Slavery in the City? Most interns worked less than 45 hours a week

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Now that investment banking internships have been wrung through the gutter, and institutions in the City have been accused of working those on their summer programmes to death, it’s worth pointing out that, actually, most interns claim to have had a relatively pleasant experience.

We polled around 100 interns in London’s investment banking industry this year – 54% in front office positions – and the majority weren’t forced to work excessive hours. Of those we surveyed, 46% said that they worked between 40 and 45 hours a week – the largest proportion – while 16% said that they were required to stay in the office for more than 60 hours.

It would, of course, be foolhardy to suggest that investment banking internships are a walk in the park – most respondents in investment banking divisions suggested they were working for 12 hours as a “minimum” each day. “I work in IBD, and the hours are horrendous,” said one respondent.

The death of Moritz Erhardt, the Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern who died on 15 August having worked a series of all-nighters, has thrust the long hours expected of summer interns into the spotlight. As we’ve pointed to previously, much of this is down to a combination of self-induced pressure, the need to go through the ‘rites of passage’ of working an all-nighter on a project, and vindictive MDs imposing working hours that they had to endure on to the new crop of analysts. Or, as Lucy Kellaway in the FT suggests, it’s an extension of the old “fagging” system at British public schools.

“It’s been a tough few weeks, but I feel strangely invigorated by the experience,” one student who has just received a job offer after an internship this year told us. “The working hours were hard, and we were required to come in for a few weekends, but I never worked through the night and was always home by 12.30am.”

Outside of the investment banking divisions, though, there’s less of a focus on facetime, and therefore when interns aren’t working on their projects, working hours are kept in check. This includes other front office divisions like sales and trading, where it would be fairly pointless to keep interns in for long after the markets have closed.

A great experience...

More surprisingly, perhaps, the vast majority of interns who responded to our survey were keen to point to out that, far from feeling exploited, they found the whole experience valuable and received great support from their managers and mentors.

“My manager allocated my desk right next to his, so he is constantly making sure I am getting on fine and makes himself available to answer any questions,” said one respondent. “I don't need to formally schedule a meeting with him, can approach him whenever needed.”

Another intern suggested that dealing with investment bankers was decidedly easier than getting along with his university tutors: “Society is not at all right saying that bankers are mean, career oriented, not helpful etc. Bankers are nicer than most of the academics.”

The interns who responded to our survey had been placed in a diverse range of banks including Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and Morgan Stanley.

If interns in investment banking are working 14-hour days, then it will inevitably prove to be exhausting eventually once the novelty wears off. What’s more, depleted teams shouldn’t exploit interns as though they were an additional team member. Nonetheless, most seemed to view it as an exciting challenge.

“Jumping into the internship late due to schooling reasons meant I was in right at the deep end,” said another respondent. “With my manager away and my team down in strength I quickly had to learn and accept responsibilities. Which, though overwhelming, were a great foundation for my future projects and learning.”