As someone trying to break into investment banking, which language should you learn to "maximize your chances?" Spanish to open up Latin America? Portugese to make a mark in emerging Brazil? What about ever-popular Mandarin? Or Arabic for the oil-rich Middle East? "None of the above," declares the Merger$ & Inquisitions blog (a site for prospective i-bankers).
If you are a native speaker, improving your English is your best bet: "MDs in banking care far more about your communication skills than your knowledge of advanced LBO models." No, we didn't understand that last sentence either, but this reason seems pretty straightforward. Banks aren't interested in so-so second language skills. A job listing for an "investment banking analyst with 2 years of experience in M&A" who "must be fluent in Arabic" doesn't really apply to an American student who took Arabic for three years. Rather, a "more accurate translation" would be this:
"Seeking investment banking analyst with 2 years of experience in M&A; must be an Arabic native speaker and have attended school in the Middle East, and then studied abroad in the US, Europe, or Australia."
Why? Even a small risk of language error is too great:
There is no room for miscommunication in investment banking--you might get an A on your exam with 90% correct, but in finance 90% correct just means that 10% is wrong--which is equivalent to a natural disaster.
Investment banks want someone capable of "speed reading" fluent enough to compete with native speakers. It's nearly impossible that you'll get to that level—particularly with a language like Arabic or Mandarin—merely by studying in college. So by all means, study foreign languages, the blog advises. But don't base your choice on what would be "most 'useful' for investment banking."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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