Why banking sucks

David Bledin, ex-banker, now author and MBA student, on why he wouldn’t go back into banking if you paid him.

I’ve just started an MBA programme and it’s amazing the number of people coming from non-banking industries who have somehow managed to maintain a startling innocence regarding the Street – despite the bleak stories they must have soaked up from their acquaintances. They seem to focus on that starting salary and rationalize away everything else – they tell themselves it will only be a few years before they’ll have racked up enough bonus pay to buy an achingly sophisticated loft in Soho and subsist on a steady diet of yellow-tail sashimi.

I’m here to tell you that if you don’t think your life is going to be miserable as an investment banker, then you’re wrong. Here’s a short guide to set you straight.

Don’t think you’ll remain unscathed.

You will not be the exception to the rule, the golden child who will remain untarnished by the industry. History will repeat itself, as it has since the founding of the House of Morgan: you will get a receding hairline, you will hate your Blackberry, you will tremble every time your phone rings, you will spend the occasional evening curled up under your desk.

Never forget that as a freshly minted analyst or associate, you are viewed by everybody senior to you as nothing more than a spreadsheet-laden donkey, somebody to crank out endless PowerPoint piecharts and not ask too many questions. And remember that your bosses were once in your shoes, too, so don’t expect any sympathy. It’s the vicious cycle of abuse, and you’re at the nexus of it.

Don’t think you won’t become bitter.

Your first week on the job, you’ll be bragging to all your non-profit buddies about your $30 dinner allowance, your company car transport, and your shared assistant. A month later, you’ll actually be nauseated by the sight of another prime rib, leaking its juice onto your mousepad and ready to expand your waist size even further since you don’t have time to hit the gym. You’ll be ashamed that you know more about your company car driver’s domestic turmoils than you do about the upheavals in your own family. And you’ll soon realize that your incompetent assistant is only there to make your life more miserable than it already is, sending out the wrong conference call numbers and printing out the wrong reports and getting much better Christmas presents than you ever will.

Don’t think the work will be interesting enough to warrant the all-nighters.

Let me introduce you to comps. Right now the word sounds innocent enough, but it won’t be long before the mere utterance of it will elicit night sweats and dilated pupils. Dealing with comps involves the meticulous and very time-consuming – even for Harvard grads – computation of endless financial ratios and multiples. Even once you eventually graduate to Excel modelling, it won’t be long before yet another circular reference will make you want to commit hara-kiri with your staple remover.

Don’t believe that any of your new relationships are genuinely sincere.

When I first started in the M&A department at my bank, I was trapped in a cubicle next to a guy who was nicknamed the Star. The Star was an Excel powerhouse, a guy who could shoulder the workload of three lesser analysts and still maintain the disposition of a Buddha. Everybody would constantly sing his praises, except for our head of HR, who was too removed from the actual workflow to recognize the Star’s supernatural abilities and passed him up for a promotion to the associate level. Any one of the senior guys in our department could have stepped up to the plate and fought for the Star’s promotion, yet nobody rose to the task. The senior guys were all too self-absorbed to genuinely care about the fate of their underlings. The Star skulked back to b-school and was replaced by a former marketing guy who had never seen an Excel spreadsheet in his life.

Just accept the fact that you’re doing it for the money, and it will help dull the pain.

You will be miserable as an investment banker, but heh, you’ll also be flush with cash. I’ve been out of banking for a few years now and my heart still hurts when I hear the bonus numbers from my friends who stuck around in the industry. While I’m taking out loans to pay for my MBA, they’re putting down 50% deposits on million-dollar brownstones.

So here’s a piece of advice: every time you’ve had a really horrible day at the office, go out and buy yourself an Hermès tie. If you’re going to need a noose, it might as well be a fashionable one.

David Bledin is a banker turned MBA student and author of Bank: A Novel.


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