by Brian DeChesare Comments (2)

The Tragic Investment Banker Death: Should Senior Bankers Go to Jail for Killing Their Junior Staff?

Tragic Investment Banker Death

In case you’ve been offline for the past few days, it has happened yet again: An investment banker has died on the job.

You can read about it in various threads on Wall Street Oasis, Reddit, eFinancialCareers, LinkedIn, and more, so I won’t repeat the full details here.

In short, this banker was an Associate in the FIG team at Bank of America and had a very accomplished track record before joining the firm.

“Official” news sources are trying to spin this as a death from natural causes, but it seems clear that over-staffing and consecutive 120-hour workweeks were the immediate cause.

Unfortunately, this is far from the first time a tragedy like this has happened.

Back in 2013, an IB intern died under similar circumstances, and many other banker/trader deaths have made the headlines over the years.

Oh, and then there’s my story – how I crashed my car into a tree after working crazy hours – and eventually quit the industry to start this site.

I’ll give my thoughts on this entire incident below, post the donation link for this banker’s family, and explain why the industry needs to change:

My Quick Thoughts on the Situation

My brief thoughts are:

  • First, if you can donate even a small amount to his family, you should do so via this link. I just donated $1,000, which you can verify via the “Donors” link on the page. Bill Ackman also donated.
  • Tragedies like this show that the culture in investment banking hasn’t changed that much, despite banks’ claims that they are “trying” to improve things.
  • I do not have a legal background, so I can’t comment on whether the senior bankers involved have criminal liability – but I assume there are some grounds for a lawsuit.
  • No one should ever work 120 hours in a week, let alone for 4 consecutive weeks. Please quit immediately if this is your job.
  • The apparent cover-up / censorship here is also quite disturbing (mainstream media ignored this for days until Reuters / Yahoo Finance picked it up, and the Co-Group Head at BofA seemingly deleted his LinkedIn profile).
  • The “crazy hours” in investment banking are mostly unwarranted and reflect poor senior leadership, bad project management, and misplaced priorities.
  • Banks are destroying their reputations with their failed cultures. They must change in a big way to attract better candidates and remain competitive with tech and consulting.

Why the “Long Hours” in Investment Banking Are Mostly Unnecessary

I’ve covered the topic of investment banking hours several times before, and I previously explained them like this:

  • Yes, IB hours are quite long…
  • …but people also tend to exaggerate how much they’re “working” vs. “at the office waiting.”
  • The hours are long because clients pay huge fees and have high expectations, work demands are unpredictable, it’s difficult to divide up labor on deals, and there’s a “culture” around personal sacrifice.

All these factors still play a role, but after seeing many of these stories, I’ve changed my mind about the hours.

In my opinion, 90% of these cases of long/deadly hours are caused by poor management and senior bankers forcing junior bankers to do pointless work.

This gets especially bad whenever deal activity declines and MDs go “on the hunt” for new fees.

It often looks like this:

  • Managing Director (MD): “Hmm… how can I generate more fees… I know, let’s pitch companies A, B, and C on unlikely deals X, Y, and Z.”
  • Analyst / Associate: “OK, what do we need for the pitch books?”
  • MD: “Hmm… well, you’re not busy right now, so let’s make it a 100-pager. Get started ASAP!”

Effectively, the MD pushes pointless work onto the juniors because he believes they’re not “fully utilized.”

Of course, not all bankers do this; many of the sane ones know you can’t just push employees to work 16 hours per day forever.

In this case, the “overwork” seems to have happened due to a set of live deals, which might seem more reasonable at first glance.

But the problem is that in this context, many senior bankers, especially less experienced ones, believe they must “overdeliver” for the client to justify their fees.

This results in unnecessary presentation turns, re-run analyses for no apparent reason, and endless back-and-forth over minutiae in the Fairness Opinion and other documents.

Most clients do not care about these points and barely even read the documents.

Unfortunately, though, this way of thinking is so ingrained into the culture that it’s difficult to convince bankers that these efforts are pointless.

Why Bankers Can Band Together to Change Things

I’ve seen many online reactions to the effect of:

  • “No one will protest because banks don’t care and will never change their cultures.”
  • “If junior bankers protest, someone else will take their jobs since dozens/hundreds of people compete for each IB Analyst / Associate role!”

I believe these reactions are quite wrong.

When junior bankers have complained in the past, banks have changed things.

For example, complaints in the early 2010s resulted in “protected weekends” for Analysts.

