I have worked closely with Institutional Equity Sales desks for the majority of my career and have been tempted to accept offers to work there. There are two reasons why I haven’t. One, the politics surrounding the dispersal of client accounts is Machiavellian enough to make the backroom dealings of the medieval Vatican seem like a rural PTA meeting. The other reason is that, given my later start in the industry, I was too old. Unless you are firmly established on the Desk by your early 30s it is unlikely that your energy level will hold up long enough to realize the considerable compensation potential. Those fuckers work hard. The basic hours, at your desk at 7:00, meetings at 7:30, 12:05 and 4:10 with the intermittent time spent either generating or shepherding your clients’ trades, are not prohibitive. The bigger problem is that Wednesday through Thursday, it is more or less required that you entertain your clients according to their proclivities – dinners, strippers, shows, whatever – until late at night before arising again at 5:30 to head back in to the office. Not occasionally – this is every week. Recent layoffs have only made this worse, to the point I would like to see an intrepid, well-connected reporter dig in to the insane growth of the illegal stimulant market which is reaching 80s levels again as aggregate job security wanes.
I am again just using Institutional Sales as an example. The workdays for traders and bankers, particularly during a big deal, can be even more onerous. As a whole, the level of effort expected leads to the generally-accepted belief within Capital Markets that anyone not at their desks by 7:30 is a nobody. The most common response to the experience of getting a coffee at 9:15 and seeing people rushing to the office in their coats,(and this is a topic of discussion on the floor), is a bemused “what exactly do you people do that you can get away with starting at 9:00?”. By definition, it can’t be that important.
The anti-finance movement can, if they carefully ignore some of the more economically vital aspects of the industry, frame their argument in terms of “all you guys really do is shuffle paper around”. What they under-estimate, however, is how hard industry participants work at “shuffling papers around”. It is extremely difficult for anyone, including me, to take someone seriously when they work less than 50 hours per week. Unless they’re semi-retired, no one we know who works 35 hours a week is even relevant, never mind qualified to re-regulate the industry.
The work ethic is clearly a function of simple economics. The monetary upside in finance is arguably higher than any other so the candidates to replace the more complacent employees are at least in the 100s, probably 1000s and everybody knows this. The means by which the less committed get jettisoned can get pretty nefarious – I’ve seen three or four women ousted during their maternity, albeit with big checks – but everyone understands, and largely accepts, the logic behind it. Not only that, we take a sort of black humor pride in it.
The psychological outgrowths of this type of environment are pervasive and powerful. When OWS is trying to comprehend the viciousness of pushback, they need to keep in mind that the level of personal investment for industry professionals, years upon years of 60 hours weeks and four hours of sleep a night, is not something you ever, ever want to see threatened by a Tobin Tax. And this is particularly true if the complainants’ primary motivations, and theological certainty, arise solely from one charismatic professor teaching Rawls during an “exhausting” 20 hour per week class load. You may have a point, nobody knows better than we do, but we’re not going to consider you credible unless you work for it.