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06/09/2014

Book Review: Young Money


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Young-Money

Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street's Post-Crash Recruits tells the stories of eight young Wall Streeters who were hired after the Crash. Author Kevin Roose, New York magazine business writer, shadowed each subject for more than three years. They started their jobs in 2009- 2010, and most, but not all, are from elite ivy universities. Their identities are not revealed, and understandably so, since they could be fired for unauthorized media contacts. While Roose says some of the personal details and events have been changed; the stories are true, and read as candid and revealing.

Their actual work experience often comes across as disillusioning, with periodic depression. This is partly due to the long work days, sometimes involving consecutive 24-hour workdays. The work is Excel spreadsheet focused. The new recruits are constantly "on call." One noted, "My life doesn't belong to me anymore." It is a picture of the top Wall Street firms hiring the best graduates they can find, paying them very well, and then making their lives miserable. A good question is, "Why?" One answer seems to be is to create "unflagging loyalty," a culture where the employees jump immediately to their bosses' demands. Some of this is due to customer service of the firms; some is just tradition. Despite all the changes in Wall Street since the Crash, the "process of becoming a banker seems to have changed very little."

In addition to the unhappy work experiences, many of the recent hires were "tempted to leave an industry whose best days are numbered." They concluded the current period is "no longer part of a familiar boom-and-bust cycle—that they were witnessing the fundamental transformation of the active financial services industry." Additionally, Silicon Valley companies "made a massive land grab for junior analysts," concluding they "have the work ethic. and they're smart as hell." Companies like Facebook and Google became alternative career paths for the generation that went so strongly for investment banking.

One of the attractions of the two-year analyst programs was they open other doors. This is very important in an industry were new entrants can get stereotyped very early, often into dead-end jobs. Once stuck and stereotyped, it is enormously difficult to get out onto the fast track. Little sleep, and unhappy days and nights can be a worthwhile trade-off for an exciting, very profitable future. One of the best doors that can open is to private equity. Private equity "is the most prestigious place a young bank analyst can end up...the equivalent of making the Pro Bowl as a rookie." And the basic reason for being on Wall Street hasn't changed. As one boss said to a young analyst, "if money is not your main concern here, you should leave."

Toward the end of the stories, young people "were just trying to keep from drowning." Roose asks, "What are the benefits of a Wall Street career?" The answer? "Opportunity for social and economic advancement. The introduction into a network of powerful and accomplished people, the ability to escape a normal existence for one that is truly remarkable." As it has for decades, Wall Street will have ups and downs in its appeal to new graduates. In my Wharton MBA class of 1960, only a minority went to Wall Street. Later, Wharton became a feeder school for the investment banks, with Corporate America having little attraction for its students. Whatever the current image, "among the young and ambitious, Wall Street is still a draw."

–Bill Hayes

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