Deep down in the frustration of the investment banking mind

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It seems that financial services professionals are frustrated. They don’t like their jobs. They want to do something completely different. This is according to Financial News, which asked 366 people in financial services whether they were enjoying themselves, only to discover that 58% were thinking of doing something else and that 34% of people in investment banks felt negative or ‘very negative’ about their industry’s future.

So what’s up with the investment bankers? Regulation, for one. The qualitative results to Vault’s recent survey of banking professionals revealed discontentment with the heavy hand of bureaucracy. People regularly tell us that investment banking is, “no fun any more.”

Irritating as it is, however, we suspect that regulation is just a thorn in the banking midriff. The real lance through the abdomen is the fact that compensation looks increasingly inadequate when it comes to covering the opportunity cost of working in the investment banking industry.

Investment bankers in front office roles work such long hours that they need to be compensated not just for the work they’re doing but for the loss of a life outside work. And investment banking is still full of people – especially more than five years’ in – who expected to use the industry as a stepping stone to something else and are feeling stuck.

Bankers as sexy pirates

John Carney, senior editor at CNBC, came up with an interesting allegory back in February 2012. Carney highlighted a blog written by a journalist who’d worked in a pirate-themed bar. The journalist went into her pirate-bar-job assuming that all the other sexy pirates she worked with there would be philistines and that she (a college educated philosophical type) would be superior to them. In fact, she found that all the other sexy pirates were similar to her – they were all working as pirates whilst reading poetry and dreaming of doing something else instead.

“This is actually the experience of quite a lot of people I know who have gone to work at investment banks,” wrote Carney. “But, you know, without the miniskirts.”

This is the problem. Banks are full of frustrated people dressed as pirates who went into the industry with dreams of making money and getting out again. Except now they’re sort of stuck there. And they’re still putting in crazy hours. The sexy pirate persona has taken over and there’s no obvious way of escaping its hairiness and halitosis. It’s not surprising people are peeved.