The REAL Project Finance Salary Survey: Part IV (Analyst & Associate)

A year since the sight of that shiny, neatly-presented piffle that a certain shiny, neatly-presented recruitment company saw fit to start emailing around the infrastructure and energy finance market in the hope of getting some MDs on the phone (to ask what the hell it all meant, I would have thought) made me start writing these diatribes (featuring some impressively long sentences, don’t you think?) – if only to defend the honour of this learned profession and prove we are not all pointing pens at blank flip charts and publishing vague waffle about an industry we are utterly detached from – I finally get round to completing the hierarchical loop with my ‘salary survey’ (if we really must use that torpid expression) for the Analyst & Associate level in the Infrastructure, Energy & Real Assets Finance sector.

If you’ve been following the series so far, you’ll know what I mean by ‘Analyst’ and ‘Associate’, but just in case; Analyst is the most junior rank in the team.  When a new Graduate joins a bank he or she becomes an Analyst 1, and embarks on a 3 year Analyst programme, after which he or she is ready to become an Associate – also usually coming with a 3 year tenure.

These are generalisations, necessary to set the scene before moving into the detail, and structures and job titles of course vary from one organisation to the next.  So before anyone starts emailing me (or even worse, LinkedIn Messaging me – PLEASE stop doing that people, it is killing me, just email me) to inform me of their obvious brilliance at having been appointed Associate on entry as a Graduate, or anyone from a certain British bank starts setting their sights on a Director job after being appointed AD after 2 years of total career experience, please hold fire.  Whilst it is indisputable that some individuals progress more quickly than others, and that some organisations progress individuals more quickly than others, by virtue of more/bigger/more complex deals, superior training, hiring brighter people in the first place, or all three, these job title differences are simply a case of different institutions framing things slightly differently.  One fund’s Analyst could be another fund’s Executive, and one bank’s Associate could be another bank’s Officer.  It doesn’t matter – we are talking about those people in the formative early years of their career, from entry through to the point where they are ready to become a VP (see episode III).

BUYBACK CENTRAL

If you’ve read the prequels to this you’ll already know about the re-emergence of HR’s Buyback Machine, dusted off and brought back into play after being mothballed for the best part of a decade, and nowhere is it getting more airplay than in the Analyst & Associate bands.  Particularly in the Associate camp (think back to those uncertain years 2010, 2011, 2012 – who was hiring and training sufficient grads with an expectation of more fruitful years ahead?), there is such imbalance between the trickling supply of top calibre candidates and the rabid demand for their services that some banks have developed a zero tolerance approach to resignations.

As soon as the letter goes in, the machine comes out.  A resigning Associate in the upper quartile can expect to spend all day (maybe even multiple days) in meeting rooms having every MD and Head Of from every far flung corner of the department drop by to remind them how important they are to the future of the organisation, and to agree that they too believe it is time you took a step up, and that move to the Renewables team you’ve been talking about.  And then, HR wheels in the machine, which spews forth your new salary.  I have previously documented cases well known to us where individuals have ridden the buyback wave from £35k to £70k in one fell swoop and believe me; this triple-digit percentage increase in base is not completely isolated in the banks.  When they consider the scarcity of resource in the market, the cost of hiring a replacement even if they can find one, the risk of the new hire not being such a good cultural fit as the devil they know, the reputational damage of becoming known as a ‘selling club’…the list goes on…they just pay.  And increasingly, much to the dismay of hiring institutions all over the market, the buyback machine wins more often than not.

Increasingly, the job of a good recruiter is not just about finding the best candidates and managing the process well – it is about figuring out up front which candidates are buyback merchants.  This is a sixth sense which will take a recruitment consultant far these days, and it isn’t that difficult.  Buyback merchants transmit their intentions pretty clearly, it is just a case of speaking their language.  They are the ones who you never really feel are engaged, and who are certainly never excited by a role.  They are slow to respond to messages, they always find it hard to schedule anything (usually due to “a hard stop” or some other millennial business school speak) and if you ever want to know where they stand (like…do you want the job or not?) they become very confused. Eventually, they loop back to factory reset and remind you of the blooming obvious; that it depends on the magnitude of the offer that you work hard to secure for them, in order for them to present it to their boss, in order for the relevant form to be signed to requisition the wheeling out of the Buyback Machine.  Not that I am in any way bitter, or keeping a list of buyback merchants.  Not at all.

