Dangerous combination of drugs and loneliness fuels young bankers

January 17, 2014 8:23 pm

Dangerous combination of drugs and loneliness fuels young bankers

By Emma Jacobs, Maija Palmer and Daniel Schäfer

All-nighters and weekend work have for decades been seen as a rite of passage for young City bankers. But the death of a Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern last summer, which according to a coroner may have been triggered by long working hours, has acted as a catalyst for a reassessment of this mentality.“Interns are often doing things that are entirely pointless, such as producing long reports until 3am in the night that no one reads,” one investment banking executive said.

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.

Chris Roebuck, visiting professor of transformational leadership at Cass Business School London, who has held senior human resource positions at banks, believes that working conditions can be improved by teaching leaders how to manage teams efficiently.

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”.

The long hours culture does not seem to be putting students off going into banking, however. 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.

Kristen Fitzpatrick of the careers office at Harvard Business School said: “The press banks have had over the past two years has been tough to counteract . . . but they’re taking back more control of the message.”

But some are dissuaded. Varun Bhanot, a 23-year-old LSE graduate who worked at UBS in New York for a year as a US Treasuries analyst, was put off banking by the long hours. “I thought the lifestyle was unsustainable,” she said. Among his peers who stayed in finance, he perceives a great deal of dissatisfaction. “I haven’t come across a single one who enjoys what they do.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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