Intern death leads to call for review of culture in banks

Reports claim Moritz Erhardt’s death was due to an epileptic fit that followed three nights of continuous work

Moritz Erhardt, an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London, was found dead last week in his shower at his accommodation in east London, it emerged yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

Moritz Erhardt, an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London, was found dead last week in his shower at his accommodation in east London, it emerged yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

 

Banks in the City of London are facing calls to overhaul the working culture for younger staff following the death of a 21-year-old intern at Bank of America.

Moritz Erhardt, an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London, was found dead last week in his shower at his accommodation in east London, it emerged yesterday.

A Bank of America spokesman confirmed that the German business student had died, but said the bank had not yet been made aware of the cause of his death. He declined to comment on online reports claiming Mr Erhardt’s death was due to an epileptic fit that followed three nights of working 72 hours in a row.

Bankers said working hours for interns are tough and often stretch beyond midnight, but added that it would be unusual for an intern to do two or even three all-nighters.


Work experience
“Analysts and associates have to work like dogs. But interns would not be trusted to do such long working hours as they are seen as too inexperienced,” said one banker.

Intern Aware, a charity campaigning for the better treatment of interns, hit out at what it called a 100-hour working culture for students on summer work experience at banks.

Ben Lyons, the charity’s co-founder, said there needed to be a “change in culture and HR procedures 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”.

Mr Erhardt was in the sixth of his seven weeks when he died. He was paid about £2,700 (€3,150) a month and had done three other internships at KPMG, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank.

Bank of America said: “He was popular among his peers and was a highly diligent intern . . . Our first thoughts are with his family and we send our condolences to them.”

Chris Roebuck, a visiting professor of leadership at Cass Business School who has held senior HR roles in banks, said that overworking juniors was an increasing problem in the City of London.

“For reasons related to an individual’s ambition or the 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.”

Mr Roebuck said conditions had worsened following the financial crisis as many institutions had been laying off people. But several bankers said that internships are used as recruitment tools.

Epilepsy Action, the charity, said about 600,000 people in the UK have the condition, of which about 1,000 die each year from related causes. It said several factors can trigger seizures, including a lack of sleep, stress and a lack of food. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013