Thursday, October 16, 2008

Remember The Titans

The HP12c -- Goldman & Morgan

I think what I’m going to miss most is the elitism.

Though I’ve never worked in finance, for the past three years, I have been exploring the culture of young investment bankers on this website. Through a mix of fake articles and first and third person stories, I’ve attempted to bring light to topics ranging from the “glamorous,” nightlife and fashion, to the geeky, obsessive attention to detail and technical wizardry in Excel. The responses I’ve received and the comments left here have often offered even deeper insight into the psyche of the young banker / wannabe banker, and they’ve illustrated that one sentiment resonated more than any other: elitism.

What others don’t realize is that at the junior levels, everyone in banking makes relatively the same amount of money, and as such, bankers cling to an intricate hierarchy devised to rank institutions, groups within institutions, and individuals within those groups.

This site has seen comments (taken verbatim), like:

“Hey Wachovia bankers, what are you guys going to spend your $600 economic stimulus checks on?”

And polls:

Which would you rather be?
(A) An M&A MD at Jeffries
(B) A PWM VP at Bear
(C) A trade settlement analyst at Lehman
(D) A HR intern at GS
(E) A janitor at Citadel

For as long as I can remember, friends of mine used the names of boutique banks to refer to anything struggling or broken down—cars, clothes, electronics. I’ve seen a guy who himself worked at a boutique fail at picking up a girl and then bow his head in shame and say to himself: “Damn. That was so Piper Jaffray-ish of me.”

Then even lower down the totem pole came corporate lawyers, risk management, and the back office. But the ultimate insult—“retail banker”—was one that signified you had the horrific task of interacting with everyday, normal people. Absolutely disgusting.

I came to love this brand of humor. I relished the concept of people who found themselves to be elite being outdone by those who were widely recognized as being even more prestigious. And that’s what drove this website.

Throughout the credit crunch, elitism has been one of the last few fibers holding together the morale of the younger ranks of Wall Street. The fall of Bear Stearns could be attributed to their unrefined, “meathead” culture. Even if bonus outlooks were grim, you could look to your colleague and say “At least we don’t work in North Carolina,” and then make a Bank of America crack. Deal flow could literally be non-existent in private equity or your hedge fund could be down 20%, but hey—buy side, strong side. And as I’ve been trying to publicize my now more overtly ironic than intended book, Damn It Feels Good To Be A Banker, in the wake of this crisis, I, too, have been clutching dearly to elitism as a safe, time-tested comedic device.


For awhile, I’d known the situation was grim, but the sheer gravity of it all didn’t really hit until a recent dinner for a friend’s birthday at a midtown steakhouse. I had been following the news closely, but it was there, in the thick of it, that I realized just how messed up things had gotten.

It was a meal like any other, but when the check came to our table and we all pulled out our credit cards (to split, not roulette it, sadly), my friend Clay, a Lehman Brothers trader, was hesitant. For some reason, Clay insisted: “We should all just pay cash, guys.” Nervously, he added: “You know, it’ll just be easier and faster.”

My other friend at the table, Jeff, an ex-strategy consultant now working “in industry,” has always been the bottom rung of the totem pole, consistently berated for his impoverished, not hard-enough working ways. Jeff normally can’t even get a word in edgewise without his pathetic stories being trumped by the retelling of some grand act of financial deftness. But this week, he was confident. A smile of pure bliss crept across Jeff’s face as he motioned with his head towards Clay and whispered loudly: “looks like someone’s a little scared of leverage.”

Jeff’s insolence—a total disruption of the pecking order—was just one of a series of signs that the game had officially changed; the entire system had flipped. The Wall Street Journal reported that boutique banks, once laughed at for hiring only the most unqualified, were now well-positioned to succeed due to their lower capital requirements. Bank of America, the ungodly Middle America-serving beast in North Carolina, had established itself as a Wall Street powerhouse. And most devastating, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley could now take deposits as retail banks. When I heard the news that Sunday, something inside of me died.

Even on here, the non-finance people are perking up, posting cutting comments like:

“That’s great GS and MS will be adding some new ATMs around the world so I can withdraw my already fat Tech paycheck and not worry about the government.”

“Bottles & Models” says:

“Times are tough. I must drop the letter ‘S’ from appearing in my name until things rebound.”

Sure, I’ll join my friends in making a few, last-ditch efforts to revive that tingly feeling of superiority, swatting away the economic postulations of reporters, hipsters, and housewives deriding bankers as “clueless.” “It’s like celebrities talking about politics,” or “Blind people discussing art,” I’ll say, neglecting my own irony.

It’s half-hearted though, and ultimately, I’ve come to accept that the structure we’ve all loved for so long is now completely obsolete. I don’t exactly understand how certain institutions will change in the future, but I do know one thing—we must not let their great acts of the past be forgotten.

