When times are good in investment banking, they’re very good. When times are bad, they’re horrid. Right now, they’re horrid. It was easy to see this coming, but I can guarantee you that there are plenty of people reading this article who thought they were on the gravy train forever.
When you’re on the outside, investment banking looks like a lucrative profession. All those big bonuses, all those sharp suits. The reality is very different. In my experience, a large proportion of my investment banking colleagues are completely dependent on their monthly salary and their annual bonus.
When I was an analyst, I spent a lot of time hanging around with two guys: Nick and Kostas. Kostas was from a very well-heeled background, but Nick and I were simply middle class. We were just pretending we were rich. I only pretended for a while, Nick kept pretending until gravity took control.
In our first year as analysts, Kostas set the pace. Kostas did nothing in half measures and whatever Kostas did, we followed. When it came to buying shampoo, we’d go to a special shop online and order it at £20 a bottle – £25 if you include the postage. A meal out was always Michelin starred; Kostas and Nick only ordered Kopi Luwak because, of course, any other coffee was for plebs.
If you really wanted to see Kostas being grandiose you needed to go out with him. On these occasions, he was like some kind of kingpin. All the bouncers knew him for his looseness with cash and so getting into clubs was easy. I went out with him rarely as I had a girlfriend who disapproved. Nick didn’t and followed Kostas all the way down.
It was a while before I realized that Nick had assimilated all Kostas’ grandiosity and made it his own. Halfway through the second year, he and I went out together- just the two of us as my girlfriend was away.
We came out of one of the top restaurants in Mayfair with a few girls Nick was trying to impress. The moment he saw a limo he asked if it was for hire; it was, so he hired it on the spot. I told him right then and there that I couldn’t afford it and plus the club we were going to was just a ten minute tube ride away.
“Why take the tube when you can take a limo?” he asked.
“Just get in,” he said.
Like a true salesman the limo driver offered Nick a £200 bottle of champagne, which he of course accepted. This was a standard night out for Nick and he had two or three nights like it a week.
That year went from bad to worse. We knew we weren’t going to get paid, but Nick remained optimistic. By December he was about £15k in debt and panicking. It was pretty evident by then that a zero bonus was more than likely.
Nick’s bonus wasn’t zero, but he was still £10k in debt when he paid off his most expensive credit card and still very much addicted to spending.
Nick has managed to escape the redundancies, but to this day he remains a wage slave. He’s spent seven years in banking now and most of his money goes on food and holidays. You might say he’s enjoying the moment. I disagree: Nick’s a fool. Investment banking is not a secure career. Don’t ever get sucked in and start thinking it is. If you do, you’ll never get out and will be forced to take whichever job’s available.
Ben Johnson is the pseudonym of a former analyst at a US investment bank. After spending three years in the industry and saving money, he left in the summer to become an entrepreneur.