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Investment Banker


It's Wall Street money. That concept implies a few odd things:

1. Bonuses drive things. That is, most people on Wall Street work for relatively small base salaries. A Director at an investment bank might make $350k a year as a base salary. But in a good year, that Director might have sold five mergers, managed two IPOs and three work units. Those deals collectively will have put a billion dollars of investment money into the banks’ proprietary hedge funds. And other good things will have happened—the bank will have been perceived as "the leader," a mover and a shaker/stirrer. Those deals might have brought in $75 million in revenues, $65 million of gross profits to the bank. And the Director was responsible for having brought it in. Well, she plus the gilded brand name SilverSlacks. Shouldn't the Director get a piece of that $65 million pie? Sure. How about 20% to the group—the Director keeps 80% and doles out to others the remainder. So that means that the director gets a bonus of about $10 million (like 30ish times her base salary which now seems like a rounding error); and they also get to distribute $2 million or so in bonus money to the kids in their group who "killed it" for them. Maybe there are 10 members, five more senior than Pitch who would get $300,000 each; and five like Pitch who got an extra hundred grand just for being sports in a hot year. And note that the more senior you get, the more volatile the spread becomes between salary and bonus; that is, for Pitch, his bonus might be 100% or even 200% of his base; but it won't be 20,000%. Not yet, anyway.

2. Think about these numbers on a per hour basis—an average orthodontist works 45 hours a week and makes maybe $200k. An average investment banker in a modest group at an average bank might make $500k—but they live in Manhattan (usually) where costs of living are crazy high (ever had a $26 hamburger in Omaha?); taxes are crazy high (well over half your pay goes back to Uncle Sam); and that banker works over twice the hours of the orthodontist. And remember, old bankers…don't. They just don’t exist. Burn out is high—so while the orthodontist will still enjoy fixing mouths when she's 60, the banker will be toast by age 45 so she has to save enough dough to keep her tidy for another 30 or so years after leaving banking.

This should keep you going well into your golden years.

3. And as great as all of this stuff sounds, it remains brutally hard to truly create wealth for yourself earning a pay check—even if it's a fat one—In large part because so much of your money goes back to the government in the form of taxes. If an investment banker is awesome, she can expect to have saved $20 million by age 45 if she has had a really good career and been reasonably lucky (meaning she earned more like $60 million, paid taxes to net $30 million or less and then had living expenses for 20+ years along the way, assuming no divorce(s))—employee number 37, an engineer at Facebook probably made 5 times that number—before she was 30. Yeah, it's exceptional but not that crazy in the scheme of start-ups.

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