Anyway, before I start revealing the true feelings that fester behind this unflinching face of journalistic professionalism, let me crack on and break down today’s package ranges by sub-sector:

BANKS

Investment Banking

If you joined a Bulge Bracket Investment Bank in July 2015 as an Analyst 1, your basic salary is likely to be £50k.  Before you’ve ever done a day’s work (and no, internships don’t count), straight out of Uni, £50k, thanks very much, parents delighted, all your friends on Twitter and Instagram thoroughly jealous, lol.  This is the standard now, and for those on the M&A side of the industry, this what you can expect, quickly ramping up to £65k by the time you are an Analyst 3, £85-90k as Associate 1, £95-100k as Associate 2, and Associate 3’s in some shops on £110k base.  With bonuses in the 30-60% range for junior Analysts rising to 100% for Associate 3’s, this means there are Associates in Investment Banking earning more than Directors on the lowest paying Project Finance platforms.

Buyback Factor 2/10 – IB Analysts and Associates only tend to leave to go to an Equity Fund, a better IB, or something different to escape the IB world altogether.  Also, IB’s have fairly rigid comp structures anyway and do not invite buybacks.  These factors combined mean that there is less scope for buyback in the first place, and even if there was, individuals are not really interested in it once they have found the right offer. 

Structured Finance

Whilst the spread on IB packages is fairly slim, this holds less true on the Project Finance side where packages can vary pretty wildly from one institution to another.  The entry point is around the £40k mark, rising to c£60k by Analyst 3 on all platforms that have an interest in keeping their staff, because if I had to pinpoint one level at which the war for talent rages most bloodthirstily, it is on that cusp of Senior Analyst/Junior Associate.  The bonuses for these junior guys, however, can vary pretty dramatically from shop to shop, with 20% being the bottom of a barrel that can exceed 60% at its highest mark.  Actually this year we are seeing a much higher frequency of donuts for some Analysts as departments allocate their bonus pools based very much on who they don’t want to lose. They know that new juniors are coming through from the graduate scheme (or – on the better platforms – that juniors are queuing up to jump from lesser shops), and replacing won’t be a problem. Although I’m stating the obvious here, if you get a zero bonus kids, that’s a polite request to vacate the premises as quickly as possible, do not pass go, etc.

At Associate level the base range is £65/70k on entry through to £85/90k at Senior Associate, the point at which a project financier has 5 or 6 years of experience and is ready to take the significant step up to AD/VP.  From Associate 1, he or she will have been expecting a bonus north of 50% and – particularly towards the senior end of the grade – with precedents existing for a push beyond 80% on the right platform, in the right year (with the odd 100% Associate floating about, this year, as it happens).

Buyback Factor 10/10 – the Corporate Banks who lead Structured Financings have become the spiritual home of the Buyback Machine.  It is now an almost acceptable part of the resignation ritual here; you resign, you wait for the buyback offer, and then you actually decide.  This has been encouraged by banks who, unable to put their own value on an individual, would rather wait and see what s/he is worth down the street, and match it.  The outcomes of this are interesting to ponder:

  • As most moves from Structured Finance platforms are to another bank, unless that bank is markedly better (ie Unicredit to SMBC or NIBC to…anywhere) the buyback machine can really get its claws in.  As a result, at least one move in three of this kind doesn’t happen, even after a contract has been signed
  • Unlike the IBs, in fact unlike every other sub-sector, there is massive inconsistency in packages across the Project Finance teams.  This is largely caused by the Buyback Machine and, in a vicious cycle of discontentment, swells the Buyback Machine’s importance, leading those who – punished for their loyalty – haven’t been and resigned to be on less than those who have.  However, in a market where Analyst & Associate packages have risen so sharply, this irregularity is also present in teams who have had to come out and hire at market rate, into a team where longer standing members are on packages linked to yesterday’s market.

DEBT FUNDS

If an Analyst or Associate (or any grade for that matter) is leaving a bank to go to a Debt Fund, the Buyback Machine will be wearing its sad face.  Very few candidates (in fact I can’t remember any, ever) have spurned this opportunity, even in the face of some pretty punchy attempts.  Not only do Debt Funds contain the hypnotic F-word, they are also on the whole small, dynamic, entrepreneurial teams, set against the more commercial and less bureaucratic backdrop of a major institutional investor (although smaller shops such as GCP have all the above advantages and their own genuine independence to boot).  They do not live in (as much) fear of the regulator, they do not have quite the same political minefields to navigate hierarchically or operationally, and they can write some pretty impressive cheques.  As a result, they get the best people.

