Journalist Kevin Roose from New York Magazine has a new book out. Titled ‘Young Money.’ it follows eight (real) young bankers over the first three years of their Wall Street careers. Most of are in IBD. Most work on Wall Street. Mostly, it’s not pretty.
Roose’s book isn’t exactly Liar’s Poker, the classic coming-of-age-on-Wall Street book by Michael Lewis. Roose himself didn’t work in banking and he didn’t set about cataloging the boom-time exploits of big swinging dicks. Instead, he befriends and conciliates a varied group of confused young people who’ve mostly fallen into finance and are dealing with the fallout. Nonetheless, Roose’s book is a seminal tome on the reasons for and against working on Wall Street. It’s released globally on February 18th. Until you have a copy of your own, this is what you need to know.
1. It’s not the hours that will kill you, it’s their unpredictability
There’s a banking 9-5, says Roose: 9am to 5am. One of the young analysts he follows develops a routine – in the office by 8.30am each morning, work 16-17 hours, and then ‘head home for a beer and an episode of the Wire before bed.’
Sounds bad? It is, but it’s the lack of control over the hours that’s the real problem for young bankers. “My life doesn’t belong to me any more,” one first year analyst tells Roose.
‘Every day, a Wall street analyst works at the mercy of the associates, vice presidents, and managing directors above him or her, any of whom can request changes to any deliverables at any time,’ Roose points out. ‘An MD wants a bar graph instead of a line graph on page 6 of a pitchbook and it’s 3am? A good analyst will wake up and span into action.”
2. Most people in banking didn’t set out to be bankers
Most of the people Roose follows didn’t want to be bankers: they wanted to be doctors, run a family chain of grocery stores, or work on engineering or sustainable town planning. They fell into banking to prove something to themselves, or to their families, or to all the people who thought they couldn’t make it into banking. Alternatively, the money came in helpful at a time of their life when they needed it (eg. the second year of college, when banking offered them an opportunity to earn $15k as an intern).
3. The work is worse than you can imagine
When you’re an analyst, Wall Street is full of obsessive pedants. One of the analysts Roose follows gets her projects returned and, ‘marked up with changes from her boss who would do things like cross off her 2s and write in the word two, and realign her cells so that all the first digits lined up instead of the last digits.’
Roose (who went on a model-building course as part of his research) compares creating financial models in Excel all day to, ‘working in Christmas light factory and knowing that one badly installed bulb in a string of ten thousands lights will make all the other ones go dark.’ One fault in the model will throw the rest off.
4. You will change
“I’m naturally an optimistic, positive, happy person. But I feel myself becoming a lot more bitter, a lot more negative,” says one of Roose’s analysts.
“He’d come into Goldman as a soft-spoken, cerebral kid,” says Roose about another of his subjects. “But in less than two years, he had developed a shorter temper and was quicker to point out others’ mistakes in a way that was often unkind. He was still capable of sucking up to his superiors, but he had little patience for people whose intelligence he didn’t respect.”
One year in, Roose says people in banking start to speak differently: their conversation is peppered with jargon like ‘top tick’ and they refer to their employer as ‘we.’
5. It is about the money
One of Roose’s analysts meets with an MD at Goldman (Graham Campbell) who reportedly tells him: “You know, if money is not your main concern here, you should leave.”
6. Your non-banking friends will drop away
Roose’s book is a catalog of lost girlfriends and boyfriends, of dwindling friendships and growing obsession with work. The long hours in IBD are part of a “a grand, unspoken social contract,” he suggests. “In order to fully belong, the first year analyst had to realign his priorities, replacing his own with the bank’s.”
A group of first and second year analysts club together and rent a house in the Hamptons for the summer. Another analyst says to Roose that he’s losing contact with old college friends who can’t afford to go out where he goes out. Another ends up immersed in the banking world both at work and at home when he moves into an apartment block filled with other young analysts.
7. You may become gross
Roose meets with one of his subjects: “Five months into the first year he’d gained 15 pounds owing to a sedentary lifestyle and seen days a week of restaurant meals eaten at his desk. His eyes were tired, his skin was sallow and pale.”
Based upon his observations, Roose postulates that only a few types of people work out on Wall Street long term. They are:
- Habituals – People who go into finance because their parents, family friends, or siblings have. The lifestyle associated with finance is important to them and they often go on to work in hedge funds or private equity.
- Locomotives – People who come in with an underdog’s ambition, who come from middle class or working class homes and pull their families up with them. Money is emphatically their reason for working in finance.
- Gunners – People who thrive on pace and excitement. They’re addicted to the dopamine and adrenaline or financial services careers. They might have been athletes at college. For them, the money is just a scorecard.
- Geeks – People who are genuinely fascinated by the machinations of the market, who delight in bond prospectuses and get lost dreaming about a collar trade.
9. The people who don’t work out are the ‘in-betweeners’
Roose says these are the people who go into finance because it seems like a stable career and they don’t know what else to do after college. They haven’t grown up in poverty, but they don’t have the parental safety net that allows for adventurous and creative work. Once they get into finance they realize it’s high volume, boring work under often hostile bosses who’ve stopped doling out morale-sustaining perks…