Professional service firms can help organizations evaluate and navigate corporate transactions, with services that include business modeling, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and valuations. A career in M&A advisory has similarities with investment banking and can therefore involve long hours and extreme attention to detail. The competition for positions is intense, as most professional service firms only have small M&A groups relative to other divisions or services. As such, the career can vary depending on specific services and responsibilities, as well as the size of the firm.
The main difference between being an M&A professional and an investment banker is that investment bankers work on the entire deal process (from pitch to close), while M&A advisory professionals typically focus on a few different aspects for their clients. For example, M&A advisory professionals may conduct detailed valuations in order to perform a purchase price allocation. M&A professionals may also perform due diligence for the client.
While investment bankers are the most well-known M&A professionals, there are a lot of deal-specific roles that are “outsourced” to professional service firms. For example, performing due diligence, creating quality of earnings analysis, conducting detailed valuations, and preparing purchase price allocations are often the job of professional service firms. Many large accounting firms have M&A advisory roles.
M&A advisory jobs attract top talent in the financial services sector. The role is usually less regimented than investment banking, but there are some similarities. Professionals often use M&A advisory as a way to break into investment banking or move to corporate development. While the salaries and bonus potential are good, compensation will be lower than more traditional investment banking roles. However, M&A advisory roles will typically work fewer hours.
Key Skills for Succeeding in M&A Advisory Jobs
There are a number of key skills the most successful players in the M&A advisory business have in common. The first of these is solid business analysis skills. M&A professionals have to be highly technical in order to evaluate company financials and perform valuations.
People skills, such as management skills, communication skills, negotiating skills, and networking skills, are also critically important, as they are in most finance roles.
The personality of someone suited to work in the M&A advisory team of a professional services firm typically has the following character traits:
Highly ambitious/driven to succeed
Attention to detail
Polished and presentable
Ability to work long hours
Getting into M&A Advisory
M&A advisory professionals may be hired after obtaining an undergraduate degree. Internal hires are also very common. Many large accounting firms (like the Big Four) have M&A advisory roles, in addition to the more traditional audit roles, so internal movement between groups is more common than in investment banking. New hires are usually known as associates or consultants.
A Day in the Life of an M&A Advisory Associate/Consultant
A day in the life of an M&A advisory professional can vary depending on the specific services the firm provides, as well as the size of the firm. Nevertheless, the day may be fairly similar to that of an investment banking analyst. Associates will usually spend a typical day reviewing company documents and financial statements and preparing due diligence reports for the client. Associates may also create valuation reports and purchase price allocation calculations, depending on the scope of the engagement.
Interviewing for M&A Advisory
Interview prep is similar to investment banking, so we recommend following the same steps we’ve laid out for landing an I-banking job. We’ve provided an example of a real interview form used by an investment bank to hire analysts.
M&A Advisory Exit Strategy
Professionals in M&A advisory services have several exit options: 1) move up within the group and have a very rewarding career, 2) move into another group in the same firm, 3) move to an investment bank, or 4) move to the corporate side. Moving to an investment bank is possible, but M&A advisors don’t necessarily have the breadth of knowledge that investment bankers do since bankers are involved in every step of the deal process. However, M&A advisors may have significantly more in-depth valuation knowledge due to purchase price allocation or other specialist valuations requested by the client.
Preparing for an M&A Advisory Career
A career in M&A advisory can be highly rewarding and intellectually stimulating. Additionally, while pay is lower than investment banking or private equity, there is generally a better work-life balance.
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