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Junior bankers say their jobs have become intolerable again: "Easily 100 hours+ a week"

There was a brief period, sometime in late 2021, when the lifestyle of junior investment bankers, long renowned for its arduousness, took a turn for the better. After Goldman Sachs juniors complained of 100 hour weeks and mental health crises, most banks hired additional staff, implemented limits on working hours and increased salaries. 

Three years later, the higher salaries remain. But that's about all.

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As banks squeeze costs and senior staff panic about a lack of deals, junior bankers tell us they're working harder than ever. 

"Since mid-2023 it's become intolerable," says one senior analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There have been waves of retrenchments, and I'm having to do extra work for the people who've left. Plus, there's a lot of anxiety projection from the senior staff who are worried about losing their jobs.  They're being aggressive at creating more pitch book and asking us to make the pitch books longer."

Although dealmaking fees are expected to rise 21% year-on-year in the first quarter, the increase is almost entirely due to debt capital markets revenues. M&A revenues remain flat at last year's lows, which means that senior bankers who are expensive and who retained their jobs in 2023 in the belief that things might recover in 2024, are starting to get antsy. Last week's revelation that Edward Ruff, a Citi managing director (MD), has been put on leave after allegedly shouting at juniors is symptomatic of the current mood.

"It's very different now to 2021," says one senior associate in New York. "In 2021, there was a tonne of work on execution," he adds. "The deal flow was double what it was today, and a lot of people were burned out. Now, there's a lot less deal flow and the intensity is all for pitches that are going nowhere. It's frustrating. We're being paid less and are being asked to put in a lot of work - when MDs know that deals are unlikely to take place, they want pitch books with a lot more detail and effort to persuade clients that a deal is a good idea."

In these circumstances, juniors bankers say that hours are creeping back up and that policies to place restrictions on hours are being waived. One of the complaints about Ruff was that he insisted upon juniors working on Saturdays. Citi insiders say this isn't uncommon nowadays. "Officially, you're supposed to go to your staffer and to obtain an acknowledgement from an MD before you can work on a Saturday, but in reality this doesn't happen," says one.  "It's become normal to get work on Friday that you're told is really urgent, or even better than you're given a lot of things on Friday and are told that they're needed for Sunday and that you can have Saturday off as long as they're done." Citi declined to comment.

One junior says unsustainable weeks have once again become the norm. "I'm easily working 100 hours a week," says one. "And that includes Saturday work, even though Saturdays are supposed to be a day off."

Gen Z bankers have a reputation for being more fragile than their predecessors, but one told us it's not just about the hours. "It seems like the main skill required of an investment banking analyst is to work hard and not complain," he says. "It's not that I don't want to work hard, but I also don't believe that my only value comes from the amount of labor I can do without any consideration of the circumstances of my life." He adds that most of the mid-ranking bankers he knows also seem discontented: "They tell me they don't like the job, but they have to do it to pay the mortgage and for their kids."

The pay isn't the issue, but more pay might help. Although junior banking salaries are now higher than before (at $100k+ versus $85k in 2019), bonuses are a lot lower. This is contributing to the angst, as is the lack of jobs elsewhere, which makes it difficult to escape and easier for vice presidents (VPs) and MDs to treat juniors badly. "Morale is down, bonuses are poor, and banks are working us harder because there's nowhere else to go," says one.

By comparison, the pandemic period is viewed with nostalgia. "The pandemic was actually really good," says one senior analyst. "They hired a tonne of people, so there was less to do and if you wanted to leave a tier one bank on Monday, you could walk into a job at another one on Friday." Not anymore. 

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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