This is a two-part story about my journey from Med student to Marketing professional to where I am today (banking): the obstacles I’ve faced and the sacrifices I’ve had to make.
So there I was, nearly three years into a fruitful career in marketing, thinking about the next big biscuit whilst contemplating making a major career move to an industry that cared very little about biscuit innovation. I started plotting ways I could make this change and somehow all my efforts lead to one answer: I had to start from the bottom. So I did just that. I lodged my application for the graduate programme of one of the biggest banks in the world. I thought to myself, if I’m going to make this career sacrifice, I may as well do it with a giant!
I went through the various stages of the recruitment process which was concluded by a full day of assessments at the potential employer. While I had taken leave at work (faking illness was not an option because I respect karma) most of my counterparts were merely missing a day on campus. There was a handful of us who were already working but a majority of the interviewees were obviously students. One could argue that I had the added advantage of having work experience but considering that this was a completely different industry, I’d say my only advantage over others may have been level of maturity. Not to say that I wasn’t equally nervous, I was super anxious…and paranoid! So paranoid I freaked out that I was the only one not wearing red and/black, which also happened to be the company colours (I wore khaki formal pants and a crisp white shirt). I recall asking one of the candidates in a hushed tone if there was an email that had gone around on dress code that I may have missed. She said no and I calmed down (a bit).
I didn’t wait too long before I got that phone call; I received an offer! I was at work when I got the phone call and I casually went outside and tried not to look suspicious. I pretended it was a telemarketer selling me things I didn’t need. The offer came in at the end of September 2013 and I resigned from my job in November. After serving notice I took two weeks off just to wrap my head around the leap I had decided to take. The decision to start over. Why a graduate programme you may ask? Well outside of the theory I had covered in university, I knew very little about the real world of investment banking and I wanted to be a banker, not a marketing professional working in a bank. I also wanted to have the liberty of asking questions. I wanted to ensure that I had the right foundation so I could grow to be a credible banker.
Going in, I knew that there would be those obvious adjustments I would have to adapt to, like the more formal environment and business attire and of course, the complete switch from creative to numbers. What I didn’t expected was the funny lingo. I was familiar with certain terms that I had grasped in third year Finance like long vs. short position and bullish vs. bearish. What university didn’t teach me was the everyday jargon bankers throw around and assume everyone gets.
I recall in the first meeting I attended, my manager was going through the pipeline. He said he was only interested in event, not flow business. Now I had no idea what flow business was but I just decided to “go with the flow” anyway (corny but I just had to). However, I knew all about planning events. That is what event business meant, right? Wrong! Contrary to my beliefs, ‘event business’ refers to the once off big deals, the sizable revenue generators while flow business is more of the expected and frequent transactional type business. Other terms I soon picked up were “add some colour” (add detail to a pitch), “beauty parade” (face to face client pitch), “face time” (sticking around till late and pretending to still be working – thank goodness I didn’t have to do this often) and “tombstone” (award for closing a particular deal with high level detail on that deal on the tombstone).
The most difficult thing about being on the graduate programme with three years of work experience in my pocket was probably the age gap. I was at least three years older than most of the graduates in the selected group. It felt like being that older guy (assuming I was male) in grade seven, with a beard and a Barry-White-deeper-than-everybody-else voice. Fortunately, I got along with the entire group of graduates and sometimes I would even forget that I was practically the age of these kids’ ancestors. I was 25 when I joined the programme. For my birthday that year I decided to take leave and go visit family in Sydney (Austrailia) so I wouldn’t have to deal with turning 26 in the presence of my colleagues. Australia is where everyone fled to in challenging times, right? Well I considered this a challenging time.
I started my career in Client Coverage where I worked with different Relationship Managers across sectors for the first nine months of that year. Although I found the experience valuable, it was nothing like the way the movies or books like Monkey Business portrayed Investment Banking. The hours were reasonable and the people were pretty chilled. At the end of September, during a company social function, our CEO asked me how I felt about spending some time in London. Let’s just say a month later I was in London. I moved to Debt Capital Markets (DCM)and spent three months working in Canary Wharf with the team covering the Central and Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa region. Although I had now been in banking for most of the year, I knew nothing about DCM but I found myself being roped into things from day one. I remember thinking “this time last year I sat in a strategy meeting thinking about creating a ground breaking biscuit (as ground breaking as biscuits can be) and here I am analysing orders during a bookbuild . Everything was ten times faster and I had to learn and do fast! I was part of an amazing team of mostly Brits and Eastern Europeans so I got to learn about different cultures as well.
By the time I came back to South Africa, I had grown and learnt so much! Those three months away felt like a year! I stayed in DCM, mostly doing deals for European clients which exposed me to a lot of different deals and taught me to manage workflow streaming from different time zones. I was starting to feel a bit more confident and comfortable in my new industry but still had this pressure that I needed to play catch up. My peers (the people I had graduated with) were three years ahead in their careers and even though I was doing pretty well and had received great opportunities through my work sponsors, I always had that at the back of my mind which stressed me out. I eventually adapted to “Own race, own lane” philosophy; to focus on my own journey, to embrace the choices I made and to find ways to improve myself holistically. Do I regret my decision? Not at all! I hear too often stories of people hating their jobs but not doing anything about it. Or some people who think they can’t follow a certain path because of the qualifications they hold or that it’s too late or that they are incapable. Incapable is simply an excuse we make when we’re too lazy to apply ourselves (note to self: stop that). If life is the sum of the parts of the choices we make then I’m pretty satisfied with mine; my life and choices.
Now in my fourth year in banking I can comfortably say that I am happy with the path I chose and didn’t wait 10 years to take the plunge and follow my heart. Eleven years ago I was busy with first year medicine thinking that I would be the next Dr. Quinn and here I am today crunching numbers when just four years ago I was munching biscuits.
That’s the story of my journey and I’m still on the road taking it one turn at a time.
About the author:
Ziyanda Khumalo is a Johannesburg based Zulu girl, who is the reigning lip syncing champion in her neighbourhood and is an Investment Banker on the side. After spending three years as a Marketing professional, she decided to take a leap of faith and pursue a career in the financial industry. She can survive on minimal sleep provided she is fed ice cream at regular intervals. She is passionate about education and enjoys reading, working out and writing about stuff that is on her mind.
Twitter: @zeezilz || Instagram: @ziyandak || Blog: http://themegazeen.blogspot.com/