Crappy Jobs I’ve Had: Investment Banker (Part II)

Crappy Jobs I’ve Had: Investment Banker (Part II)


Part I

Here is the second half of my dissertation on the exciting career of investment banking.  This is the point where I rank various attributes of the job (higher score indicates it’s a shittier job).

Attire: Business Dress or Business Casual.  TARP I was suits every day – brutal.  Opinions vary pretty wildly on suits – I always rocked the basic Brooks Brothers entry level, which on Wall Street was essentially equivalent to shopping at The Salvation Army.  I also loved the Brooks Brothers No-Iron shirts – they didn’t fit worth a damn, but you could seriously pull one out of the washer soaking wet, compress into a ball, put in your pants pocket for 2 weeks, and pull it out looking like it just came from the dry cleaner (quite helpful for business travel, although they did fit like shit).

Ties were the big thing, though – everyone could see what kind of tie you were wearing.  Hermes and Ferragamo were the two most common Street-worthy brands.  Unfortunately I was poor as shit when I started (I had to spread two nights at a Motel 6 onto three credit cards for a wedding during my first few months of work.  It was the original Motel 6, so kind of a national landmark, but still).  So I bought my first ten or so ties on eBay.  “Lightly used Brioni,” “New in Box Hermes,” “Dead Father’s Ferragamo Collection” – I got pretty fired up for those auctions.  My favorite tie of all time was one of these eBay dandies – a blue Brioni that tied an absolutely perfect knot on the first attempt, everytime.

Then I moved over to TARP II, which was Business Casual unless you had a client meeting.  For guys, Business Casual means slacks and a dress shirt.  For girls, it apparently means tank tops and flip flops.  I started going a little anti-establishment (no pun intended) at TARP II, favoring Charvet and Brioni over the two prevailing tie standards (my personal “Fuck Tha Police”).

Score: 2 (Full disclosure – I somewhat enjoy tie shopping.  Although I once went with a friend who spent literally six hours comparing the color of each potential tie purchase candidate with the shirts he’d just bought.  That was horrible)

I think this is well-understood now, but if you wear this, you are a moron
I think this is well-understood now, but if you wear this, you are a moron

Prevailing Smell/Aroma: Pedigree, entitlement, SeamlessWeb carnival of aromas

Score:  5 (That’s the median – could be much higher if there was a mass order of Korean or Moroccan food)

Humiliation Factor: Banking was a bit different than the military; military types favor plain old aggression over the more bankerly passive aggression.  In banking, sure, there were still screamers who would violently dress down anyone who handed them a piece of paper in what they perceived as an inappropriate manner.  At kinder, gentler TARP II, there was generally less outlandish screaming, but more subtle passive agression (“I’m probably going to get here early on Saturday, will you be in on Saturday?”) and a touch more backstabbing.

As I rarely hung out at the Bohemian haunts where working “in finance” was frowned upon, I had little shame/humiliation at my profession at the time.  Now, of course, bankers are widely considered a lower life form than even lawyers – with the only benefit being the advent of “a priest, rabbi and banker walked into a bar…” jokes.  But in the good old days of 2007, it wasn’t so bad.

Score: 7 (Score bumped due to retroactive humiliation by association)

Co-workers/Culture: The one descriptive word that immediately comes to mind to describe bankers is “douchebag”.  Honestly, that’s not totally accurate: there are actually three broad categories of bankers.  Sure the D-bag quotient is probably higher in banking than in the general public (unless the polling area is in NJ) but there are plenty of bland, striving Type-As that are too forward-thinking to be complete douches.   For every slick-backed Gekko wannabe, there are probably 2 socially inept geniuses who are just frantically trying to position themselves for the next step on the creaky corporate ladder.

The general banker social spectrum something like:

1. Non-social robots (bland folks that soullessly execute their jobs and their personal lives; every attempt at social conversation is converted to streams of binary code)

2. Jargon spewers (bland folks that incorrectly think they are somewhat interesting (in severely delusional cases, maybe even “cool”); every sentence uttered, no matter the context, is peppered with banking lingo (“sorry about your mom, good thing you hit the bid early on that oncologist”)

3.  Banker douchebags (somewhat different than conventional d-bags, banker d-bags are typically high-achieving nerds that have evolved a strong (but misguided) sense of self through personal achievement; they typically spend significant time discussing watches, cars and schools that they are trying to get their kids into)

That’s basically it – some people fit into the gray area between categories (I’m douchey with a hint of jargonism) but these are your basic archetypes.

Score: 8 (Of these, jargon spewers are by far the worst.  One guy I worked with for four years, every time he saw me, greeted me with imaginary blazing pistols and “Hey, man!  You busy?  You doing deals?” and then would launch into a spiel about some incredible hypothetical deal he was working on complete with every imaginable buzzword….in print it sounds harmless, but by mid-2008 I was researching NY’s sentencing guidelines for homicide)

Authority Figures: While the screaming has subsided somewhat, the ridiculousness of some senior bankers has not.  A few examples:

1.  A Director on a pitch requested that the Analyst dropping the books off wait outside his apartment in a car from 4:00 AM to 6:00 AM.  This was because he had no vestibule and didn’t want to be awakened before 6:00 AM, but wanted to be sure the books were there in plenty of time.

