation than you have from your ACA qualification. However having enrolled for your CFA level 1 does help, but is not essential. The key is to have a high level view of different valuation techniques and the application of these in a variety of different industries. The level of understanding required does vary substantially across employers. However, in general, you’re not expected to be able to recite different valuation formulae at them, but knowing how people calculate the cost of equity, and actually understanding what you are trying to achieve by doing this and what factors/assumptions influence this calculation is something you need to get yourself familar with.
  • Start your own investment portfolio. In doing this you will not only automatically be aware of news flow relating to your stocks but also get a taste for investing. It is very likely this will come up in your interviews. You need to get a good idea of your favourite long/short and back it up with numbers. In going for interviews the senior guys do not want hear about punts, they want logical arguments backed up by detail. Having your own portfolio also automatically makes you more alert to news impacting your investments on a regular basis, so it can help ensure you remain on top of the key stories.
  • Use a good recruitment consultant. Investment banking roles are some of the best examples of where recruitment consultants can really help you. Greenwich Partners [in London] seem to have most of the Equity research and Corporate Finance roles wrapped up, so get your CV over to them. They also have a great, no hassling process, in fact you may have to hassle them a bit sometimes. Use your own contacts. People qualifying in the years above you at the Big 4 will have made the move into an Investment bank, so don’t be afraid to get in contact with them to find out whether there are any jobs going at their place. They’re likely to be financially incentivised to refer people, and this can be a way to get into firms that normally would instantly reject your CV because you went to the wrong University.