Hong Kong investment bankers and traders, once infamous for their bad behaviour, have now largely ditched their party-fuelled lifestyles. You might still spot bankers drinking in Lan Kwai Fong or shopping for Patek Phillippes in the Landmark, but you probably won’t spot them snorting cocaine or calling up prostitutes.
Hong Kong’s reputation for debauchery peaked in the 2000s, when young Western men dominated the banking sector and enjoyed lavish expat packages and large bonuses. This was the Hong Kong of John LeFevre, who worked on Citi’s bond-syndicate desk before the financial crisis and later wrote a graphic account of his extracurricular activities – from drug binges and brothels to crashing luxury cars. By 2014 these lifestyles were already on their way out, although Rurik Jutting, who worked for Bank of America before his murder conviction, reportedly enjoyed jacuzzi parties and cocaine.
Junior bankers these days lead much tamer lives than those 10 or even five years ago, say industry insiders. “There are now a lot fewer rowdy young expat bankers being hired,” says Hong Kong trader-turned headhunter Matt Hoyle, adding that compensation has fallen over the past decade, making it harder for bankers to live extravagantly. “At the same time, the cost of partying has risen. A magnum of vodka at Dragon-I bar now costs more than twice what it did 10 years ago,” he reflects.
Investment banks in Hong Kong are now taking on more 20-something locals and mainlanders as China increasingly dominates regional dealmaking. “Because of this, the culture on the floor is now very Chinese and I can barely imagine the kind of wild lifestyles that happened in the past,” says a Chinese banker who joined HSBC in Hong Kong as a graduate two years ago. “My boss complains that his life was crazy as an analyst – working until 2am, drinking until 5am, and then back to the office after a few hours’ sleep. But this rarely happens today,” he adds.
Junior bankers still go for drinks with colleagues and clients after work, but not as often as they used to. “The old, Westernised culture in Hong Kong banking wasn’t just about the job but also about how hard you partied. People might go drinking four or even five times a week,” says an analyst from a Chinese bank. “The Chinese style of drinking is different. My teammates are impressed if I drink a lot at a company dinner, and I can also impress Chinese clients by taking them out to bars. But if I want, I can just drink occasionally, when it suits me. There’s not so much pressure now,” he adds.
If Hong Kong bankers aren’t partying so much, what are they doing with their money? “They now tend to spend their paycheques on expensive watches and branded dining tables for their bachelor or bachelorette pads,” says Hong Kong-based finance professional Matt Huang, who recently published a novel based on his experiences working in private equity.
The investment banking analyst says his weekends are tame and typically involve basketball, shopping, hiking or going out for dinner. “I work until midnight Monday to Thursday and just go for a couple of drinks on Friday night at happy hour,” adds the HSBC banker.
It’s probably just as well that today’s junior bankers are leading low-key lifestyles. “Because of easy access to video recording on phones, it’s more difficult to party wildly in secret,” says Huang. “Banks are increasingly less tolerant of employee behaviour that undermines their reputation, which is another reason why bankers tend to be much more subdued nowadays,” he says.
Banks’ HR departments in Hong Kong tend to check the social media profiles of young candidates, says headhunter Hoyle. “If you still enjoy going to all-night parties, don’t post it all over Facebook,” he adds.
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Image credit: Django, Getty