Tag Archives: investment bankers

Oddities in New York City

In order to live in New York City, you must have at least one of three attributes: you have to be a) certifiably insane, b) oblivious, or c) an icebox.  Why is that?  Well, let’s break it down:

If you are a) certifiably insane, then you will fit right in with the wackos and the strung-out boozhounds in the city.  In my ten months living here, I’ve seen the following oddities in New York:

  • nakedcowgirla gentleman jogging in a thong onesie
  • a person dressed up as Spiderman, casually walking down the street, as if window shopping
  • an older woman dressed as the “Naked Cowgirl” in Times Square, with very little covering her backside…

Of course, you can still survive New York sans-crazy if you are simply b) oblivious. By oblivious, I mean that you will inevitably encounter the following, yet you still won’t bat an eye:

  • sidewalkfeces of all kinds, including, but not limited to: pigeon, dog, rat, human, and hybrid combinations of all four
  • smells… bad ones
  • and many a sidewalk puddle so disgusting that, if you were to be splashed with its contents, would compel you to burn your clothing, and perhaps chop off any appendage that encountered the filth

Lastly, to live in New York, you also must become c) an icebox. This is not a suggestion; it is an actual necessity, especially in these recessionary times.  If you have a heart while living in New York, you will likely end up broke, homeless, or jogging in a thong onesie through the Upper East Side.  Since January, I have been asked for money by:

  • homelessjesussolicitors in the subway
  • solicitors living in the streets (one, with a pet rat nesting in her hair)
  • solicitors imploring me to help the children, support the troops, feed the hungry, cure cancer, go green, buy booze, and welcome back Jesus

The great thing about living in New York, though, is that once you get past the insanity, the filth, and the ever-present guilt (“sorry, I don’t have any cash, but here’s a cough drop”), you can pretty much put up with anything.  There is nothing out there that can make you feel uncomfortable, because we’ve seen it all, right?

Wrong.

Tonight, I was walking home from work when I encountered someone else who was walking step-in-step with me.  Now, this doesn’t seem all that strange… until you think about the unwritten NYC pedestrian rule.  The sidewalk is like a one-lane highway.  You don’t ever have two cars on the same side of the road, going at the same speed.  You either pass, or let the other guy pass.  But for three blocks, this woman walked right next to me.  I sped up.  She sped up.  I slowed down.  She slowed down.  It freaked me out.  Finally, I took a detour into Duane Reade to see if she would follow me.  But thankfully, she went on her merry way.

Is it just me, or is that whole scenario stranger than the 70-year old Naked Cowgirl?  Or… am I just heading down the path towards (un)certifiably insane?

Help.

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Wall Street vs. Main Street? I’ll Take Main Street

It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the hype. There’s the wining, the dining, the company-sponsored boozing, the free meals, the car service home, and most alluring, the potential of making six-figures right out of college. Of course, there are also the 100+ hour weeks, the requisite face time, the Blackberry taking over your life, the tacit no-vacation clause, and the fact that your six figures all depends on your bonus (and thus, the volatile market).

Ah yes, the life of an investment banker on Wall Street is a charmed one indeed.

The opposite of investment banking.

Yet, even with the soul-sucking work and grueling hours, there are still thousands of recent college grads scratching and clawing for i-banking jobs every year. Some may want to put in their two years to land a cushy PE/corporate job. Others may want to prove to themselves that they can survive the torture. Still others may just want to hit on girls with the line, “I’m an investment banker”… which, oddly enough, seems to work just as well as “secret agent,” and much better than “consultant”.

But now, given the recent financial crisis, many of the remaining investment banks are cutting their recruiting budgets and giving out fewer full-time offers and coveted internships. Plus, with the plethora of ex-Lehmanites floating around in the pool of unemployed, getting that entry-level banking job will be much tougher than in previous years. Unless you’ve spent your summers running DCF models or honing your valuation skills, you may want to abandon your childhood dream of becoming an i-banker. So, here are some (mildy exaggerated) tidbits about the Street life that may help you cope:

