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“Know what? Junior bankers today want more than the money”

So, Goldman Sachs is making analysts’ lives less boring, promoting them faster, and allowing them to rotate around different jobs in their third year. About time. For all the talk about analysts in investment banks earning a lot of money, the money doesn’t compensate for the lifestyle.

I originally wrote this as a response to Jenny Anderson, the Quartz reporter who wrote an article saying young bankers need to stop whining – but I see that someone already got there first.  I couldn’t reply in person to Jenny because I’ve been a little ‘stretched’ recently.

The thing is, it’s this ‘stop whining’ attitude which is behind the crappy lives of young people in banking. It’s embedded in the upper levels of the banking system and is perpetuated by the Jennys on the outside. Take an example I encountered myself last year. A girl in our team had been working very intensely for about 5 months on a gruelling M&A transaction. No holidays, no weekends off, and averaging 90-100 hour weeks. On a particularly difficult day I saw her run into the toilets crying. Someone subsequently told me she had thrown up from stress the previous night. The MD she was working with joked to other junior bankers about the episode. She “couldn’t hack it,” he said. She shouldn’t have applied to work in the firm if she wasn’t prepared for it.

Essentially he took Jenny’s view: Stop whining, you knew the risks, you’re well paid.

That girl subsequently collapsed from stress and was taken to hospital. She got a sick note from the doctor, took a few weeks off work having been diagnosed with depression and then she quit. I suppose the ordeal she went through was her fault? After all she chose this career. Investment banks can’t be responsible for the consequences. It’s the individual employee, not the employer who is at fault. Blame the victim etc.

In fact, the complete opposite should be true. Don’t blame the junior bankers – blame the banks. Analysts are extremely well paid but that doesn’t diminish their employer’s basic responsibilities towards them; to be treated like a human being, not a commodity to be expended. A system where working conditions and rights to health, respect and dignity can be negated by financial compensation alone is a very slippery slope.

More generally, the ‘stop-whining, you’re paid well’ message is inimical to anyone who would improve culture within banks. The social contract in IBD has historically been that employees accept things the way they are and in exchange banks pay them lots of money.  In other words, money, not morality is the sole motivator for behaviour. That’s clearly wrong, and I know plenty of junior bankers who want to change that.

Goldman Sachs, for one, seems to be listening to its young staff. It reportedly interviewed hundreds of its young bankers before changing the structure of its program. Personally, I’ve tried to seek change privately within my firm ever since I started my job, but to no avail. Those who try to enforce cultural change within banks get the same short shrift that Jenny handed out: ‘You signed up to this and you’re well-rewarded for it.’

That’s not the answer, and it’s an attitude that sucks. Jenny should consider applying for a managing director role at an investment bank; she’d be a perfect fit.

Photo credit: AnnieAnniePancake

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