1. Investment Banking vs Private Equity Business Model

Private equity is on the buy-side, whereas investment banking is deemed the sell-side. Investment bankers advise and “sell” business services to corporations. Conversely, private equity firms purchase business interests on behalf of investors who have already put up the money.

1.1. Sell-Side Vs Buy-Side

Private EquityBefore trying to understand the differences between investment banking and investment management, it is important to understand how the playing field in finance is set up. Typically, firms are categorised into two ‘sides’ – that is, the buy-side and the sell-side.

The buy-side generally refers to firms such as mutual funds, private equity, venture capital or hedge funds that raise capital to invest in stocks, bonds, alternative assets, or companies. In contrast, the sell-side refers to  financial institutions that are involved in the creation, promotion, and sale of financial instruments such as stocks (IPO- equity), bonds (debt), and even companies (M&A).

1.2. What’s Investment Banking?

Investment banking is the division of a bank or financial institution serving governments, corporations, and institutions by providing underwriting (capital raising) and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) advisory services.

Investment banks act as intermediaries between investors (who have money to invest) and corporations (who require capital to grow and run their businesses). Investment bankers sell business interests to investors, meaning they work on the sell-side. 

Some of the largest and most profitable global investment banks are Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Barclays, Morgan Stanley, etc. 

1.3. What’s Private Equity?

Private Equity firms raise funds from high-net-worth individuals and big institutional investors to buy controlling interests in potential private companies and involve themselves in direct management decisions. 

Some mega fund private equity firms are The Blackstone Group, Apollo, KKR, The Carlyle Group, Silver Lake, TPG Capital, General Atlantic, and others. There are some elite highly specialized boutique firms that fund deals with small sums.

 Investment BankingPrivate Equity

Sell side

Buy side

A financial intermediary offers a variety of services to both individual and institutional investors:

  • underwriting (capital raising)
  • executing (distribution, strategic transaction advisory)
Raises capital from outside investors to invest in private companies (not listed in stock exchange)

Assist corporations through the process of:

  • going public (IPO)
  • raising capital
  • mergers and acquisitions (M&A)

Sell the companies to reap high returns for their investors.

  • Buy underperforming and potential companies
  • Improve the operations to increase their value over the long term
  • Lock-in period: 3 to 5 years
  • More about control and taking over an entire business.
Types of business

Capital raising/ Advisory business

Investment business


2. Investment Banking vs Private Equity Job Descriptions

Investment banking analysts and private equity analysts spend the first few years of their careers immersed in financial modeling, company research and valuation, and preparing presentations and reports. 

But as they climb the ladder to senior roles (Vice President, Director), they tend to do more execution work and project management like pitching potential clients on deals, getting involved in deal negotiation and developing relationships to win clients.

 Private EquityInvestment Banking
Junior Levels

For Analysts/ Associates:

  • Perform modeling and prepare due diligence reports for the principals and partners to make decisions about a deal. 
  • Monitor and maintain up-to-date financials of portfolio company
  • Review confidential information memorandum for potential opportunities and provide summary for the senior team. 
  • Assist with fundraising

For Analysts/ Associates:

  • Perform valuation, and develop financial models.
  • Conduct preparation and review of materials used in the financing of clients, including investment memoranda, management presentations, and pitchbooks.
  • Perform due diligence, research, analysis, and documentation of live transactions.
Senior Levels

For Vice Presidents/ Principals/ Managing Directors:

  • Manage the deal teams
  • Manage company’s portfolio
  • Cultivate and maintain relationships with investment bankers, potential companies and clients to generate investment opportunities and acquisition ideas.
  • Handle client interface tasks and deal execution.

For Vice Presidents/ Principals/ Managing Directors:

  • Manage tasks and check work products by analysts and associates
  • Develop relationships with new and existing clients in order to expand the business.
  • Develop recommendations for product offerings, transactions, mergers and acquisitions, and valuations.
  • Handle deal pitch and execution.


3. Investment Banking vs Private Equity Salaries

As an investment banking analyst, you would get around $130k – $150, and if you stay and get promoted to associate level, your total compensation is  $200k – $250k. However, if you leave investment banking after 2-3 years and join private equity as an associate, your compensation is significantly more: $250k-$300k per annum.

