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GUEST COMMENT: Too many bankers have forgotten the value of niceness

I've noticed a curious effect in friends who are investment banking lifers. They've forgotten how to be nice.

In the early part of the noughties, I and several hundred others began a training programme at a preeminent global investment bank. Life was good. We had a generous daily allowance, comfortable apartments in New York's Upper East Side and three months to learning stuff which we mostly already knew, leaving ample opportunity for playtime after work. It didn't get much better than that.

And then we got back to London. There, the drudgery of the analyst programme set in and the heavy hierarchy of bulge bracket banks settled squarely upon our shoulders. We became less happy people. And unhappy, tired, people at the mercy of a cruel Blackberry calling them back to the office at any moment are not pleasant people to be around.

This is why, out of the several hundred graduate hires, I can count on two hands the ones still working at that bank. For the overwhelming majority, moving to smaller banks or other areas of finance was just too tempting.

The people who've stayed behind are hardening into the mould of those who've made their own lives hell. In that bank, nastiness to juniors is pandemic. In my days a VP set a Herculean modelling task for another junior in my team, to be completed by 9am the following day. It was already 7pm when he got the email. Keen to impress, he stayed up all night. The next morning, he asked the VP the reason for this urgent task. The VP fixed him with a humourless gaze and told him "no reason -just thought you might need a bit of modelling practice. Think of it as homework."

For an outsider and old friend, the symptoms of creeping nastiness as people scale the banking hierarchy are different, but no less blatant. They're the curt calls, the failure to respond to emails, the cancelled appointments without an apology, the total lack of interest in anyone else.

To the banking lifers, I say this: don't be deluded. There can be a cocooning effect if you work for larger firms; a feeling of invincibility. But that can disappear quickly with a P45. In the real world, niceness matters. You will need your friendships one day.

The author works for a buyside firm and thanks his lucky stars every day that he has left investment banking behind forever.

AUTHORAnonymous Insider Comment
  • Em
    2 September 2011

    @Anne - an interesting perspective - an all stick and no carrot approach to people management?
    You infer that that "not being nice to juniors " implies some sort of strength.
    I'll stick with the attitude that "respect" is not a given, but is earned through strong (firm but also fair) management and good leadership practice, and where my employees feel they are also valued members of a business.

  • An
    2 September 2011

    Bull! Try being nice to juniors and you'll be treated as weak! No one will respect you and there goes your career. A lot of these arrogant 21 year olds need this kind of treatment - sorry!

  • Pe
    1 September 2011

    Nice article.
    Often forgotten, but courtesy costs nothing whilst rudeness and arrogance can cost you everything.

  • ar
    1 September 2011

    Too many buyside people have forgotten the value of being humble

  • St
    Still learning
    1 September 2011

    The author works for a buyside firm and thanks his lucky stars every day that he has left investment banking behind forever.

    Can somebody please advise?

    Excuse my vagueness here, what are the benefits of working fir a buyside compare to investment banks? Where Does the sell side fit here? How does the work life balance differ?

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