These are the most brutal jobs in banking and finance

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Sleep in banking

If you work in the financial services industry and you want to be well-rested, you might want to avoid the sell-side (investment banks). You might want to especially avoid investment banking divisions (IBD) where M&A and equity and debt capital markets deals happen. You might also want to avoid working in Singapore. And you could always sidestep Goldman Sachs.

So suggested the results to our global survey on sleeping patterns in the financial services industry. Over 2,200 people. Most of them (around 60%) said they were tired or exhausted. Some, however, were more exhausted than others.

The most frazzled people are found in investment banking divisions. The least are found in technology

Investment banking divisions (IBD) have a reputation for long hours. If you come across someone putting-in an 80-100 week, he or she will almost certainly be in IBD. IBD respondents from New York City to Europe to Australia complained of 80-100 weeks, working in "sweatshops," making the wrong career choices and having their lives "ruined."  One 20-something London analyst said she sleeps four hours on weeknights and catches up at weekends. An NYC investment banker said it's not so much the hours but the intensity and unpredictability that's killer: "Week in, week out, year in, year out....the next surprise all-nighter is always one email or press release away from coming to get you."

22% of respondents in investment banking divisions said they had less than five hours' sleep each night. This might be why 20% of them also confessed to being strung out and exhausted (another 47% were "tired.") By comparison, only 5% of technology professionals said they get less than five hours' sleep each night and only 11% are on the verge of collapse.

The ongoing exhaustion in IBD comes despite banks' efforts to curtail working hours for junior staff.  Banks' initiatives mostly involve mandatory time off at weekends, but IBD juniors said they haven't done much good. There are complaints that "protected weekends" aren't enforced, that the "Saturdays off" rule simply means longer hours on Thursdays and Fridays, and that while Saturday is a rest day, Sunday is back to work.

This doesn't mean, however, that technology professionals in financial services have it easy. 55% of our tech respondents said they were still tired or exhausted (although none admitted to being strung-out and barely functioning). One Bank of America Merrill Lynch technology professional said the late night calls from other time zones are the real killer in IT.

The surprise (or maybe not to those who work in it) result for divisional fatigue came from combined risk, compliance and finance teams - the so-called "control functions". Here, 18% of our respondents said they were getting less than five hours sleep' and the same proportion (unsurprisingly) said they were exhausted or totally strung out. Some blamed stress. Others blamed lower pay: because control professionals are paid less than front office bankers and traders, they live further out where housing is cheaper. This means longer commute times. Longer commute times mean less time in bed.

By comparison, sales and trading jobs look like a good option for people who want to earn good money and be well-rested. However, they too have their downsides. Sales and trading professionals go to bed early (50% are in bed before 10pm). But they also get up early (50% are up before 6am). Although one respondent said sales and trading hours are more "humane", another Goldman Sachs trader said it's difficult to switch off and that, "Working 7am to 8-9 pm in sales and trading, and keeping track of the night's news keeps you under, "work and sleepless mode," for at least 14-15 hours a day, with no lunch and breakfast breaks during the day."

One London trader in his late 20s said juniors on structured product and exotics desks have it worse: they have to be in early and stay late to check risk. "You're also expected to read all the research you are interested in, all the while being sharp. It's a very tough position," he said.

Another London trader at BAML, cast aspersions on the notion that people in the investment banking division work the hardest and get the least sleep. "I work in markets, 13 hours a day," he said. "While someone might think that my colleagues in banking work more, I don’t necessarily agree. I work intensely throughout the day, barely leaving the desk for lunch. Meanwhile I see my colleagues in banking slide in at 10am, only to kick of the day with a gym session. Roughly two hours later I see them enjoying a nice 1 hour lunch with their colleagues."

The same trader accused his investment banking peers of hedonism. "On the weekends, I sleep, work out and take care of myself while these banking kids go to way too fancy clubs drinking way too much alcohol. If I did that I would surely fall asleep on my desk on Monday morning as well. Markets is filled with smart people that love their job, and just because we don’t talk about it doesn’t mean we don’t work hard. We are the true warriors, think about that."

Hedge fund people get no sleep, but they can handle it

Needless to say, exhaustion isn't just about hours in bed. It's also about stamina. Here, hedge fund professionals seem to have the upper hand. Even though 33% of them said they sleep less than five hours a night, only 11% of hedge fund professionals told us they were exhausted or strung out.  By comparison, 15% of private equity people said they sleep less than five hours and 10% were exhausted and strung out. PE is for pussies and true sleepless warriors work in hedge funds, or so it seems.

New York bankers get no sleep, but they can handle it. Singaporean bankers are split into the very well-rested and very exhausted

True warriors also seem to situate themselves in New York City. Here, only 14% of people said they were exhausted or strong out, despite 12% having less than five hours' sleep and 54% having less than six hours. Singapore (suprisingly) had the highest proportion of exhausted and strung out respondents and a high proportion of well rested respondents, making it look like one extreme or the other in the island city. If you really want to be well-rested, though, you need to work in Continental Europe (suggesting Brexit might have its upsides).

You might think you're exhausted in your early 20s, but this is nothing to how you'll feel in your mid-30s and 40s

Our survey also revealed that - contrary to popular perception - finance careers don't necessarily become less tiring as you get older. Perversely, finance professionals aged over 40 were almost as likely to have less than six and five hours' sleep as those aged between 20-25. Exhaustion peaks between 30 and 35 and again at 40+. The former seems to have something to do with starting a family ("I have recently found parenting is even more exhausting [than banking]," said one respondent). The latter seems simply to do with getting old. 

Basically, VPs and managing directors are tired. One (ex-) MD complained of the relentless workload, ridiculous expectations and a dysfunctional business model that "does not get better as you climb the ladder."  "I quit the coveted Managing Director role to gain some sanity back in my life," he said.

The most exhausted and strung out people are at Goldman Sachs. The least are at UBS

Lastly, the survey highlighted some fairly drastic divergences in exhaustion by bank. A lot of people at Goldman Sachs are very tired. Not so many people at J.P. Morgan and UBS are.

Nonetheless, 39% of Goldman respondents also said they were adequately or well rested, and some Goldman respondents wanted to stress that life at the firm isn't all bad. One said working hours are exaggerated. Another said the trade-off is worth it: "Working hard is tough but the benefits out weight the downside. Your day job is you “debt” you need to pay down; and your evenings/weekend are your “equity” - so if you want to succeed you need to maximize your investment opportunity."

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com

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