How do investment bankers stay up?

by Mark Miller May 12, 2016 4 min read

How do investment bankers stay up?

New York City’s financial district, taken from the Staten Island Ferry: People in these buildings often work long hours into the night. (Wikimedia photo/Benoit Prieur)

How do investment bankers stay awake on their 18-hour shifts?

Investment bankers work such long hours that many resort to chemical stimuli. There have been rumors of methamphetamine and cocaine use among investment bankers to burn the midnight oil. Other investment bankers take Ritalin or Adderall, which are given to children with ADHD but which are stimulants for adults. But the mainstay is probably coffee, energy drinks and other concoctions containing caffeine.

A former investment banker who went on to start his own business told EFinancialCareers.com: “I didn’t see much amphetamine use, maybe people were taking Ritalin or Adderall privately but mostly it was coffee, 5-hour energy and soda. I think the days of the 1980s cocaine cowboy bankers are gone.”

To someone who works a normal schedule, the hours of an investment banker look atrocious. The anonymous former investment banker told EFinancialCareers: “Brutal hours, 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. almost every night. Many midnight/1-2 a.m. nights. Lots of weekend work. 80 hours a week on average.”

How do investment bankers stay awake?

The Wall Street Oasis: Investment Banking Forum site titled one forum thread “Staying awake,” about pulling all-nighters. Many investment aspiring bankers in that thread said caffeine is the order of the day (or night). Others recommended drinking lots of water, exercising during work hours, listening to hard rock music. Some recommended drugs, like Provigil, Adderall and Dexedrine.

But aspiringmonkeyisanidiot wrote: “Taking Rx is the most counterintuitive solution ever … If that is where you are at you, need to seriously re-evaluate your career goals.”

To which Mis Ind replied:

Yes, yes, it’s awful. Simply awful. Immoral, counterintuitive, and just plain WRONG, right? I couldn’t agree with you more.

And in the real world when the competition does it, when it’s the norm in your group to work 36-hour shifts without a moment of sleep, when all the analysts in your compensation pool are outdoing each other in exhaustion and you come to understand that yes, this really is what the seniors want to see before they will take you seriously… what are you going to do? Pack up your expensive apartment and go back to your hometown with your tail ‘twixt your legs? Rail and shout about the unfairness of it all? Refuse to show the seniors what they want to see?

… Right.

The bitter truth is that many of the top kids in my b-school used Adderall and if they managed it properly, it resulted in a competitive edge. The Navy hands it out to their pilots before long missions. People use it to gain a competitive edge in law school and med school. I know a chess champion who uses it to get through back-to-back tournament matches. Truck drivers use it to stay on the road all night and all day. Long-distance runners use it (illegitimately) to gain an edge that is against the rules of their sport. The guys who work on oil rigs for 20-hour shifts use it to stay awake. And as long as this happens, I’m sure bankers will use it too.

We’re agin it

At ViterLife we do not recommend people take any drugs to stay awake or enhance performance. Caffeine, which is legal and which studies say is at least harmless in moderate doses and possibly beneficial, is a much better choice than harsh chemicals that mess with the brain, nervous system and other systems.

A search for “caffeine” at Wall Street Oasis finds 86 threads devoted to the world’s most popular mood-altering substance. So while some investment bankers may take drugs, it seems many of them rely on the old standby.

A blog posting on Stuff Investment Bankers Like from 2008 says they have a symbiotic relationship with Starbucks. The blog states:

Starbucks is not only the place where bankers get their caffeine kicks, but it also serves as a common meeting place to get out of the office. It’s the perfect excuse because no boss will deny his analysts the chance to get some caffeine so they can stay awake all night. Starbucks has become a staple in our society, serving as the place to casually meet someone and chat. In the eyes of a lonely investment banking guy, it may serve as a place to have a pseudo-date.

The site TotalFratMove, in a posting from 2014, calls Starbucks the “lifeblood of any investment banking analyst.”

Sleep, exercise, avoid alcohol

BankersPitch.com published an article titled How to Survive Investment Banking Hoursthat goes beyond consumption of various drinks and gives other tips on how to stay cope with the lack of sleep.

The anonymous author says getting used to the long hours is half the battle:

There is a period of acclimatisation where your body is just getting used to doing the long hours but if you manage to push through this pain barrier (it actually only takes a week or two) then you find it getting easier and easier to work much longer hours than you originally imagined.  After a few weeks, working until 10 or even 11 at night isn’t that big a deal any more.

He also advises never using drugs; getting sleep whenever you can instead of, for example, going out for drinks; getting plenty of exercise instead of, again, drinking alcohol; and of course consuming coffee, soft drinks or food to get an energy boost through a slump and stay awake for the long haul.

Investment banker salaries

We wondered how much these men and women (mostly men) who do the job of investment banking make per year. The blog Investment Banking Interview Prep has the following table giving compensation at various levels of experience and education:

That pay looks pretty good from this 8-hours-of-sleep-per-night, frequent-napping, part-time freelancer’s point of view. But I won’t lose any sleep over my paltry income, which is a fraction of a first-year analyst’s pay.

 

Mark Miller
Mark Miller


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