Long hours and all-nighters not unique to Bank of America interns
Investment bank culture and lower headcount mean greater pressure on staff
The death of Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern Moritz Erhardt (21) has sparked a debate about the working hours of young people who push themselves to the limit to secure jobs at the world’s top banks.
The death of an intern employed at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London has sparked a debate about the working hours of young people who push themselves to the limit to secure jobs at the world’s top banks.
Moritz Erhardt (21), who was working at the US bank as part of a summer internship programme, was found dead in his student residence on August 15th. The German student is said to have worked until 6am three days in a row at Bank of America’s investment banking division.
His death has prompted calls for an overhaul of the long-hours culture among young staff working for banks and other companies, where weekends at work and meals in the office are par for the course.
Dubliner Dave McGeady, who spent 2½ years working with Bank of America after graduation, said he believed the experience gained was worth the long hours.
The TCD graduate worked as an investment analyst with the bank’s healthcare and consumer team in London from 2006 to 2008. He said the culture of working long hours was common practice at a lot of investment banks.
‘Looks good on CV’
“In fairness to them, they gave us great training. It looks really good on your CV. It has opened a lot of doors for me.”
He said it wasn’t a case of the bank forcing people to work late, but that the nature of the work meant employees often didn’t get instructions or edits to do until 6pm or 8pm and would have to have them completed by the next morning.
“They gave good experience and training and it was kind of part of the deal to work long hours. They didn’t tell anyone they couldn’t walk out the door at 5pm, but no one did. People wanted to make a good impression so they would be kept on at the end of the internship.
“I worked 14- and 15-hour days and sometimes I pulled all-nighters. Sometimes when we were working on live transactions, where the volume of work would be highest, we would have to cancel holidays and clear everything. During those times, I worked from dawn to dusk and right through weekends.”
Anastasia Chernetskaya, who worked as an intern at RBS Capital Markets in London this year, was also braced for extremely long hours. “It was a complete surprise for me to find the office pretty much empty by 10pm,” she said.
“I had one all-nighter . . . and when my line manager found out, she had a word with the head of the team and they let me go at 7pm that day.”
Intern Aware, a charity campaigning for the better treatment of interns, hit out at what it said was a 100-hour working culture for students who spend their summers working at investment banks.
Ben Lyons, the charity’s co-founder, said there needed to be a “change in culture where employees are assessed not on the total number of hours they are able to grind out, but on the quality of work they are able to produce”.
Chris Roebuck, a visiting professor of leadership at Cass Business School in London, who has held senior HR roles at international banks, said overworking junior employees was a growing problem.
“For reasons related to an individual’s ambition or the current employment market, people are pretty desperate to get jobs,” he said. “Some employers are exploiting that fact, pushing people past the point where it makes sense for their health or from a business perspective.”
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which produces guidelines for HR professionals, said there was urgent need for a change of culture in the financial services industry regarding working hours and conditions.
“Young people are very desperate,” said Katerina Rudiger, head of skills and policy campaigns at the CIPD.
“This kind of economic situation can mean they’re open to exploitation, or might go the extra mile, not even because it’s being asked of them but because they think that’s what they need to do.”
Mr Erhardt was in the sixth week of a seven-week internship, which paid about £2,700 (€3,140) a month, when he died.
“He was popular amongst his peers and was a highly diligent intern with a promising future,” Bank of America said in its statement. “Our first thoughts are with his family and we send our condolences to them at this difficult time.” – (Additional reporting: The Financial Times Limited 2013)