The Wolf Of Wall Street has given the world an image of the banker which seems to have stuck around in people’s minds.
Perhaps it’s the timing of the film’s release which means it’s in the zeitgeist when they talk about how sleazy modern bankers are. They lump the financial crash a decade ago in the same category with the drug-fuelled parties shown in Martin Scorsese’s epic.
But is it really all that obscene? Do bankers really get an unfair rap in the media? Do we, the public, really know what goes on behind those gold-plated doors?
We decided, along with Economy, to ask around some investment bankers to get to the bottom of whether life as a banker is really anything like what we see in the movies. We also interviewed Kevin Roose, who shadowed some young investment bankers just after the crash and wrote a book about the horrors of the lifestyle.
Suicide among investment bankers is surprisingly common, especially since the financial crash of 2007 and 2008. Young bankers are especially prone to suicide – leading bank Goldman Sachs had to reduce their interns’ day to a measly 17 hours after a Bank of America intern was found dead in his shower after working for 72 hours straight. The 21-year-old intern, Moritz Erhardt, died from epileptic seizures that could have been triggered by the ridiculous working hours.
No official figures are available for the suicide rate of investment bankers, but the instances are so common it has sparked a major theory that some of them might not even be suicides, but could actually be murder.
Aside from the conspiracy theories, life as an investment banker can be gruelling and down-right depressing. Jeff, an investment banker on Wall Street in the U.S. said the lifestyle isn’t at all what you see in the movies.
I have had weeks where I wake up, work out, then work for 15 hours straight. I’d pass out, wake up, rinse and repeat. The industry tends to murder its young employees with work because they never stand up for themselves. Then they kick the weak or stupid ones to the curb.
Multiple reports from our interviewees depicted a working environment which was pretty destructive of everything else in the lives of the young bankers’ lives. Average working days seemed to be anywhere from 14 to 19 hours, and one interviewee even said Sunday all-nighters were pretty much a regular thing.
Not only are the hours ridiculous, but the level of work during those hours is incredibly intense. Melissa, who worked at Lehman Brothers in 2007 told us of the stressful work environment.
We had a coffee shop inside the bank, and when I was relatively new, I literally just got up from my desk to get a coffee, and took about five minutes, but I didn’t take my Blackberry.
And when I got back, the whole team was like ‘How were you not responding to our emails?!’
You’re always expected to be on call, like it’s an operating theatre.
The lives of bankers are a bit of a mystery to most people, and the majority of the public are either fascinated or disgusted at the mere prospect of a banking career. That level of interest on either side went even further than ever before after the financial crash.
To get to the bottom of the truth of the dark side of a banker’s life, Kevin Roose actually shadowed a bunch of them to see first hand what it was like, and what he saw was pretty horrible.
He told UNILAD:
I went to an event called ‘Fashion Meets Finance’ that kind of destroyed my faith in humanity. It was basically a speed dating event for women who worked in fashion and men who worked in banking, and it was one of the most shallow displays of materalism I’ve ever seen.
One guy told me ‘It’s beautiful women trying to take advantage of rich men, and vice versa.’
This image kind of fits in more with the types of antics we’d see Leonardo DiCaprio get up to on screen, but Kevin assured us the reality is much more bleak for those on Wall Street.
Kevin regaled us with stories of workers who have no time for anything in their lives other than a 100 hour work week, and for many it was completely and abjectly miserable.
It was less Wolf of Wall Street and more ‘Sad, Abused Dog of Wall Street’. These are not millionaires and billionaires who have crazy yacht parties and do cocaine on the hoods of their Lamborghinis.
Most of them are 22, 23, working 100 hours a week on the most boring stuff imaginable, and they just want to make enough money to pay back their student loans and quit to do something they’re actually passionate about.
Kevin said he felt profoundly lucky after that experience, that he was able to do something which he loved.
But what about the actual social implications of banking? Most of the people reading this will have some negative thing to say about bankers and the economy along the lines of ‘but they caused the crash!’
Well it turns out, many of the people we spoke to agree with you.
I think it’s the most destructive part of our economy. The whole point of banks is that they were meant to provide finance to businesses to be able to grow. Now it just seems like it’s not creative anything real.
It’s lots of speculation, and just money, making more money. It’s just benefiting the few. The wealth doesn’t trickle down.
It’s not doing anything.
Despite the treatment of the younger workers in the industry, there are stories of extravagant expenditure in the upper echelons of the management. We received anecdotes of unnecessary payments on 5* hotels and expensive dining when deals were being struck with clients.
One anonymous banker even gave us this story:
I heard that a girl that I used to work with dropped $1000 on a flight from LA to Manhattan – not on the flight itself, only on in-flight drinks.
She must have been buying rounds for the entire cabin, I still to this day have no idea how you spend that much on a plane.
But none of that is as common place as the media would have you think, it’s really not at all glamorous.
But people will continue to work there because, you know – money.