A thing you sometimes hear is that Goldman Sachs has lost a lot of prestige since the financial crisis, but you wouldn't know it from the way every other bank copies what Goldman does. For instance, a while back, Goldman's top-secret research lab discovered the concept of not working its junior bankers to death, and told analysts and associates not to come to work between 9 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. on Sunday. Since then, lots of other big banks have developed their own junior-banker-lifestyle technologies, some well thought out (JPMorgan hired extra bankers to make up for the work it's losing by giving analysts one free weekend a month), and some less so (hi Bank of America!).
Yesterday Credit Suisse raised the stakes by four hours, saying that "associates should not be in the office from 6 p.m. on Fridays though 10 a.m. on Sundays." Well played, Credit Suisse, well played, although the details are a little weak: "Credit Suisse emphasized in the memo that, for live deals, 'junior bankers in all relevant groups must be in the office to work together,' " early-Sunday conference calls are allowed, and you gotta answer e-mails and stuff even on your Saturdays off. Some relevant points:
One question is, will Goldman match? Will there be an arms race among banks? Will junior bankers end up with three-day protected weekends every week? Plus ample gym time every morning? In 10 years, will the popular image of overworked but overpaid investment bankers be replaced by one of moderately paid bankers working, you know, bankers' hours?1
Or, if you don't buy that, how 'bout this one: Will anyone make the default day of rest Sunday rather than Saturday?
Or what about Tuesday? The not entirely false popular model of how junior investment bankers work is:
- You sit around all day.
- A vice president dumps work on you on his way out the door at 7.
- You order dinner and get to work.
- You finish at 4 a.m., put a printout on the VP's chair, and go home to shower and write a chapter of your memoir of deviance and excess in the world of investment banking.
- Back in the office by 9 a.m., ready to sit around all day talking about sports and how hardcore you are.
Really you could cut out that whole 9 to 7 shift and just pitch up at 7 p.m. ready to eat dinner and do a full 8-hour day of work. I mean, not really, but sometimes. This might be a promising area for research for banks who want to get work done but also want to give junior bankers some time to sleep: Let them sleep during the day on weekdays. (Also make them work all weekend, of course, because weekends are when mergers happen.)2
Why are junior bankers at work all the time? Part of the answer is just general facepunching: You're there all the time to prove that you're dedicated and part of the team and so forth. But part of it is that junior bankers' reason for existence is to make life easier for senior bankers, which means constantly being on call to do whatever needs to be done whenever the MD thinks of it.
The new weekend policies are designed in part to make senior bankers plan better, so that work is done during the day on weekdays rather than at 2 a.m. on weekends. If your analysts can't work on Saturday, you can't dump work on them on Friday afternoon, so you need to do a better job of planning in advance. That seems like a pretty reasonable thing to ask, no? Spend five minutes on Thursday planning your workload, so as not to ruin a 23-year-old's weekend. Still, life is complicated and business is unpredictable and senior bankers have hectic weeks; these new policies are intended to make junior bankers' lives easier, but at the cost of making senior bankers' lives harder.
Or that's probably the near-term effect. Longer term, who knows? If MDs and VPs get used to the idea that they can't have work produced on demand -- that sometimes someone might say no to them -- then they might start saying no, too. They might choose to focus on things that are most likely to make money, rather than doing everything for everyone. They might end up working less themselves.3 Maybe the way to change the culture of investment banking is to start at the bottom.
1 Also, what can you conclude about the risk appetites of (1) overpaid overworked bankers versus (2) moderately paid lazy bankers? If I were a regulator I would consider requiring banks to give everyone the weekend off.
2 Though I guess if you're having your analysts work from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. or whatever, there's no real need to have them sit in New York in offices that are occupied by managing directors and VPs during daylight hours. Just move the whole analyst side of the business to Bangalore. I guess that makes it a bit more complicated to refresh your senior-banker ranks by promoting analysts and associates but, whatever, that's pretty hard now. Everyone leaves after two years! Because of the terrible hours.
3 Especially with cohort replacement. Those lazy analysts will one day be lazy MDs! Some of them.