Both investment banking and private equity are well-paid jobs but the compensation ceiling is far higher in private equity than it is for investment banking. This explains why most investment banking analysts choose private equity as their exit option.

3.1. Entry-level investment bankers can earn up to $100,000 annual base salary

The starting base salary for an investment banking analyst ranges from $80,000-$100,000. The compensation package for investment bankers also includes a bonus pay of 30-100% of the base salary depending on seniority and performance. 

It’s not uncommon for an investment banker’s bonus to exceed their base salary when they reach vice president/managing director level, and in profitable times, senior investment bankers may take home six-figure bonuses.

Salary range for investment bankers also depends on the types of banks they work for: bulge bracket banks, middle-market banks, and boutique banks. While the bulge bracket banks tend to defer a large portion of monus to next year or pay in stocks, middle-market  and boutique banks pay bonuses in cash.

Position TitleBase Salary (USD)Total Compensation (USD)Timeframe for Promotion
Analyst$100-$110K$130-$150K2-3 years
Associate$150-$200K$200-$250K3-4 years
Vice President (VP)$200-$270K$300-$400K5 years with strong performance
Director / Senior Vice President (SVP)$270-$350K$470-$700K5-10 years
Managing Director (MD)$400-$600K$1,000K+
(highly dependent on
the amount of deals
you bring into the firm)

*These figures are for bulge bracket investment banks in the US (2021 update)


3.2. Private equity people get paid 20% to 30% higher at entry levels

Private equity total compensation varies widely because, on top of base salary, private equity analysts and associates receive bonuses that reflect closed deals and income generated from deals. For entry-level associate positions, the bonus percentage is often a fixed percentage and less variable than it is for the senior levels.

The real pay advantage in private equity comes from carried interest (“carry”), which usually becomes available only as you move up to the VP/Principal/MD/Partner levels. In private equity, carry is the profit earned between buying a business and then selling it and this is the key component of senior compensation. It is basically an additional upside to their compensation over the long-run and is tied to the performance of the fund. If you are interested in Carried Interest Mechanism, you can read more on our Private Equity Salary and Bonus with a detailed example.

Position TitleBase Salary (USD)Carried InterestTimeframe for Promotion
Analyst$150-$200KUnlikely2-3 years
Associate$250-$300KUnlikely2-3 years
Senior Associate$350-$450KSmall3 years
Vice President (VP)$400-$600KGrowing5 years
Director or Principal$650-$800KLarge5-10 years
Managing Director (MD) or Partner$800-$2M++Very LargeN/A
*These figures are for megafund private equity firms in the US (2021 updated)


4. Investment Banking vs Private Equity Work-Life Balance

Regarding the work-life balance aspect, private equity is the clear winner with better working hours than Investment Banking.

4.1. Investment bankers work around 80 to 100 hours
a week

For investment bankers, work-life balance is almost impossible as they put in an average of 80-100 hours a week, and weekends are not guaranteed days off. The intense work week in investment banking is conducive to burnout, which is why turnover rate is so high in investment banking.  

4.2. Private equity people have better working hours

Generally, private equity firms offer more reasonable working hours, and subsequently better work-life balance. 50 – 70 hours per week is the norm in the industry, with occasional Saturday work required but weekends off for the most part. 

However, at megafund private equity (KKR, Blackstone, etc.), working hours can be even worse than in banking. Also, regardless of the firm size, if you’re working on an active deal, expect late-night and weekend work and just as much stress as in IB deals.

5. Exit opportunities for Investment Banking vs Private Equity 

5.1. Investment banking exit opportunities are terrific

Investment bankers have the widest set of exit opportunities. The most popular paths to exit for bankers are private equity, hedge fund, venture capital, asset management, corporate development, and corporate finance, tech startup, and so much more. 

5.2. Private equity exit opportunities are a little bit more limited

Hedge Fund

Compared to investment banking, exit options are a bit more limited for private equity professionals. Private equity is the tier 1 among finance careers, so there are few exit opportunities more prestigious than private equity. Not to mention, private equity firms are less well-known outside finance. 