  • Accounting for hours worked, an investment banker probably makes about the same hourly wage as the IT tech support guy in Mumbai. With an annual coup of $120,000 a year ($60K base salary + 100% bonus), 100-hr work weeks, for 52 weeks of the year = $23.08 average hourly rate.  And this is before taxes.
  • On a related note, Brooks Brothers suits start at $898, and you’ll still look cheap compared to your MD, your clients, and the club owner at Lace.
  • At most bulge-bracket firms, Big Brother will be keeping tabs on your email and web searches for signs of insider trading. Swearing is strictly prohibited through email messages (but strongly encouraged in everyday conversation). Most websites will be blocked as well, so not only will you never get to see your friends, but you won’t be able to keep up with their status updates on Facebook either.
  • If you are female, prepare to enter a world where men are vulgar and crude by default. If you are male, prepare to enter a world where there are no females.
  • Asking about work-life balance is akin to putting on a tutu and galloping through the office singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. That is, it’s frowned upon.
  • You will likely spend the majority of your 15-hour days sitting in a chair, sitting in a black car, or sitting on the toilet from scarfing down your latest SeamlessWeb order. So, if you don’t gain at least 20 lbs in your first year on the job, then la cocaina must be working wonders.

Finally, one last reason why i-banking on Wall Street may not be the best move? Two words: job security.

Isn’t Main Street starting to look more attractive?

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The Worst White Collar Job in the World

Amongst my fellow college graduates, competition is often fierce in the game of “Who Has the Worst Job?”.  Here is my no-judgment, completely unbiased opinion:

  • Lawyers are slimy, rambling chest-beaters who cover up the misdeeds of their unscrupulous clients with ten-dollar words, and sometimes, poems. (“If the glove does not fit…”)
  • Investment bankers are coked up work fiends who enjoy only two activities: #1) making money, and #2) making it rain at the club.  With TARP bills.
  • Salesmen of any kind (from credit default swaps to lawnmowers) are slick, lying, swindlers who tapdance along the edge of deceit and pure evil.

Of course, these stereotypes (or some might argue, facts) only implicate the employee, rather than the profession itself.  So, if I were to only consider the job, this is what I would deem the Worst White-Collar Job in the World (that last part is to be said in an over-dramatic, Keith Olbermann way):

  • Accountants are mundane, humorless bean counters who wear argyle sweater vests and track how much money John Thain spends on redecorating his bathroom.

accountantSo, here is the rationale behind my distaste for accounting.  Over the past two years, I’ve worked in corporate finance at a large firm, where I’ve had to learn a lot of accounting.  I’ve been enlightened to the wonders of debits and credits, account receivables and payables, controllership, compliance, FASB and GAAP.  It is about as interesting as it sounds.  In general, the accountants that I’ve worked with are very nice, diligent people.  But the actual job is dreadfully boring: balancing the balance sheet, reconciling accounts, and performing audit checks.  By the second week of learning about proper T-accounting, I was ready to wring someone’s neck with an argyle sweater vest.

Another example of the staid accounting life: One day, I was out with a few colleagues at lunch.  A fellow co-worker mentioned that she had been doing SOX testing (which is short for Sarbanes-Oxley, the regulatory legislation that spawned from WorldCom, Enron, and Tyco).  “SOX testing, huh?”  I said, “So what’s better… wool or cotton?”

Silence.

I thought it was funny.

gabrielgossipgirlIn the end, just as lawyers, bankers, or salesmen are necessary, I know that accountants are necessary.  Madoff, Stanford, and other Ponzi schemers (like Gabriel from Gossip Girl) might have been stopped if they’d been scrutinized by some badass accountants. We need accountants to make sure our scummy salesmen aren’t recording fraudulent trades.  We need them to tally up how much TARP money is being thrown at strippers in the club.  We need them to confirm that our financial statements are accurate, so we can determine how to best price our cotton socks.

And hey, having the worst white-collar job in the world is likely preferable to roofing houses, waiting tables, or not having a job at all… Then again, if accounting is going to lead you down a homicidal path (hide the sweater vests!), you might think about selling lawnmowers for a living instead.

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In an Open Relationship… With Facebook

This is my daily routine: I get out of work, go home, have dinner, turn on the TV… and then get on my boyfriend. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not like that. I mean, 100 million other people get on him every day too. In the end, though, my boyfriend caters only to me. I call him the best thing that’s ever happened to me, but other people may call him by his given name: Facebook.