In 2021, after the infamous “Goldman Sachs” presentation went viral, banks raised base salaries and changed their staffing and work-from-home policies.

These changes don’t always last, but even temporary relief is better than nothing.

Technically, yes, dozens or hundreds of candidates might apply for each available role in investment banking, but this figure is deceptive because many of these candidates are unqualified.

Although the IB job does not require much intellectual prowess at the junior levels, it’s still quite difficult to find good, reliable staff who will stick around for even 1-2 years.

Any idiot can change the font color on slides, but few people can juggle tasks from five clients, accurately complete analytical work, and work long hours for months.

So, junior bankers can force changes if enough of them band together and protest.

It’s Not 2004, 2014, or 2021 Anymore: Banks Need to Change

So, now to the punch line.

In my view, banks are living in the past and are quite delusional about the career opportunities now available to the top undergrads and MBAs.

The truth is the industry has never really recovered from the 2008 financial crisis in terms of inflation-adjusted pay and prestige.

Before 2008, banking jobs paid so much more than consulting, tech, and other roles that junior bankers would put up with anything to get in.

Also, it was easier to use IB roles to win private equity and hedge fund jobs, as recruiting started later, and there was less competition.

After 2008, pay went down across the board for all finance roles.

But throughout the 2010s, banking jobs were still perceived as higher-paying and more desirable than most alternatives – and they were often the “prerequisite” for other fields.

As I wrote in a recent update of the bulge bracket banks article, though, these points are less true today.

Tech firms have caught up, and plenty of Product Manager and business/strategy roles pay quite generously; engineers also earn a lot more than they did 10-15 years ago.

Consulting is still lucrative with better hours, and many hedge funds and PE firms now recruit candidates directly out of undergrad.

At the Managing Director level, as the Wall Street Journal has noted, pay has stagnated for the past ~20 years:

Managing Director Compensation Over 20 Years

You could even argue that pay has declined because bonuses were paid in 100% cash ~20 years ago, while significant percentages are deferred or stock-based today.

Given the stagnant pay, increased competition, and continuously terrible work conditions, banks need to drop their incompetent management and sadistic cultures.

Some people will see stories like this and not care, but many smart students will ask themselves whether it’s worth it anymore.

I’ve also heard from senior bankers that new hires’ technical skills and overall competency have declined over time.

When you think about the past few years, it’s easy to understand why this happened:

  • Hyper-accelerated recruiting prioritizes students who start early rather than ones who are good at the job.
  • During COVID, banks over-hired and brought in far too many unqualified people, all to close a few more SPAC deals (ugh).
  • Work conditions are still so bad that junior bankers die on the job.
  • The exit opportunities, while still good, are less certain, and you no longer necessarily “need” IB to win some of them.

Returning to the original topic of this article, I can’t say whether the senior bankers on this Associate’s team should go to jail.

However, they should be held accountable for something – whether that means getting fired, demoted, or barred from working for a period.

More broadly, banks need to hold themselves accountable instead of complaining about declining candidate quality.

If they want candidates with stronger technical skills, stop recruiting students ridiculously early in university and give people time to learn the technical concepts.

If they want dedicated employees, create a better work environment led by competent management.

If they can’t offer outsized pay packages anymore, offer other benefits that make up for it.

And please, stop killing junior bankers with pointless work and consecutive 120-hour workweeks.

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys lifting weights, running, traveling, obsessively watching TV shows, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Anonymous

    Thank you for raising this issue and creating awareness, Brian.

    Thank you for using your platform to speak out and create impact.

    In addition to the points you mentioned, I’ve also noticed that universities put too much emphasis on irrelevant things, thereby robbing students of the opportunity to fully take advantage of case competitions, technical labs, and the acquisition of technical skills.

    I work in private equity and am Canadian. I’ve noticed that all Canadian business schools, even at the MBA level, place too much emphasis on academics. When I was interviewing a candidate from a top-tier Canadian business school, they were unable to answer basic questions.

    So yes, the change in terms of culture needs to start from the top in corporations. But I also believe educational institutions have a big role to play. They need to teach students how to make basic decisions, how to plan, how to prioritize, and how to spend most of their time on technical upskilling and soft skills

    1. Thanks. Agree with you on universities – too many classes teach completely irrelevant skills/concepts, and too many students focus on minutiae. In the U.S., the soaring cost of tuition is another huge issue (no idea how it’s sustainable). I guess that’s better in Canada, though the rates still some exorbitant for foreign students from a quick search.

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