I've worked in financial services for over three decades, and I've seen a lot of careers start and a lot of careers finish. It's very true that very few of the people who start in this industry end up 'making it' in the way they might expect.
Plenty of people start out in investment banking and then take the well trodden path into private equity. Do they 'make it' there? That depends on who you ask - the pay can certainly be good in private equity, particularly when carried interest is factored in, but there's no guarantee you'll make it to the stage where you actually get to earn carry.
Instead, I see younger people in private equity today dropping out before they get anywhere near the stage of earning carried interest. They complain a lot about burnout and say they're underpaid compared to the value of the deals they're working on. Wake up. Heroic working hours don't lead to high pay: it's all about solid work and progressing through the hierarchy. If you stick with it, private equity can be worth it: yes, you work hard and compete for deals and sometimes have to dig in to keep a company alive, but over time you will generally have much more control over your working life than people elsewhere in finance.
The people who don't go into private equity often leave banking for hedge funds. This can work out, or not. I've seen a generation of traders kill their careers when either they or their bosses have blown-up after a few good years. More positively, those good years were sometimes so good that they had enough money to try something else like venture capital, or making a film.
Meanwhile, many people who started in research or banking often end up working for companies in investor relations, finance, or corporate development/M&A/strategic planning. This works well for them for a while, but then they get merged out of a job, or go to work at a much smaller company.
An equally insalubrious end often waits banking salespeople. Generalist equity sales can be a surprisingly enduring career, if you're prepared to ride it until the bitter end. This usually means taking your client relationships to smaller and smaller firms as the big firms downsize and juniorize. Ultimately, you'll probably arrive at, "the end of the line," working for a very small firm that pays a percentage of the commissions you generate, but no salary and no benefits.
Lastly, I know the people who stay in banking and creep their way up the pole. I'm talking about my peers like David Solomon at Goldman or Jon Pruzan at Morgan Stanley. They've made good money: banking can work for you if you stick at it.
Scott Brown is the pseudonym of a Wall Street veteran
Photo by Emily Wade on Unsplash