A few years ago, some bankers (both senior and very junior) told me they thought the Infra Debt Fund was a fad.  They could never compete with the banks, and the banks would never let them co-exist.  Oh no sir, they told me – the Debt Funds are not a place for a long term career move.  How we now laugh at this in the One Search office, with every new Debt Fund mandate that we take on, with several Debt Fund teams in double figure head counts, and with multiple people within our business focused exclusively on staffing them up further.  It is starting to feel like that quote from a BBC producer in 1963, “rock and roll will be dead by June.”

Far from their deathbeds, the Debt Funds are consolidating and they are hiring.  And when they hire Analysts and Associates, they hire the best ones out there.  The brightest, those with the greatest intellectual curiosity, numerical dexterity, those with multiple languages yet still possessing superb written English skills.

The base salaries these guys move across on are very much in line with the better paying Project Finance platforms, with Analyst 2 and 3 bases (these platforms aren’t known for bringing grads through, at least not yet) in the £66-65k range, and Associates going from £70-c90k at the upper end.  However, on the bonus side there is much more upside on a leading Infra Debt Fund than you will get at the same level in a bank.  Bonuses of 100% have been known at this level amongst those funds doing a real volume of deals on what is a much leaner team structure than their banking counterparts, and at the low end you are far less likely to get sub-50% than you are at a bank, despite having working conditions and benefits that are generally considered to be favourable (funnily enough, the staff pensions in these pensions firms are pretty good!).

Buyback Factor – 1/10

Basically it is a win/win/win being at most leading Infra Debt Funds:

Win – You work hand in hand with the senior figures who established the platform.  They are not in an ivory tower somewhere – they are sitting next to you. 

Win – You are given more responsibility than you were at the bank – there are less of you, there is a true team mentality, you have to rise to the challenge

Win – As a result of this, you are pushed, engaged, your performance is critical to the team’s…and when the bonus pot comes, your share isn’t siphoned off to the VPs to appease them for not being made up to Directors again – you get your share.

As a result of all this, unless you work for the one team in the market with very well-documented issues surrounding its management simply not being able to get on with one another, you are probably not looking for a job.  And even if you were, you wouldn’t get a better one than you currently have.  So the Buyback Machine in the Infra Debt Funds (is there even one?) is a very quiet little fellow indeed.

ADVISORY

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; in the medium term the guys who are trained in advisory firms go a long way in other sub-sectors later on, if they remember two things:

  • You will be lower paid (much lower paid to be fair) than those people you were at University with only last year, or a couple of years ago, who went to a bank or managed to get one of the rare grad trainee roles in a fund.  But this will only be for a couple of years, and then you will be back on pay parity, with an arguably better career foundation, but:
  • You have to actually leave.  After 2-4 years is the sweet spot – Manager at the absolute latest.  The Big 4 et al are great places to work as a first job.  You will get more responsibility and diversity of opportunity than at a bank or fund, surrounded by more people of your own age and with at least a fighting chance of enjoying your early twenties in the evenings and at the weekend, as opposed to finishing a pitch book that may or may not end up being required come Monday morning. However, if you stay until AD, you have left it too late to make a move to a bank or fund, whatever anyone else tells you.  Of course your Partner told you I was wrong – they didn’t want you to leave.

If you look after number one, take the training for a couple of years (CFA is very well regarded, by the way – if you get the choice ACA v CFA, go with the latter), perfect the modelling skills, decide the general direction you want to go in (Equity, Debt, bank, corporate, etc) and go for it, in today’s market you will be in a very good place indeed.  Banks and funds are crying out for this sort of profile, provided the individual behind the CV also has charisma, a genuine interest in the industry, and an appreciation of what makes a good deal.

If you keep convincing yourself to wait until the ‘right time’ because:

  • “I’m getting married later in the year” And?
  • “I’m going to be promoted to Manager next summer and I think that will make me a more attractive prospect.” Trust me it won’t – you are not being hired to manage anyone – you will just find yourself competing with people who haven’t been promoted yet, and they will be more attractive prospects, because they are cheaper and less of a concern in terms of wanting faster promotion etc
  • “If I stay, they will send me on secondment to Canada.”  Of course they will.  They’ll do anything to keep you holding on.  Like the clingy girlfriend who books a ‘make or break’ holiday when she knows you want to dump her, borrowing time, reminding you that she is best friends with your sister, and hinting at how messy this break-up is going to get, Sonny Jim.

