Personally, I agree with Howard Lutnick. Howard's comments on Bloomberg TV, saying that junior investment bankers who don't like the required working hours or coming into the office should find another way to make a living make absolute sense to me.
I've been in this industry for decades. In the past few years in particular, I've watched numerous friends of my recent college-graduate children aspire to work in investment banking or management consulting. They compete hard to get those jobs. They join the firms. And then, within the first year, they express dissatisfaction with their work lives and try to find something different.
This cycle seems to have become prevalent in the past year, during the pandemic.
I think that two factors are at work here.
Number one, there's a natural tendency among young people to look at the lives of the most successful people in an occupation or profession and say, "I will do that, and then I can be like them." Kids who've never worked in a real job (summer internships are not real jobs) often don't understand how long it takes to get to senior levels of compensation and authority. Nor do they understand the "numbers game" of how few people who start in those careers actually make it to the senior levels. There's an element of glorification and hero-worship in profiles you read of successful investment bankers or money managers. It might look easy; it's not. Careers in financial services are harsh.
Alongside this, the pandemic also removed one of the standard life-style compensations for investment-banking employees in their 20s: the ability to make new friends and to have fun for at least one or two evenings a week in a big city.
In the past, even the most over-worked investment banking analysts and associates could go out on a Friday or Saturday night. They would be in New York or London or Hong Kong or the "magnet" city in their region, and this was generally a more exciting place than their college or business school or law school. It’s also a dirty little secret of the industry that although the hours are long in IBD, lots of them are not exactly intense. An investment banking office makes not such a bad clubhouse to chat to your friends in, and if things are winding up around 8:45pm, there’s a strong temptation to stretch the working day out for another fifteen minutes in order to be able to order some free food, eat it together and then take a free taxi home at 10:30pm.
The easing of the pandemic may bring more normality, but however you frame it, early careers in investment banking divisions will remain tough and if you choose to occupy one this is a reality you need to accept. When they start out, most professionals have experiences where they learn nothing new and don't improve their skills in any way. There are tasks that somebody in the organization needs to complete. When I balked at one of those myself, a colleague wisely observed, "That's why it's called work."
Scott Brown is the pseudonym of a Wall Street veteran.
Photo by Martin Ceralde on Unsplash
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