Hypothetically speaking, bureaucracy is the enemy of business. Bureaucracy is inefficient and wasteful. Bureaucracy is the hallmark of public institutions that eat tax money and sabotaged private enterprise. Therefore, when you join a bank you may expect a streamlined, ‘lean mean machine.’ You will be disappointed.
In my own experience, everything that happens in an investment bank drags a long paper trail behind it. Particularly if it involves the cooperation of several departments, which it always does. Bankers are not lone wolves, and neither are they entrepreneurs. They are small cogs in a big, wasteful, slow moving system.
A banker who needs a job done can’t just wander over to some people sitting in the corner who have nothing better to do than to wait for him. On the contrary, with every ‘request’ you will enter a bureaucratic channel full of pitfalls and time-sinks that will swallow you up, suit, socks and smartphone.
At every point during the long, long months of a project, the junior IBD banker has to obtain the approval of his/her superior, collect updates from a selection of other superiors – some of whom are at war with his main boss, check in with colleagues, fight them for the least time-intensive but most attention grabbing slice of the cake, present the proposed changes back to the main boss and have them changed again, then go on another round of obtaining approvals. At every point, he will be blamed for everything.
Once approval has been granted, the work in question (typically pitch book production) has to be implemented by various departments, including the graphics center. The banker has to fill out forms, pass on instructions that they both know will get lost throughout all the inevitable handovers between the shifts and then return to another round of contradictory and mutually exclusive instructions and approvals. More paper trails, more confusion. The actual project is horribly mutilated and sacrificed to egos and territorial markers.
A lot of time bankers will simply sit and wait. Wait. Wait. Without benefit of going home. That’s why you will find so many bankers in the top score honour roll of Candy Crush.
Nor does the time wasting end with promotion. The higher you rise, the more time you will spend in in interdepartmental warfare.
The most ridiculous example I saw was when our Head of Department (a kind of Super Head who reigned over all ‘support’ services) moved the graphics center out of its previous location, leaving all our specialist equipment behind and forced us to work on very old computers with screens that distorted the dimensions of our graphics – very sick old screens dimmed by the passage of time and pockmarked by many bankers’ pens thrown against them in anger, while the excellent specialist equipment remained unused and untouched for months.
For us graphics workers this was heart-rending. We were forced to look at the empty space with all the good equipment all night long (it was just around the corner in the huge work space), but forbidden to even enter that part of the floor. Like all crafts people, we wanted to do our best with the best possible tools. Much later our suffering was explained by the Super Head as simply collateral damage of interdepartmental warfare. ‘I didn’t want the other Heads of Departments to know we had this equipment’, he effectively explained.
His decision wasted thousands of working hours (because everything took much longer on the inadequate equipment). It cost the bank tens of thousands of dollars and created a mountain of inefficiency that didn’t even exist before.
If the Bank had followed its own mantra, this head would have been cut off. Instead, he survived every cull and moved on to an even more powerful position in the bureaucracy.
A perfect episode for a revival of ‘Yes, Minister’ – set in an investment bank.
Nyla Nox worked for seven years on the graveyard shift in the graphics department of the Most Successful Bank in the Universe in London – a Global Center of Excellence. She has seen more dealbooks (and mistakes) than any banker will see in a life time. Her novel ‘I did it for the money’, first volume in ‘The Graveyards of the Banks’ is available for pre-order on Amazon.