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Some of my best friends are bankers. And they’re a mess

Addictions in banking

Not so cool after all

Everyone knows that banking can be a harsh industry to work in. Alcohol and cocaine-induced meltdowns have been a feature of the industry since the 1970s. However, my own observations sugest that things have moved on: today’s top financiers are more likely to be haunted by addictions to prescription painkillers, by compulsions and by eating disorders than whisky and crack pipes.

It’s the pressure that does it.  My friends, who work in banks and hedge funds, are often expected to work 120 hours a week for extended periods. There’s also travel and the stress of juggling other people’s money. The consequences are psychological and physical. Over time, the body slowly shuts down.

“I’m at constant war with my body and need to control it,“ one of my friends in banking tells me. A highly educated and successful man, he has a ‘sympathetic’ doctor in London’s Harley Street who prescribes him a cocktail of Amphetamines, anti-depressants, and strong painkillers on a monthly basis. “I double the dosage on weekends just to be able to cope with my wife and three children,“ he recently confided.

Where once it was acceptable to have a few drinks at lunchtime, being drunk or high is now seen as socially and professionally undesirable. Conversely, having a stash of prescription drugs in your pocket is totally fine. We were at a West London restaurant the other night and mid conversation, my banking friend took out an antidepressant pill and casually popped it in his mouth saying: “This will make me more sociable.”

And when it’s not prescription drugs, it’s compulsions. Another friend, the CIO of a multi-billion hedge fund, is obsessed with exercise and diet. He gets up at dawn every day and does two hours of spinning and yoga. He also follows a strict Paleo diet. His wife and staff are compelled to eat Paleo foods too.

This friend tells me: “I want to bring my body fat down to 10 percent and live forever.” This same guy was was so heavily addicted to alcohol and cocaine in his late twenties that he spent 18 weeks in rehab. He knows that he is lucky to be alive, and he also knows (or at least I think he does) that he has just changed one compulsion for another.

If you’re a rock star or an actor, a modicum of drug abuse can improve your brand. But no one wants the person managing his money to smoke crack. For this reason, banks are keen to quash more pernicious addictions as they arise. One banker I know has been to a Priory Clinic twice, both times paid for by his employer.

He says rehab can have career advantages: “It was so much fun. The first time I went it was with my boss and we ended up bonding and becoming best friends.“ If that’s what it takes to get ahead in finance, I’m glad to be on the outside.

The author is a father who lives in Notting Hill. He doesn’t work in finance himself, but he knows plenty of people who do.  

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