There won’t ever be a ‘right time’, and one day you will wake up and you will be an AD, and to all intents and purposes it will be game over.

(Disclaimer: That’s game over IF you want to make the move to a bank or fund.  If you don’t – and many don’t – then a long term career in the Big 4, or any other advisory firm, is absolutely great!  Before my LinkedIn message box makes a Kardashianesque attempt to break the internet).

Anyway, on the salary side, a grad can expect to enter around the £30k mark, and there is not quite as dramatic a step up in the first couple of years as we see in other sub-sectors.  By the time you qualify ACA or equivalent grade (after 3 years) you will be up around the £45-50k bracket, and throughout these early years one can expect to earn pretty negligible bonuses from zero on a number of independent platforms to a token 5-10% at some of the Big 4 shops and topping out around 25% in a good year at those advisory houses regarding themselves as having some additional prestige (usually where the advice is multi-disciplinary into M&A as well as/instead of Project Finance – and for that matter bases might get 10-20% higher in such establishments as well.

As you step up to Associate equivalent (so from 3 or 4 years onwards) you are pushing towards Manager level at a Big 4, where your base will come in at £55-60k and let’s not forget that in many cases this is where that all-important car allowance relic kicks in – in fact these are pretty much the only firms in existence who still have a car allowance (basically an NI wheeze).  Bonuses for a star in a good year might reach 30%, with 40% being the most I ever heard and I’m pretty sure that was embellished and I’m pretty sure the individual in question was an AD.  In most cases, by the time you are at the upper end of the Associate bracket, you will be getting ready for AD promotion and you will be on £65k + a bonus in and around 20%.

This step up to Associate, when we consider independent advisory shops, and those advisory businesses within banks’ Structured Finance groups, is where the remuneration path diverges from that of the Big 4.  In the boutiques we see individuals with 3 years stepping up to £60k bases straight away, and in a number of cases we have placed Senior Associates at £90-100k.  This is because many of these boutiques (set up by ex-Bulge Bracket MDs and focusing on M&A) peg themselves against the major banks, and want to hire people at Associate level therefrom, whereas their Analysts may be home grown or picked off from good training grounds like the Big 4.  For the same reasons, bonuses at these ‘Bulge Bracket Boutiques’ will also mirror the investment banks and can run over 100% in the right shop in the right year, or can be a big fat donut and a P45 – the spread really is that wide.

Buyback Factor – 4/10

Not for the want of trying, the poor old Buyback Machine down at the advisors isn’t having a good run of it.  Advisory is the most vulnerable sub-sector in the piece, doing a brilliant job of nurturing and developing much of the talent that then disperses to all corners of the industry.  To some extent they are happy with this and it is part of the plan – after all, in a pyramidal structure there is not room for everyone to stay, and an excellent professional with your badge on their CV and a debt of gratitude to pay is a powerful business development and PR tool to have out there. The problem is how soon, and in what volume, the youngsters are leaving.  This is leaving a black hole in the organisational structure which is frankly impossible to address adequately, as those prepared to come the other way don’t, if I dare say it, quite make muster. The Buyback Machine, like a dejected dog that has chased one too many golf balls into a lake it could never retrieve them from, has pretty much given up. 

The only caveat to this is advisor-on-advisor hits.  These alone inspire such rage within the advisory firm in question (most notable in Big 4-to-Big 4 moves) that a matching (or slightly better) counter-offer is made almost immediately, almost every time.  This alone warrants a score of 4 for the advisory Buyback Machine, because when the candidate spends the weekend navel-gazing over their oh-so-predictable decision, s/he most commonly falls on the side of the devil s/he knows.

EQUITY FUNDS

Everyone knows how much those youngsters love a bit of Fund.  Debt Funds are great – they still contain the F-word, and in their class they are regarded all round as a more prestigious place for an Analyst or Associate to be plying their trade than in a bank or an advisory shop.  However, there is nothing more exciting to the up and coming financiers of Infrastructure & Energy than talk of Equity Funds.  Nothing.  Instagram.  Offices with Think Pods, AstroTurf and beanbags in pastille shades.  Ed Sheeran.  It doesn’t matter.  Call a busy Analyst at a bank or advisory shop about a job in an Equity Fund (ideally one which has some money – but even this is not technically essential), and they are listening.  So much so that in this isolated case, the Buyback Machine needn’t bother.  In actual fact, Analysts and Associates will (and do) take pay drops to join the right fund.  They’d hate me to broadcast that too loudly, but it’s true.