So as we move into this new era where everyone’s vying for a job at Raymond James and Goldman Sachs checks are bouncing at grocery stores in Idaho, I implore you to at least keep the memories of the good old days alive. In a couple years, when someone calls his brand new Ferrari “Piper Jaffray-ish,” or Charlotte, NC is the new epicenter of the financial world, I want you to recount the stories of our generation’s firms. Teach your children about the days when even uttering the name Morgan Stanley made college students faint. Read them the pre-2008 league tables, and make your sons and daughters memorize them alongside the ones for multiplication. Do whatever it takes to keep the legend of Wall Street as it was truly intended live on. When you think back on investment banking of the early 21st century, remember the heat—remember the passion. But mostly, remember the titans.

177 comments for this post.

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  1. +22 votes + -
    Anonymous Said:

    Bankers will always be one of the richest salaried group there ever will be. I don?t really know which industry a 30 year old can afford a fancy car, a wardrobe full of tailored suits and an apartment in Kensington without taking a loan. Let?s face it though, we worked really hard to be the top of our undergrad class, made loads of applications to beat thousands of other grads for that dream job at a BB, then put in a 110+ of hours a week which makes our average salary/hour not that much higher than other professional jobs (at analyst level) and did that for straight seven years, through a recession (2001), at the prospect of an uncertain bonus? I think you can be arrogant and elitist. But remember, if you were you?ll get scorned on the way down. Sometimes the mystery is good. My friends come up to me with this great big smile on their face and treat me to a drink because they?ve made 20% bonus. I smile back and say ?good on you?, enjoy the beer and pretend my bonus wasn?t 200%. Now that the goddamned cover is blown I actually have people telling me, ?you can afford to lose your job?. People stop treating me like a peer. That sucks.

  2. +2 votes + -
    Dustin Said:

    This can?t be the end of the site, is it? Keep writing, for the children!

  3. -4 votes + -
    CRE Said:

    Anonymous: Commercial RE Brokerage is right up there too if you are good in a big market (Chicago, NY, ATL, Dallas). Fees aren?t as big but you get to keep more of them.

  4. -4 votes + -
    The Video to End the Feud Forever... Said: This video helps explain everything?

  5. +5 votes + -
    Can absolute truth exist? Said:

    In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that Ive been turning over in my mind ever since. Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,??? he told me, just remember that all the people in this world havent had the advantages that youve had.??? F.Scott Fitzgerald through Nick Carroway ? This is the first paragraph of The Great Gatsby ?

  6. -3 votes + -
    Anonymous Said:

    Civilizations going to pieces,??? broke out Tom violently. Ive gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read The Rise of the Colored Empires by this man Goddard????

  7. -3 votes + -
    Anonymous Said:

    This idea is that were Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and??? After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod, and she winked at me again. And weve produced all the things that go to make civilizationoh, science and art, and all that. Do you see????

  8. 0 votes + -
    greekbag Said:

    So wait Wharton, you don?t even have an internship? You?re just some clumsy junior who couldn?t even alt-tab his way through an Excel spreadsheet. You probably still use the mouse. Go ahead and make fun of my boutique. I?m still going to be drawing a competitive banking salary and bonus and won?t have to worry about getting fired in the near future because of downturns in the economy. Also, YOUR poor grammar leads me to believe that my GPA is probably higher than any grade you have seen during YOUR time at Wharton. And if your deductive abilities can?t direct you to what that number actually is, then enjoy your job in ?industry.?

  9. +9 votes + -
    Anonymous Said:

    So, this board is like group therapy for everyone who works in New York and has a tiny johnson? No wonder women will only sleep with you if you?re paying for it! hahahaha! You should really kill yourselves now.

  10. -5 votes + -
    anonymous Said:

    nervous grad-you are a fucking moron! Get off this site you fucking tool. Oh yeah, you?re glad you worked your ass of in college, where will you find a job douchebag, Lehman, Citi, where you fucking retard? Go put a cock in your mouth.

  11. -11 votes + -
    Curious One Said:

    What are everyone?s current rankings of investment banks?

  12. +24 votes + -
    ono Said:

    Investment banking rankings are irrelevent now. No one cares how ?prestigious? a firm is, people just want to have a job. They all pay the same anyways amongst the junior levels (still higher than 99% of other occupations); senior level bankers never gave a f*ck.

  13. +3 votes + -
    HEDGEmony Said:

    That?s the damn truth, ono. Well said.