2.  A Managing Director told me to find out where in Chicago the CEO of a media company was staying so we could fax him an (unrequested) daily update of his bond prices.  (In banking terms, this is “staying in front of the client”)  He suggested I call all the nice hotels and say I was his assistant and needed to send him something.  (I refused on the basis that this plan was too much like a Three’s Company plot for my comfort)

3.  A VP requested that an Analyst “car” him his calculator from the office.  (Investment banks typically have a car service outside to whisk people to the airport or whatnot; this essentially evolved into basically an expensive courier service.  It’s a bit of a pain in the ass as you have to go downstairs, fill out all the forms, explain to the driver exactly how/where to go, etc)  Angered, the Analyst begrudgingly carred him the calculator.  Screams were heard throughout the building 30 minutes later when he requested she car him his favorite mechanical pencil.

Score: 9 (It’s likely that a long banking career causes some kind of mental warping. Career bankers generally have the same psychological trajectory as Colonel Kurtz)

Typical Hours Worked: 60-100 as an Associate, 40-60 as a VP.  However, as the hours in the office decrease, the stress level and ridiculous travel requirements go up.

Score: 7 (Honestly not many more hours than your B-school counterparts working at Disney or wherever once you hit VP level.  Management consulting is far worse from day one, if you ask me)

Education Required: MBA unless you are hired directly out of Penn, Columbia or Duke as an undergrad.

Score: 3 (MBA = 2 years of drinking and relaxing (although one semester you have to mix in some studying to get a good summer gig).  Not a bad thing)

Screaming Obscenities at Top of Lungs Acceptable? Absolutely.  I recall an occasion in 2008 where I was asked to provide a receipt from an airline for a ticket change (banks are typically kind enough to reimburse you when your vacation gets scuttled.  This was a second consecutive Christmas trip that had been interrupted).  Only the airline didn’t provide a receipt, the receipt was the $100 charge on my credit card bill.  I had already provided that.  So i had the following exchange with our group’s business manager (a great guy, who dealt with this kind of shit all the time):

Him:  You will need to provide the receipt to be reimbursed, the credit card bill isn’t enough

Me:  But there is no receipt; I spoke to the airline myself, they said that the credit card bill itself is proof.

Him:  Well our main office said that’s not good enough.


Later as I dashed into the elevator I was joined by his secretary, only the sweetest 65 year old woman I’ve ever meet.  I felt a bit sheepish at my embarassing public display, assuming I’d offended her sensibilities.  She said, “I can’t believe those bastards did that to you, it’s just awful.”

Score: 0 (Screaming obscenities – embraced by all!)

Stress Level: Uber-high.  Investment banking was all about optimism at the higher levels: even though pitches were 1:100,000 longshots, you had to believe you were going to pull out some of these miracles every year.  Combine this constant need to win mandates with the various combustible personalities and you have a stressful environment.  I walked around constantly sweating; at some points these pit stains actually met in the middle, effectively creating a sweat half shirt.

Score: 8 (Generally death wasn’t in the cards, at least)

Ridiculous Travel Required? Yep, predictably getting worse as you ascend the ranks.  I would regularly travel to Europe on the late afternoon flight on say Tuesday, arriving early Wednesday morning.  Have meetings all day, a dinner Wednesday night, and 1-2 meetings Thursday morning.  Then get on the return flight with the same flight crew who brought us over.  Invariably they would say “what can you possibly get done in 24 hours?”  (In hindsight, nothing)

Score: 9 (At least you have phone/internet access most of the time while on the road)

What Kind of Dough was Involved? When I started it was approximately $200k for your first full year after business school – generally in-line with the unheard of riches referenced in Monkey Business.  The year before I met my fortunate demise, I think the average for my class was $750-800k.  While that is a decent chunk of change, it goes pretty quickly in NYC.  Particularly with 1/3 in (now worthless company stock), and 1/2 of the cash component going to taxes.  It’s just enough to act like a jackass a good bit of the time, but not nearly enough to act like a jackass all the time.

Score: 10 (Still big dough for a one-time college dropout from down south)

Summary: There are several things about being an investment banker that sound cool the first time: “I’m working on an equity offering for Time Warner,” “I just went to London for 6 hours,” “I have to wear a suit every day.”  The coolness quickly wears off from soul-destroying repetition and ominipresent stress (you are effectively on call 24/7, with much of that in-the-office time as an Associate).  In honesty, all bankers live for just one day a year: bonus day.  Everything you do for an entire year hinges on just that one day.  And the bonus itself isn’t really retroactive; they are looking for what you will offer in the years ahead as well as what you just did.  You could never actually rest/relax at any point.

Verdict?  It sucked.

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