Office Politics in Investment Banking
A few years back when Facebook was popular and their share price was soaring, they printed money off of ads for clickbait articles from Elite Daily or some other toxic millennial digital rag. One of the common tropes was 120% of people who work in finance are psychopaths or I made $5 million before I was 35 but at the cost of my soul.
Finance bashing is nothing new – from Occupy Wall Street to a cultural war against the 1% to a few movies after the financial crisis (some of them not that bad but with a subtle jab towards our noble profession near the end such as in Margin Call and some with incessant shaming of fat cats such as The Big Short) to Bobby Axelrod, finance folk are always going to be seen as soulless monkeys who would stab their mother in the back to get a bigger bonus.
As with most other things that you see in mainstream media, this is not true. The most toxic places to work are not banks. However, there are still a lot of office politics. For a bushy tailed new graduate, there are a lot of things to learn so that you do not get quashed. Here are a few rudimentary tips.
Administrative Assistant, Investment Banking
Be Nice to the Admin Staff
Actually, be nice to everyone. The biggest fools are the ones who suck up to the VPs and above right away in order to curry favour. Even dumber are the ones who ignore everyone else, and even treat the non-front office staff with contempt. This never works out.
In my experience, the VPs and above are much smarter than you and do not have time to make small talk. However, the VPs and above will generally make time to talk to their secretaries and the receptionists about non-finance related matters. This actually puts them above the lowly analyst in their pecking order. Also, admin assistants do not necessarily have a mentally challenging job that you need a degree for, but they generally are in their seats because they do their job well or are at the very least remarkably attractive. This gives them ample value over you until you can be trusted to run a book by yourself.
Annoying the admin assistants or the receptionist is a huge no-no. At best, this means you are not privy to important information. At worst, they can make your life extremely difficult. Many of them have their bosses’ ears and can impart a terrible impression that feeds through to bonus roundtables.
However, getting on their good side is a fantastic boon. If you ask about their day enough and listen intently to the tales of their peasant lives, you will find that no detail escapes them while your life is a blur trying to get the copy center to re-bind 15 books.
When they handle expenses, they will notice this nuance.
If you live somewhere that requires a bridge, why does your cab not include a bridge toll?
What happens when two people eat the same thing and it is a sit down meal?
What happens if one person expenses an Uber and it ends up at someone else’s house?
They have varying levels of discretion and loose lips sink ships.
For MDs, they will drop just about any sort of receipt off with their assistants and the line between personal and business become blurred. As one can imagine, if nothing else this can be marvellous storytelling.
The older admin assistants are the real gems because they can probably relive some stories pre-financial crisis. And yes, it was a different time back then and certain things would not fly today.
They are also very good at helping you bend the rules if they like you through wilful blindness in letting a charge go through or being oblivious to your 3 hour lunch date while your boss is on a business trip.
Be Nice to the Bottom Bucket Analysts
By extension, also be nice to the useless analysts. These are the ones that float along waiting for their 2-year analyst program to expire before moving into corporate development or fashion design (seen it happen). They are generally not staffed on any important books and go home at 6, enjoying nice restaurants in New York and having an impeccable Instagram feed. They may even make more from their Instagram influencer side gig than their actual all-in investment banking compensation.
There sometimes is a dynamic in the analyst pit where the happy-go-lucky analyst is ostracized because they do not fit in the mould (i.e. the do work mould), while taking up a seat. This means that there is the perception that the same amount of work is being spread between fewer bodies. Usually, this analyst becomes the subject of derision amongst the other analysts, but it is also a good thing as it means more deal experience and better job security/security in being promoted to associate.
Nonetheless, you yourself may be shunned or receive disapproving looks when you fraternize with the enemy – so this needs to be managed carefully. If you are the only person who is at the very least cordial, the non-working analyst is generally the best connect for the social scene and non-finance friends. In addition, they will usually have the benefits manual memorized so you know exactly how much dental and massage you get per annum. They may even put a spreadsheet together for you because they have nothing to do.
Keep Your Head Down and Grind
Are you a funny person? Great, I am a funny person too. No one needs to know that you are a funny person in your first month. Put your head down and work, people will get to know you in time.
Being a loudmouth, like many other scenarios has limited upside and incredible downside. If you spend the first week beaking the pit and the senior staff – assuming you do not annoy people – this will be disregarded if your work quality is good. If it is bad, people remember the annoying person and the ramifications are amplified. You will need a lot to recover from this situation. Once you are accepted as a member of the team that contributes and has work that can be trusted do people actually care about what you have to say, both work related and otherwise.
Like in any other work environment, unless you are trying to influence coworkers into doing something, you are much better served by listening.
Animosity is apparent quite quickly and you can learn a lot about how to avoid flash points. Almost always, someone will bring up a VP or an MD in some innocuous fashion before you inquire what it is like to work with that person.
They will sneer and say “you’ll see.” After a week, the vitriol pours out and in every office there are always alliances and people who flat out detest each other. Being aware of these office relationships is important in terms of who you should look to work for and who you should avoid.
Try to Fit into the Hardo Herd
You know when we say that asking about what the culture of the group is like is an unadvised question to ask in an interview? And we have probably mentioned that culture is not important in selecting a group – this is not entirely true. Culture can make a bad place tolerable and a good place hell (but we stand by what we say because the most important thing is to get a brand name investment bank on your resume).
Ideally, everyone in the pit has similar interests and is nice. When this is the case, people joke around and shoot Nerf guns at each other before going for beers. You stay friends long after you exit for private equity.
In other places, people are just awful people and you cannot think of people you would less rather spend time with than these rogues.
Does not matter – when asked for a group pint, go along with the group – otherwise you will have a target on your back. Do not skip team drinks, but feel free to slink out after one or two with an excuse.