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Kishan Govan, Associate at Bravura, an independent investment banking firm specialising in corporate finance and structured solutions, considers what it takes to succeed in the fast-paced world of investment banking.

When it comes to exciting careers, investment banking has it all: reward, adrenaline and risk. While expertise and hard work are duly rewarded, a career in investment banking can also be a journey that brings with it ups and downs given its proximate link to a myriad of uncontrollable external factors. This has never been truer for South Africa due to the volatility of our emerging-market currency, challenging economic conditions and an evolving but uncertain policy landscape.

It could well be said that investment banking careers are ideally suited to optimists who have endless enthusiasm. While the stereotypical notion does hold true that this career requires ambition, a strong work ethic and an ability to handle pressure, above all there should be an ability to remain upbeat and curious coupled with the urge to seek out fresh opportunities even when markets may be faltering.

Investment banking generally includes capital markets and corporate finance, with corporate finance advisors providing companies with advice on how to grow their businesses by providing advice and transactional assistance on mergers and acquisitions, capital raises, listings and B-BBEE transactions.

In addition to providing expertise to companies and investors with optimal, long-term financial solutions, the South African context requires a solid understanding of the legal frameworks and policies that underpin empowerment and broad-based transformation so as to structure deals that support these imperatives without compromising on the returns to shareholders.

The cream of the graduate crop

Investment banking is a competitive industry that often draws into its ranks top academic performers holding postgraduate degrees in accounting, commerce, law or even engineering. Kishan Govan himself graduated cum laude in both his Bachelor of Accounting Science and Higher Diploma in Accountancy, as well as being placed in the top 10 of the SAICA ITC (previously QE1) exam in 2013.

With the cream of the graduate crop at their disposal, many employees look beyond the basics for that elusive X factor that sets the new entrant apart from their peers. Govan says, “There are some non-negotiable skills that you’re required to have upon walking in the door, such as an ability to quickly learn complex and technical financial and legal concepts; to have a strong eye for detail without losing sight of the bigger picture; and to be highly organised, accountable and ethical. But also, employees are looking for attributes such as being a self-starter and having intellectual curiosity that will lead to asking the right questions and following the right leads during research. Innovative and independent thinking are also valued and encouraged.”

Financial reward and prestige can come in due course, but new entrants in investment banking need to put in the hours and test their mettle in order to progress their careers. New entrants begin as analysts and may be promoted to associates within 3 years. Following years of gaining deeper experience, expanding networks and sourcing transactions, talented associates may be invited to become principals and thereafter move into senior management.

Govan says, “Analysts and associates cannot be afraid of hard work. Fortunately the work is fast-paced and exciting.” The work of an analyst includes analysis and research, and compiling presentations and financial models. The associate also undertakes these roles as well as managing and supervising the work of the analysts. Depending on the investment banking firm, there might be additional responsibilities. Govan says that as an independent firm, Bravura provides the opportunity for analysts to liaise directly with clients, as well as to work closely with the principals who source deals and maintain relationships. There is also acknowledgement by peers and senior members when excelling. “Every day can be different,” he adds, “involving meeting and working alongside highly capable and insightful people. By nature the work is often unpredictable which makes it seldom monotonous. If you get an adrenaline rush when challenged or when having to work fast and accurately on often complex issues, then you’ve found the right industry.”

Of course, there is a flipside to this. Govan explains: “There is tremendous pressure to produce high quality, thoughtful output. Very quickly you have to recognise how to allocate time between various internal and external projects as well as managing clients. The uncertain ever-changing nature of the job at hand can make a work-life balance quite hard to manage at times.”

Exposure to diverse opportunities

It’s common for investment bankers to begin their careers as generalists and to hone in on particular sectors or industries over time. While their careers may tend to become more specialised as they continue, the breadth of knowledge that is gained allows great flexibility of choice when considering career advancements. Many go on to C-suite positions or establish their own companies, harnessing the skills developed through exposure to numerous businesses and diverse sectors.

For Govan this is part of the lure of investment banking. He says, “I’ve been interested in business from a young age and investment banking incorporates learning about different businesses, sectors and jurisdictions. In its own right, investment banking is a great industry, but even more exciting are the versatile opportunities that invariably present themselves further along one’s career journey.”

Govan’s hopes for the future in investment banking? “This is currently my industry of choice. I think that certainly in South Africa it provides a progressive environment. For example, I do not think that many investment banking businesses here have a gender pay gap anymore and there are equal opportunities regardless of race. I have direct access to a lot of smart people who provide guidance and encouragement, and I believe that for me this is a good culture fit. As I continue to progress, and expand my network, I hope to become the trusted advisor to my clients, such that I am able to source deals off the back of my network.”

Categories: B-BBEE, Corporate Finance, News
Published: 16 October 2018