My boyfriend Facebook is really good to me. He sends me gifts all the time, like virtual chocolates, flowers, and toilet paper. He gives me updates on sales at my favorite stores. He plays Scrabble with me whenever I want, and he leaves me sweet notes, like, “Damn girl, your profile picture is fine.” He keeps track of all my new messages, draws beautiful masterpieces of graffiti on my wall, and helps my Conestoga wagon ford the river on the Oregon trail. He is attentive, artistic, and handy… everything you’d want in a man.

My boyfriend is also great with my friends, which is incredibly important to me. Most of the time I can’t keep up with all 6,341 of my closest friends, but my boyfriend has it covered. He lets me know if Lois just had a baby or if Matt proposed on Valentine’s Day. He talks to Annie to find out what she thought of Gossip Girl last night. He has singlehandedly kept some friendships alive by reminding me of people’s birthdays. And he is such a social butterfly… he’s always introducing me to people he thinks I may know. It was awkward at first, but I have to admit that I was curious about what happened to the kid from high school with the mohawk and purple leather jacket. Oh, he’s an investment banker now? Interesting…

Aside from being a private detective, my boyfriend also oversees my social calendar. After all, someone has to keep track of my scarf-knitting parties and bake sales for childhood obesity. While I may not actually go to the techno dance rave at Sweat on Friday night, I’m glad my boyfriend still sends me the invite… And even though I just sit at home with him every night, looking through his pictures makes me feel like I was there.

Some people have said that I spend too much time with my boyfriend. They think that he’s prevented me from meeting new people, going out with friends, or getting a job. But I don’t buy that. My boyfriend has always been there for me whenever I needed him (except for blackouts or bad wireless zones). He was there for me through the laughter and tears, the pokes and untags, the inadvertent status updates and awkward friend requests. Through it all, I know I can count on him to be there for me forever, and never, ever change…

…Um, well… there goes that one. My boyfriend’s getting a makeover? I can’t believe Facebook would do this to me… Why would he want to ruin what we had?

I’m changing my relationship status to “Single”… that is, until I get used to his new sleek bod. I might forgive him then.

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Damn…It Doesn’t Feel Good to Be a Banker

Traditionally, finance professionals on Wall Street have gotten a bad rep. They’re the greed-filled, money-hungry, soulless types who exist only to make the rich richer. They embody Gordon Gekko and the ruthless, shadowy banker from Deal or No Deal. They’re the ones who work eighteen hour days, order limo service for their mistresses, enrich nudie clubs and liquor stores, and spend thousands on a night out…just because they can. They’re coke fiends, adulterers, anti-humanitarians, and scums of the earth…

This is the negative perception of Wall Street as a whole–which doesn’t lead to much sympathy when thousands of bankers and traders and brokers are on the brink of losing their jobs.

Many of us may feel little compassion for those who are now clearing out their cubicles and polishing their resumes. After all, they chose this field–and the risks and rewards that come with it. We have come to denigrate the Wall Street types because of their enormous salaries and lavish lifestyles. We typically assume that people who chose the finance life embody all the negatives that we associate with the heartless Gekko. But like any other career path, we all choose our profession based on what it will yield us, either personally or financially. Not everyone is suited to becoming a teacher, or a doctor, or some other “noble” occupation–and not everyone can afford to take a low-paying job either, because of their family background or other personal situation. Some may go into finance because they truly love making DCF models and calculating IRRs on a daily basis. Some may do it because it’s a springboard to other opportunities within the private or public sector. Some may look at their job as a temporary means to an end–more hours now, but a better life in the future. And then there are some who are just good at it… and who can blame someone for wanting to be in a career that they’re good at?

Of course, there are many dirty i-bankers who make all finance professionals look bad–and perhaps there are more jerks per capita on Wall Street than in the nonprofit sector. But for all the greed-mongers that pass through the field of finance, we may find a great philanthropist (Warren Buffett) among them. So when thinking about the shocking fall of Lehman and Merrill, consider all the good, non-scum people you know at those firms… even though Gekko may have no sympathy for them, we should.

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Why Do Young People Hate Their Jobs?

Most college students I have talked to are excited about the real world after school – excited about the work, the perks, but most of all, the freedom. In the real world, there are no tests or papers looming over their heads, no professors to answer to, no dealing with the stresses and dramas that invariably accompany the college experience. Yeah, college is fun, but there’s almost a mythic quality about life beyond college: it’s substituting the sweats for suits, the kegs for martinis, the hookups for a steady, sickeningly-attractive significant other… While college seniors go through the requisite nostalgia in their last few months as an academic, this nostalgia is still often dampened by lofty expectations for the next stage in their life.

