Most people on Wall Street know all about it: the junior banker hazing ritual. Fresh out of college, pulling all nighters after long hours of starting at an excel screen playing solitaire in the background, writing and re-writing pitch books for the sake of generating work which nobody will read, waiting for senior bankers to get back with their revisions, eating (expensed) meals after midnight, and so on. The justification is well-known: greater money and benefits than anyone can make in any other job. But is the trade off worth it? Increasingly more banks and their executives are asking that question, leading to various banks telling their young bankers to take one, even (gasp) two weekends off per month.
So how are the young bankers themselves seeing these developments? According to a recent FT poll, many are unhappy but there is little they won't do for the almighty buck.
Bankers say working conditions for young staff have become tougher in recent years as investment banks – suffering from lower profits – have loaded more work on to junior staff.
The high workload is illustrated by a poll of more than 550 Financial Times readers working in the financial services sector, aged between 18 and 25. It showed that just over half were working more than 60 hours a week. Nearly one in seven respondents said they were working 90 hours a week or more.
Mirroring the tone from the top, just over half of the young employees said the working culture needed to change. But only about 18 per cent of those polled said they had seen any attempts.
“There are occasional token comments and emails mentioned, particularly during times of the year when the workload is OK. But when push comes to shove during busy season, it won’t change,” said one UK-based financial services employee.
Of course it won't: feel overworked? Well the local Starbucks is hiring. At minimum wage - you are lucky to get some benefits. There are 100 other people hungry for your spot. Naturally this means that the whole "we love our junior bankers" campaign was merely a PR stunt aimed at difusing public hostility over yet another aspect of banker folklore.
So how are the young professionals coping with the long hours? Caffeine, alcohol and working out are the most commonly mentioned strategies. Taking naps in the bathroom and suicidal thoughts get a few mentions, as do drugs.
“A cocktail of zero social life, coffee, propranolol (helps with stress and panic attacks) and modafinil (keeps you up all night),” wrote one UK-based banking employee. Another noted that the “emotional stress” had been reduced since “splitting from my partner”.
That's all good, just don't overindulge in the cocaine: remember that according to Berlusconi coke was the drug responsible for market volatility. Come to think of it, perhaps the reason there is so little volatility these days is because nobody is doing blow anymore?
The bottom line is that as it was then, so it is now: "Research published this week by High Fliers, which monitors graduate recruitment, found investment banking remains a popular career choice among top graduates. One in eight of those graduating from top universities wanted to go into the sector – a return to pre-recession levels."
Of course, they do: the voluntary choice of hardship is merely to chase the money, and until the second coming of the Soc Intern has put a maximum wage cap and a millionaire tax in every country crushing all ambitions for greed and, well, ambition, this won't change. The bigger problem for all young aspiring bankers is whether there is even a capital market left by the time they get to the really big money: at the rate the Fed is going, the far biggest threat to the livelihoods of junior bankers everywhere is not a life of hard work but ubiquitous central planning. Hopefully they, too, understand this.