What is Wall Street? Inquiring Minds Want to Know

On Monday, Dec. 21, 2021, 38 students had the chance to find the answer to “What is Wall Street … Other Than Investment Banking?” Thanks to Zoom and the YU Career Center, Investment Banking Society, and Finance Club, the annual event featured six finance professionals (five of them YU alumni) describing the many other career opportunities available on “the street” besides investment banking.

 

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According to Susan Bauer, executive director of the Career Center, the purpose of “What is Wall Street?” is help students realize “that Wall Street offers a wealth of different career paths beyond the obvious one of investment banking,” a point that Dr. Noam Wasserman, dean of the Sy Syms School of Business, emphasized in a prerecorded shout-out to his students encouraging them to sign up for the event: “If you’re one of those people who are searching or are rethinking things, then this is the event for you.”

The evening began with a spirited keynote address by Jillian Mariutti, director of debt and equity financing at JLL Capital Markets, described by Mariutti as “number one in the capital markets.”

She traced her career from her work at Wachovia in 2007 as an interest rate derivatives specialist to her current work in helping developers obtain the money they need to pursue their projects.

Based upon her experience, she offered several takeaways for the people on the call, all of which offered excellent advice about how to position oneself for success.

First, and foremost, mentors. “My mentors were instrumental to me to be able to get the interviews and make the calls I needed, and they also helped me decide what were good choices,” she noted. “They were like my board of trustees, and they were instrumental in my making my big decisions.”

Second, networks: “Talk to everyone! In this industry, you have to start growing your network, and that is crucial to knowing and understanding what’s out there. It was through this process that I began getting clear about what I wanted to do next.”

Third, people need to become very clear about their strengths: “Know what it is that you bring to the table that’s strong.”

Fourth, practice your interviews. “Do your mock interviews and concentrate on having strong answers to these questions, which will come up: Why you? Why this industry? Why this firm? You have to have those be really clear,” she explained. “If you don’t know the answer to a question, stay calm, stay confident, let them hear what you’re thinking about so that they can see your train of thought, and then you can always say, ‘I want to give that a little more thought, can I come back to you after the interview?’ — that is more important than the actual correct answer.”

(Todd Lotcpeich, director of employer alumni relations as well as the event’s emcee, put in a plug for Big Interview, a service offered by the Center to help people improve their interview skills.)

Last, but definitely not least, “You always want to challenge yourself—don’t be complacent. If you become complacent, that’s when you know you need to make a move and make a change.”

After a brief interlude, during which Lotcpeich introduced Jobscan, another service being offered by the Center that helps optimize résumés to better navigate online job applications, the executive panel swung into action. Moderated by Meir Lewis ’98YC, Head of Financial Institutions Investment Banking, Americas, Nomura Securities International, the panel included Rafi Friedman ’15YC (Private Equity Associate, Waterfall Asset Management), Isaac Hagler ’91SB (Vice President, Wealth Management, Deutsche Bank); Dr. Avi Rosenbaum ’02YC (Partner, Tectonic Capital) and Isaac Zimmerman ’98YC (Senior Vice President, Treasury, Jefferies).

Lewis kicked things off by giving an overview of what he called the “Wall Street ecosystem,” which he divided into three segments: buy side vs. sell side, public vs. private, and institutional vs. retail. “It’s important to dissect Wall Street into their major ‘food groups’ so that you can think clearly about what you want to do.”

The panelists then took several minutes each to describe their own backgrounds—college, major, first job, how they got to where they are, what it is they do and what trajectory they’re on. In their presentations and discussions, the panelists noted the many opportunities for interesting work on Wall Street that spanned the gamut from operations in the back office to make sure that IT systems function properly or managing corporate treasuries to middle-office work in areas like analytics and auditing to front-office work where people can handle personal client relationships or engage in retail sales.

Zimmerman counseled the listeners to “find an area you like and develop an expertise in it so that you can be the go-to person for that knowledge and establish credibility for yourself.” He also noted that while “investment banking is sometimes considered the ‘ivory tower’ of being on Wall Street, if you find that you’re a math person or an analytics person, then risk is an awesome place to be.” Hagler not only seconded that but went further, saying that “nowadays, even in something like operations, it’s not not just about operations, it’s about risk. Everyone should have some understanding about risk control because whatever you do, it’s about risk control. Understanding that aspect of it will help you grow in the company.”

Friedman pointed out that banking, sales and trading, operations, wealth management, risk, compliance, product management “are all great roles and all of which give you great optionality and opportunity down the road.” The reason people get attracted to finance, he noted, is that finance can cover anything. One can work in finance at a financial firm but can also work in finance at a television company, at a media company, at a clothing company, at a food company: “Working at a financial firm like Goldman doesn’t mean you work in finance while you could work in finance at Disney. This expands the choices people have when they think about their careers.”

As the evening wound down, Zimmerman spoke for the panel when he said, “Over the course of your career, you should expect to be flexible—take the time to learn new skills as you go on through your career because you will find that you will change. Be open to learning new skills and taking on new challenges over the course of your career.”

Lewis offered the attendees excellent counsel as he brought the discussion to a close: “When exploring Wall Street, be curious, be exploratory, consider the wide ecosystem of Wall Street, make sure to network and ask questions about other areas and certainly try to strike a balance in all the things that are important in your lives. We wish you all luck in your future in finance.”