Why then, do so many young professionals hate their jobs?

(I must preface this by limiting my observations to those in the field of business. Most would-be doctors I know are happily trucking away in med school, most would-be lawyers are busily debating each other in law school, and for the rest of my graduating class—those who are doing research in Bolivia or writing articles for Mother Jones—they seem, on the most part, relatively satisfied. Then that begs the question: are jobs in the business fields overly cruel, or are those people that go into business just overly hateful? Note: This observation also excludes investment bankers, who should expect to hate their jobs even before they start.)

Some theories:

  • The College Hangover: For many young people, you’re thrown into the fire right out of school. You’re not used to waking up before noon and having to look somewhat presentable. You’re not used to being “on” all the time, every single day, at least five days a week. If only you could skip work without anyone noticing (like college lectures), and still get your big performance bonus…that would be the life. Of course, that would never happen, and thus the nostalgia for college never really goes away. However, the College Hangover only serves as a legitimate excuse for your first few months out of school… After that, if you’re still falling asleep at work in reminiscence of those college glory days, well, you should lay off the drinking.
  • The Bottom of the Totem Pole: You were a pretty big deal in college… president of some organization, captain of some sports team, leader of the beer pong circuit. Now, you’re the entry-level analyst who is seen as the little know-it-all who wants to shoot straight to the top, but in actuality is only making a contribution as a master formatter or lunch bitch. You’re relegated to modeling (thankfully we’re talking only about Excel), and making sure that someone less smart than you looks more smart than everyone else. Of course, no one is as smart as us, so it’s a tough reality to stomach.
  • Those Lofty Expectations: You thought it was going to be first-class, up in the sky, sipping champagne, living the life… Your job was supposed to be glamorous, impressive, and telling of your smarts, skills, and talents. You thought that you’d be challenged every second of the day; you would have interesting coworkers, exciting projects, and intellectual discussions. You’d be an integral part of the company, just short of the glue that holds everything together. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have interesting projects all of the time, and we certainly know a couple of coworkers who have a few screws loose. We don’t foresee the hours of administrative tasks and unrewarded legwork that is part of the daily grind. You start asking yourself why you are here, what you are doing with your life, and how you can get into a new role/company/industry that is way more glamorous than what you are in now…or so you’d like to think.
  • Too Much Freedom: When you’re young, there’s an ordered sequence of how things happen. After pre-school you go to kindergarten. After kindergarten, you’re in first grade. After first grade… etc, etc. The proverbial “life train” goes through a predictable sequence: elementary school, middle school, high school, college—from A to B. But after graduating from college, you’re alone at the train station, and only YOU have to figure out where to next. Get on the banking train, or the consulting one? Marketing, or sales? It always seems like the other train is moving faster, with nicer seats and greener grass on their side of the scenic route to your future. Anxiety strikes. Uneasiness festers. Resentment grows. You end up curled up in the corner of the caboose, hugging your knees, thinking you should have become a doctor instead… at least that would’ve delayed the decision-making for a few more years.
  • Your Job Actually Sucks: If you liked the train analogy above, then your standards for quality have obviously been lowered from your time spent on the job. Maybe all that modeling/formatting/Excel-ing is getting to your head. Or maybe your job actually sucks. Hey, it happens. Perhaps it’s time to go to business school then.

Regardless of all the reasons why many people hate their jobs, most of them are still in these jobs…so perhaps “hate” is a strong word. Only a few recent graduates I know have been so fed up that they decided to quit well-paying, respectable jobs and brave unemployment. Then, despite all the negatives, there must be some reason why we are still in the grind. Maybe it’s the money, or the benefits and perks, or the hope that things will get better. Or perhaps we are just paralyzed by fear that the next job will be worse. The main challenge is to balance the expectations of our jobs with a tempered ambition. There will always be days where unemployment looks preferable, but unless that starts to happen day-after-day, week-upon-week (meaning, Your Job Actually Sucks and you should start updating that resume), I’d say to just put your head down, put the hate aside, file it all under “Learning Experience”, and get to work.

Update (3/30/09): Why Do Young People Stay in Jobs They Hate?

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