As you will probably know, everyone works hard in an investment bank. In any discussion of investment banking working hours, it's not a question of who works hard and who sits back and fetches the odd coffee. It's a question of who works 75 hours a week and who works 80+.
In my experience of working for a big US bank in London, there are some nationalities who definitively work harder than the rest. I'm not saying that everyone with these countries on their passports will be a hard worker - I'm just saying that often as not, this will be the case.
The Indians and the Chinese are the hardest workers in investment banks
The pattern here is similar to what you see in the US educational system, where students from India and China clean up a large proportion of academic accolades. If ass-to-chair time is a measure of diligence, those two nationalities top the list, no questions asked. I'm reminded of my days at the London School of Economics where during exam time it was commonplace for people to spend most of the day in the library studying. But only a few rabid souls spent entire nights there, only to return home to shower, grab some dumplings or samosas, and head back out to the library again. And they were invariably from China or India.
For young Indians at least, I suspect that a cultural predisposition to hierarchy plays a role. While most junior bankers are sick of getting abused day in and day out, being asked to work through the night and being sent on endless belittling coffee runs, the young Indian analyst will more readily accept it. In that respect juniors from India are a godsend for the banks, who want nothing less than utter obedience.
The Americans rank closely behind
OK, American analysts may not put in as many hours as the Chinese and Indians, but they make up for it with sheer zeal. If there's someone who's wildly keen, like a cymbal-banging monkey with new batteries, it will usually be an American. Who cares that they're not working the longest hours when they get so much done?
The Italians are among the laziest in IBD
At the other end of the spectrum we have, in my experience, the Italians.
The Italians' attitude to coffee is a case in point. When I was working in Canary Wharf, there was this nice cafe that served some of the best coffee in the area. Early in the morning, all the bankers would pass through, pick up a takeaway coffee and run to their desk. However, one group never ordered takeaway. They were diametrically opposed to it. That's right. - The Italians. You found them casually leaning up against the bar and exchanging pleasantries aloud while enjoying their morning espresso.
Carlo, a FIG analyst covering Italy, once explained to me: "Coffee in a paper cup taste like petrol. The English don't mind it. We [Italians] drink it in porcelain. We enjoy it in the cafe. My desk is not a cafe."
But the British are the laziest of the lot
And yet, the Italians' attitude to work is positively enthusiastic compared to the British. "Lazy" does not describe it.
The Brits I worked with mainly covered local UK clients. And, let's face it, deals in this jurisdiction are cleaner than many other parts of the world (emerging markets). So while I used to look after the Middle East and regularly stayed in the office till past midnight - because working with a construction company in Dubai that wanted to built an outdoor ski slope in the middle of the desert was not only stupid but risky and required more work in general - my buddies covering the UK would leave at 6pm and go down the pub. Not that I'm resentful.
The ibanker is a former bulge bracket investment banker who founded a family office-backed investment firm. He has written a guide, Breaking Into Investment Banking: An Unorthodox Approach, for students who want to break into investment banks, private equity firms, hedge funds and other financial institutions. If you use the offer code ‘efinancialcareers’ to buy this guide, you can get a 35% discount.
Photo credit: @ Arabica – by Mike Chaput is licensed under CC BY 2.0.