  14. +17 votes + -
    accounting firms can eat my ass Said:

    the reason we are unemployed is that we would rather sit on a street corner trying to score smack while we suck some lawyer?s dick for coke money than become an accountant i could wake up tomorrow and go work for KPMG, the only thing that stops me is the knowledge that I would hang myself in my pathetic little 57k per year cube

  15. -9 votes + -
    Blind beggar Said:

    How long does it take on average to make it to the ranks of MD or principal at an investment bank, PE firm or Hedge fund, IF u ever make it that far? GIve me a good answer

  16. +8 votes + -
    To LSO Said:

    dude, why you doin us like market liquidity and withdrawing from us when we need you most? seriously, don?t bitch out. keep the fiction going.

  17. +1 votes + -
    Ted Said:

    Who was the fag bragging about biglaw? You guys are just a checkmark for due diligence. Just wait until they figure out how to outsource you to India, suckas

  18. +13 votes + -
    The Dark Horse Said:

    Banking is awful, awful work. Most bankers I know despize everything but their short lifestyle outside of work. Most have a noticeable gait of defeatism when they walk and have lost what little personality they once had. Their eyes are sunken and their skin is pale. Trust me bros, I?ve been there too and it is abysmal. To all prospective bankers – stay away from the light. Its a cesspool of self-pity and a crippling hierarchy of people above you who decide the course of your life (or around 2/3rds of it per week). As an analyst you are approximately 50,000 hours of desk work away from making any kind of important decision. If you have any type intutition of how the markets work, go into trading. Or if you are a kiss ass and you tried really hard to get a ?B? in econometrics, sales. It has its downsides including alcoholism and some sleepless nights. But I?d rather lose six hours of sleep once a week than sleep six hours per week. If you are good you make substantially more money. Trust me. At the end of the day in banking your only bastion of self worth is derived from your arrogance and your Hermes tie. Arrogance fades with a life spent 110 hours a week grafting onto others? ingenuity. And the silk stains easily.

  19. -5 votes + -
    Anonymous Said:

    Just read the book, have no criticism that would interest you, but would like to point out that MM IS NOT, in fact, the appropriate Roman numeral to represent one million. That would be an M with a line over it. MM is merely two thousand, a paltry and insignificant number which I am sure you do not wish to be associated with except in reference to cabfare and gratuities for strippers. Am I right?

  20. -2 votes + -
    Man of Steal Said:

    @ Dark Horse: I?m a BB IBD analyst and I derive a decent amount of self-worth from the fact that I?m one of the few survivors who can still thrive working a banker?s hours while dodging the massive layoffs. I actually like my job, and I will always look down on anyone who uses a mouse in Excel. And I never get stains on my ties.

  21. +2 votes + -
    Baller VP Said:

    biglaw, accountants and consultants are just not my level. You can jup and down cheering subprime as much as you like but the truth is that you have no clue how to make $$$. And yes, Baller VP is not a victim of subprime. Baller VP gets a package from his previous employer with an offer from abother BB in the pocket. Still, as a sign of respect I shall celebrate with only one bottle/model combo.

  22. +14 votes + -
    NJ Said:

    Wow, this site is awesome! What?s really hilarious though are the comments! I don?t know if any of them are real, because I?m not sure that anyone can be that stupid and confused, but they still crack me up. Bottles, models, ballers.. hahahahaha! Great stuff!

  23. -6 votes + -
    next american banker Said:

    Redpen you are a stud. Your post motivated me to continue my search for a job on Wall Street. Thank you. I?ll see you at the top?

  24. -10 votes + -
    Anonymous Said:

    @Baller VP A brief facts from a strategy consultant who is ?not at [your] level?? 1. Your clients call me when they need someone to cut the B.S., determine the real strategic fit/value of an acquisition, and fix your crappy model 2. Your boss?s boss?s boss calls me when he needs someone to determine how to repair your firm, and just how many of *you* he needs to lay off, and now 3. Your girlfriend calls me when she wants a nice dinner and my junk Have fun ballin? on the sidelines, punk

  25. -11 votes + -
    browndude Said:

    yo LSO can you write a blog for med students? my classmates are so fucking uptight, it would be great if you blogged and destroyed everything they valued in the world being brown im sure you have lots of friends in med school/residency?maybe you?re even joining us

  26. -13 votes + -
    still consulting Said:

    @BallerVP, A friendly reminder from a strategy consultant who is ?just not at [your] level? that: 1. Your clients call me when they need someone to think strategically about an opportunity and to fix your crap models. 2. Your MD?s boss?s boss calls me when he needs input on how to run your business, or just how many of you he needs to RIF, and 3. Now your girlfriend calls me when she wants my junk (and dinner if I?m feeling hospitable). You can give me a call if you want advice on a new career path. In the mean time, have fun ballin? on the sidelines.

  27. +2 votes + -
    anonymous Said:

    amazing post, ?Teach your children about the days when even uttering the name Morgan Stanley made college students faint? that did touch me??

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