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How do investment bankers stay up?

by Mark Miller 5 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? A 70-hour work week is considered the minimum on Wall Street.

Well, investment bankers work such long hours that many resort to chemical stimuli to stay awake. 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.

If they don't want to fill up on a lot of caffeinated beverages, investment bankers and others who take a caffeine might try Viter Energy Mints [1]. Each mint has 40 mg of caffeine, so four mints equal about one mug of coffee.

And they contain invigorating B vitamins and are sugar-free. Plus, sometimes you don't get a chance to brush your teeth in the middle of the business day, so the mint can help freshen your breath.

The mints are available at a reasonable price on our Amazon shop at https://amzn.to/3jb7Gwg.

Cocaine Cowboy Bankers are a Dying Breed

A former investment banker who went on to start his own business told EFinancialCareers.com [2]:

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.”

An investment banker explains how much you will really work in his field.

How do investment bankers stay awake?

The Wall Street Oasis: Investment Banking Forum site has a thread titled “Staying awake” [3], about pulling all-nighters. Many aspiring investment 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 against meth and other drugs

The reality appears to be that people who work long shifts do use drugs to stay awake. 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, damage the heart, and bollix the nervous system and other body systems.

A search for “caffeine” at Wall Street Oasis finds dozens of threads on that site 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 [4] on Stuff Investment Bankers Like 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.

Another website called Starbucks the “lifeblood of any investment banking analyst.”

Sleep, exercise, avoid alcohol

But caffeine is just a part of the equation for staying awake for such ungodly hours.

Other advice you might encounter about working long shifts:

  • Never use drugs.
  • Get sleep whenever you can instead of, for example, going out for drinks.
  • Get plenty of exercise instead of, again, drinking alcohol.
  • And eat nutritious meals to get an energy boost through a slump and stay awake for the long haul.

In another long forum discussion at Wall Street Oasis [5], investment bankers talk about their long hours and how to deal with little sleep. One thing many of them say it to be sure to get your exercise.

Scorpio20 wrote:

"I worked 70 hours last week," says an analyst at RBS, which as a state owned institution might be expected to go easier on people. "There are no restrictions on our hours at all. It's normal to work from 9am to midnight.

This quote is taken from an EFC report about the long hours associated with investment banking. 70 hours per week is considered the minimum and can go up to as many as 100 hours per week. How do investment bankers handle these long hours? How do you keep yourself from being burned out?

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.

Tips on staying awake

We have a couple of blogs on tips for staying awake, one for truckers [6], and one for medical residents on the night shift [7]. Both blogs have tips that work for anyone in any field.

Both postings contain valuable information on how to stay awake during hours when your body years for sleep, the nighttime. One key bit of advice: In order to stay awake, it is necessary to get enough sleep.


[1] https://www.goviter.com/collections/viter-energy-mints
[2] https://www.efinancialcareers.com/news/2014/07/brutally-honest-look-life-young-investment-banker
[3] https://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/staying-awake
[4] http://stuffinvestmentbankerslike.blogspot.com/2008/06/35-starbucks.html
[5] https://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/how-do-investment-bankers-handle-long-hours
[6] https://www.goviter.com/blogs/viter-energy-blog/truckers-tricks-to-stay-awake-on-the-road
[7] https://www.goviter.com/blogs/viter-energy-blog/how-do-medical-residents-stay-away-6-common-hacks-to-survive-the-shift

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