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Morning Coffee: The innocuous messages that can get you fired at Bank of America. Credit Suisse really needs to keep this junior banker

By now, the industry has more or less got the message about messaging – the regulators don’t like it if you use WhatsApp on your personal phone, or any other system that doesn’t allow your communications to be archived and searched.  It seems like a fairly straightforward lesson, and it only cost the biggest Wall Street firms a bit more than a hundred million dollars each.  But putting this principle into action is going to be more difficult than expected.

For example, what if you were to text, “With you in five minutes, I’m running late”.  It’s OK to send a trivial update like that by text message, surely?  In the words of the compliance officers tasked with answering questions about Bank of America’s new communications policy, “Absolutely not”.

According to the new rules, you aren’t allowed to use your personal phone for any communication with a colleague, client, vendor or broker.  You aren’t allowed to use WhatsApp, Signal, SnapChat or similar apps at all for such communications and (somewhat inexplicably since it is archived anyway) you aren’t allowed to install Bloomberg Anywhere on your personal phone either.  Presumably, when the boomers and millennials of compliance discover that voice memos are the new thing, those will be banned too.

Effectively this means that personal phones are absolutely prohibited for anything vaguely work related and that people who fall into the gray area of work/non-work must be addressed through a traceable work device. It means that everyone at BoA, and quite possibly other big banks too when they update their rules, has to carry their work phone around with them all the time if they don’t want to be completely incommunicado.  Bankers who had been in the habit of giving their personal number to the very top clients might even need two work phones, one regular and one “batphone”.  Look out for man-bags and jackets designed with extra pockets to be in fashion in Manhattan and Docklands next year.

 In principle, the policy has an exception for things which “would be plainly obvious to a third party” as purely personal. But it would be a brave employee that wanted to test the system with a high risk communication like “grande hazelnut ty” or “happy birthday darling x” to a colleague.

It's that last category of messages which is obviously going to cause the problems, of course.  People in the industry, like people in “Industry”, have relationships with each other which go beyond regulated professional activities.  It’s even been known for bankers to get married to colleagues, clients, brokers and vendors and to consequently communicate with them by means other than approved internal messaging and Bloomberg Chat.  People don’t want their personal life to be searchable by their employer, and they don’t make the neat separation between aspects of their life that would be needed for this policy to be workable.

And so it’s likely that bankers will end up doing what they did when mobile phones were banned from trading floors; try not to be too blatant, but basically ignore it.  The WhatsApp groups where prices were discussed and deal terms negotiated are likely to be gone (or at least, to move to in-person conversations in cafes and corridors), but it’s not realistic or credible for anyone to threaten dire consequences for texting “see you there” and a winkie emoji.

Elsewhere, 27-year-old Credit Suisse VP David Israel is being profiled in a “25 under 35” feature for his importance to the non-agency mortgage bond trading team which he’s worked on for five years.  He’s a former bioengineering student and debate champ who apparently uses his communications skills to summarize new developments in this notoriously complicated and risky market for his clients.

It would be interesting to know if senior CS management have seen this feature, and more generally if they’ve been sending out love to younger bankers like David.  The securitized products group is a real dilemma for CS – it’s risky enough to take up a lot of capital, but so profitable that it’s hard to justify getting rid of it.  Previously, it’s been suggested that outside capital could be brought in to preserve the value of the franchise.

But that’s only going to be possible in the context of a viable business, and the key to that – arguably even more so than the rainmaking MDs – will be to keep the young and energetic employees who represent the future of the franchise.  In other words, people like David Israel.  It might not be a great bonus year at CS this year, but even in that context, it might be cheap at the price to reassure this particular VP that he’s going to be looked after.

Meanwhile…

Jefferies is the first of the US banks to report, and the results confirm that it’s not been a great quarter – or year – for deals. Rich Handler is unbowed, though – they “continue to invest toward further growth, most notably in investment banking” (Bloomberg)

Citi has set a target to raise the proportion of Black employees in the UK to 3% over the next three years (Financial News)

One of the reasons Morgan Stanley gave for firing its head of FX options last year was “use of a non-firm approved communication platform”.  They also made statements in the relevant FINRA declaration that related to involvement in mismarking by other traders; these have been found to have been defamatory and so the whole entry is going to be expunged and replaced.  (Bloomberg)

Some interesting quotes from a student newspaper about how young people see the banking industry.  “I was willing to make that sacrifice because I knew [that] once I had that internship I was set”, “I’m happy to work hard the first few years out of college” and “They only last for two to three years maximum, and they pay back later when you get a job with more flexibility when it really matters” suggest that future analyst and associate classes will still be looking for work-life balance. (The Dartmouth)

Are they really “quiet quitting”, or are they “overemployed”? It seems that some people, particularly in the tech sector, have taken advantage of remote working arrangements to accept a new job without giving up their old one, and as long as they deliver an acceptable amount of work to both, nobody notices. (WIRED)

There was bound to be a Netflix Original about the Gamestop short squeeze, and now there is (Esquire)

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Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

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AUTHORDaniel Davies Insider Comment
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