The remuneration when they get there is broadly as follows:

Private Equity

For whatever reason, these are the pinnacle of young Analysts’ dreams – the funds who buy out major infrastructure assets like airports, ports and street lighting, power generation and transmission assets, etc.  On these platforms there are rarely grads…the most junior character you are likely to find in a specialist infra equity buyout fund is going to have at least 2 years of prior experience, gained in a bank, another fund, or a strong advisory shop.  These Senior Analysts will earn a base in the 60-75k range, although it is a very difficult one to quantify as this sub sector has numerous examples of funds paying £100k base salaries to those with no more than 3 years of experience to date.  The bonuses for these Analysts sit in the 30-60% bracket with the higher base payers (often the more risk averse platforms, ie pension/life players being at the lower end of that spectrum and vice versa.

Project investors

A close 2nd in the beauty parade, there is never a struggle filling a good position within a decent investor in primary infrastructure/energy projects.  And they are no slouches in the remuneration stakes either, sitting much closer to their half-brothers the infra buyout funds than they do to their cousins the sponsors.  Little wonder there is such a strong tide of candidates pushing to make their way across the divide from even the most progressive, geographically diverse and profitable sponsors.  Salaries in the project focused funds are very reasonable, grads now securing £40-45k bases with a 20-40% bonus in their first year. By Senior Analyst their base range has shifted up to £60-65k, and bonuses in the 30-50% bracket.

Associates here start at £70k and move towards the three figure mark, on notable (but rare) occasions surpassing it before moving up to VP.  By this stage, on the right platform in the right year, they are pushing £170k in total comp, right up there with their top-earning peers in buyout funds and the leading banks.

Buyback Factor 0/10

Analysts & Associates only leave equity funds if they a)get fired or b)go to a better fund. In neither case is there a conversation that leads to the need for a Buyback Machine. There IS no Buyback Machine in these parts.
SPONSORS & DEVELOPERS

Last but not least my favourite sub-sector the sponsors, where there are so many interesting and diverse businesses at the very forefront of the industry, making infrastructure projects happen.  These firms are close to corporates – technically they are corporates.  But they operate in a space which necessitates that they fish for candidates in the same pond being trawled by the funds and the banks, without having the same financial rod, as it were.  Actually remuneration culture is not the only difference – it’s culture as a whole.  In my 15 years in this space I’ve often noted that there is a particular character that will do well in a sponsor.  Invariably, I like this sort of person.  As hard as it may be for some to believe (the banks’ Buyback Merchants will be rubbing their eyes in disbelief at this shocker), it isn’t all about the money for these guys.  Which is good, because the pay for juniors in these shops is much more akin to that of the advisors than it is to that of the banks and funds.

The Big 4 and the sponsors are very well aligned, both culturally (partly because so many of the sponsors’ teams are ex-Big 4 themselves) and in terms of package, with many junior posts in the sponsors being filled by the fruits of the advisory firms’ graduate training schemes, usually at a slight premium to Big 4 money but no drastic increase.  With graduate entry salaries around £30k, rising very steadily towards £45/50k upon CFA qualification, base salaries across the two sub sectors are almost indistinguishable in the Analyst bracket; although with bonuses ranging from 10-25% the sponsors have a slight edge in terms of total comp.  As we step up to Associate level the sponsors pull ahead slightly on base – partly because they are paying that premium to bring lateral hires across from the advisors – with bases starting at £55k but getting up to £80k for a well-regarded Senior Associate on a prosperous platform.  Bonuses at this level are still in the 20-30% range at some sponsors (indeed in some notable cases they are in contracts as maximum pay-outs), although some more generous houses have schemes with 50-75% potential – with the emphasis on the word potential.

Buyback Factor – 2/10

Now and again there is a good old Buyback in the sponsors, but usually this is only when the proposed move is sponsor-to-sponsor.  If an individual is moving to a fund, an interesting job in government or a move out of the industry altogether, a buyback is unlikely to swing much lead.