Investment bankers: overworked and underpaid?

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The president of UBS investment bank quit yesterday.

A horde of other senior M&A bankers are also said to be eyeing the exits.

After a bumper 2006, the combination of big bank balances (following bonus payouts) and uncertainty about the future are reputedly prompting some senior M&A bankers to think twice about hanging around.

"You're going to see a lot of people leaving the industry in 2007," says one London corporate finance headhunter. "The business is getting a lot tougher - everyone's working harder, and the trade-off between having a life outside work and bringing in additional revenue is increasing. People are putting in twice the effort, but not getting twice the revenues."

Although M&A volumes rose some 38% last year, according to Thomson Financial, M&A fees didn't keep pace - by late November they were flat on 2005.

This year appears to have been relatively buoyant by comparison - Lehman reported a 2% increase in its investment banking and underwriting revenues in the first quarter, while Goldman registered a quarter-on-quarter rise of 17%. And according to data provider Dealogic, 50bn of M&A deals were announced last week alone.

However, there are intimations that the deal pipeline for the rest of the year is weaker than expected. Financial News reported last week that the European M&A businesses of US investment banks have seen their revenue targets upped by 20% on last year.

Hence the itchy feet. The headhunter we spoke to says those thinking of quitting the industry are heading for boutiques or corporates, leaving space for the promotion of younger colleagues. UBS ex-president Ken Moelis, for example, is rumoured to be going it alone, possibly via a boutique operation in Los Angeles.

Not everyone is convinced an exodus is on the cards, though: "There will always be people retiring or moving to different environments in boutique advisory firms or corporates," says Tim Sheffield, managing director of search firm Sheffield Haworth. "But we haven't seen this happening any more than usual."

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