Adderall not cocaine: inside the lives of the
young wolves of Wall Street
Source: PBS Newshour BY ANDY SWAB
First-year analysts at America’s top tier investment banks face soul-crushing hours,
mind-numbing work and pain-inducing client meetings in the post-crash,post-recession world of today’s Wall Street.
Kevin Roose’s “Young Money” profiles eight young investment bankers at New York’s top financial firms as they navigate their way through an industry that has been heavily criticized after the crisis of 2008.
Roose, a former writer for The New York Times’ DealBook blog and author of “The Unlikely Disciple,” writes for New York magazine, which just published this adaptation from his newly-released book about the time he crashed a Wall Street secret society.
Roose gives us a glimpse into the world fresh-faced college graduates face as investment banks sober up after both bubbles and bailouts.
Before the housing boom went bust, graduating seniors from America’s top colleges poured into the world of finance. In 2006, 46 percent of Princeton University students who had a job at graduation went to Wall Street. A year later, 47 percent of Harvard University’s graduating seniors went into finance and consulting.
But things changed after the crash. In 2010, 12 percent of Ivy League seniors applied to Teach for America, and between 2008 and 2011, AmeriCorps applications have almost tripled. For Harvard’s class of 2013, only 5 percent reported they would like to still be working in finance in 10 years. The money on Wall Street is still there, but the industry has lost its luster in the minds of many millennials.
Making Sense recently spoke with Roose about his book and what life is like on the low end of the ladder for the best and brightest in investment banking on Wall Street today. The following interview has been condensed and edited.
Making Sense: This is a book about young professionals starting careers in finance in the period directly after the financial crisis of 2008. Why did you decide to write this book?
Kevin Roose: I was at a dinner party in New York and had just graduated from college at Brown University. It was a bunch of friends and friends of friends, and we were all going around the room introducing ourselves. We get to this one woman and she says, “I work downtown.” We’re all like, “Okay where downtown?” She says, “I work in finance,” and somebody says, “Well where? Where do you work in finance?” Ultimately, she says, “Well, you know, I work at Goldman Sachs,” and she sounds so sheepish about it. I thought, how fascinating. I mean, in 2005, this would have been something you would be wearing on a T-shirt. You would have been so proud to have been at Goldman Sachs. And yet in 2010, it was like having a scarlet letter.
I think that really cemented for me that something drastic had changed in the crisis, and I wanted to explore what that was.
What shocks a lot of young people when they come to Wall Street is they’ve read “Liar’s Poker,” they’ve all seen “Wall Street,” and they think that’s what it’s going to be like. A lot of them who showed up after the crisis expected champagne and caviar and instead, they had protesters outside their offices. This was not a fun time to be a banker. Obviously you can only feel so bad for them — they’re making a ton of money and they’re very fortunate to be where they are — but I think it really takes a toll on these people. It’s the difference between their expectations and the reality.
Making Sense: This book is written as a series of profiles for eight entry-level professionals who work for the biggest banks in America including Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup. Why did you decide to organize the book as profiles? And why keep the bankers’ identities anonymous?
Kevin Roose: I wanted to get a kaleidoscopic view of the banking industry. If I could get eight young bankers to follow, that would give me enough diversity between the different firms, the different parts of the different firms, where I could really get a complete, overarching view of what this world was like for most young people.
I decided to structure this as profiles because I wanted this to be their stories. It wasn’t my story. I wanted people to be able to see from the perspective of someone living this life and what it’s like.
I decided to keep the identities anonymous because I had to. Wall Street banks are incredibly secretive, and young employees are not allowed to talk to the media for any reason. Unless these people wanted to be fired, which they didn’t, they had to remain anonymous, so that was part of the understanding from the start, that I wouldn’t reveal their names in exchange for their openness.
Making Sense: What profile from the book do you find most powerful?
Kevin Roose: Well I think one of the most powerful parts of the book for me was a guy named Derrick. Derrick was from a small town in the Midwest. He didn’t come from a lot of money. He didn’t go to Harvard. He worked his way up and into the very elite sphere of finance. The entire time he’s moving his way up, he’s having moral quandaries about what he’s doing. He is making a lot of money — he is very successful by any traditional definition — but something about working in private equity and working on Wall Street doesn’t feel right to him.
Talking to him, I got this very complex picture of the inner life of someone who works on Wall Street, makes a lot of money on Wall Street, but doesn’t consider himself part of Wall Street in some sort of basic, structural way. So that was really interesting. I had no idea that bankers had self-doubt. You see movies like “Wall Street” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” and these are some of the most confident people in the world. But when you really ask them about their background and their lives and their work, they start opening up and a lot of them have a lot of doubts.
Making Sense: What is the psychological toll of working 60 to100 hours a week without seeing friends or family, yet making upwards of $120,000 as a 22-year-old fresh out of college?
Kevin Roose: Right, it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for people who are making that kind of money as 22 or 23-year-olds. But I will say that it occurred to me sort of halfway through this book that I wouldn’t switch places with these people even if I had the opportunity to. I mean, they work incredibly hard and their lives essentially belong to their employers for two years. One guy told me it’s not the hours that kill you, it’s the lack of control over the hours. So you can be in the middle of your friend’s wedding or a birthday or an anniversary dinner and if you get called in, you have to go — it’s a miserable way to spend your early 20s.
Even people who have made it through and come out on the other side and have been successful on Wall Street or in some other industry would tell you these are some of the hardest years of their lives.
Making Sense: It’s interesting that you call the culture that came with this explosion of growth in stocks, tech companies and hedge funds from the 1980s to 2007 “Old Wall Street.” But your book still has scenes of hard drug and alcohol use. How much of that is the profession and how much is personal choice?