Everyone worldwide knows Goldman Sachs, but most people outside the finance industry have never heard of KKR or Blackstone, let alone top middle-market funds such as ABRY. 

That being said, private equity still offers good exit opportunities. In the job you learn how to manage a process with multiple counterparties (deal teams, lawyers, management teams, tax/supply chain advisors). Also, as you get more senior you get exposed to companies and key stakeholders management. These skill sets are very transferable to other types of roles.

6. Investment Banking vs Private Equity Recruitment – Which Is Easier To Get In?

While both are among the most competitive Wall Street careers, investment banking is considered easier to break into than private equity. 

6.1. Investment Banking Recruitment 

There are two entry-level positions that you should aim for in investment banking: analyst and associate. Whereas analyst roles are for fresh college graduates , master’s degree holders or those who have less than 7 years of experience, associates are selected from top-notch MBA universities. 

Candidates seeking to make a career in investment banking should be ready for extremely tough competition from graduates from top business schools and universities. Top strategies to successfully land a career in investment banking are:

  • Go to target school: You are at a huge advantage if you come from a target school where banks heavily recruit such as Wharton, Princeton, Cornell or London School of Economics. Otherwise, you’ll have to focus more on networking to stand out. 
  • Gain relevant experience: having finance experience is a prerequisite for an entry-level position in the firm. Finance clubs, stock picking teams, case competitions, or banking internships can show recruiters your interest in finance.
  • Networking plays a major role in breaking through large corporate players, having the right contacts help to give you an advantage amongst others.

6.2. Private Equity Recruitment

There are on-cycle and off-cycle processes, and both differ in targeted applicants, timing, and interview:

  • The off-cycle process: self-apply, usually for these situations – middle market funds recruiting associate positions, positions in non-US markets, and positions for non-experience in Investment banks 
  • The on-cycle process: a few months into investment banks jobs, analysts join the megafund’s on-cycle process even though they do not start PE jobs 2 years after that. This is the most popular path for analysts at bulge brackets and elite boutique banks.

For further reading, you can check out our article about PE analysts and PE associates to learn more about the two processes. 

Private equity preferred those coming from investment banking as they spend a lot of time on financial modeling and have experience in the deal execution process. Of course, there are always exceptions if a candidate owns specific skills and knowledge that the firm is looking for, for example: an operational PE fund might look for experienced candidates in cleantech startups to manage its portfolio companies.

7. Should You Choose Investment Banking or Private Equity?

Inevitably, someone will ask for a bottom line – “Is investment banking or private equity better?”. The answer depends on the type of work that you ultimately want to do and the lifestyle/culture and compensation that you desire. 

The most common career path is: joining top league investment banks/elite boutique banks as an analyst, then exit to a top-tier private equity firm after two years of investment banking experience and work your way up to the million-dollar earning days.

Despite such a well-charted plan, once in their second year of investment banking, most professionals start to question their career strategy.

  • How much better is private equity than investment banking?
  • Does that make sense in terms of total earnings to make a shift from an investment bank to private equity?
  • Or, should I just continue with investment banking and rise up to the ranks of the Managing Director (MD) rather than join a private equity firm?

Choose private equity if …

  • You want to work closely with the company over an extended period of time instead of a single deal
  • You want to get exposed to the operations of companies and understand all aspects rather than just the financial ones 
  • You want to contribute to companies’ growth by looking at bolt-on acquisitions and other expansion opportunities that only an investor would be able to execute.
  • You see yourself as an investor in the long-term, and want to learn all aspects of the process and how to evaluate whether a company can deliver solid returns.

Choose investment bank if …

  • You want to get exposure to broader types of financial transactions (there’s a caveat – the breadth of exposure actually depends on your group)
  • You have good communication skills and are interested in doing financial modeling and valuations, closing deals, handling large transactions, and managing client relationships.
  • You like the structured hierarchy and advancement process and the career visibility that accompanies them.
  • You lack a clear vision of what to do in the long-term and want to get broad investment banking exit opportunities 
  • You can sacrifice work-life balance and handle working 80-100 hours/week