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The lives of Wall Street’s young guns

Amy Scott Jan 9, 2009

The lives of Wall Street’s young guns

Amy Scott Jan 9, 2009


Bob Moon: It’s been said that Wall Street is a young person’s game.
Each year hundreds of college and biz-school graduates show up in New York dreaming of wealth and power. And what a game it’s been.

But thousands of jobs have now vaporized in this financial crisis. A lot of the computer screens on Wall Street might as well be flashing the words “game over.” Bonuses have shrunk. Financial firms have cut back their campus recruiting. And the young Masters of the Universe in training may be an endangered species. Here’s our New York bureau chief Amy Scott.

Amy Scott: A few years back a video popped up on YouTube. It seemed to epitomize the young banker culture in New York. A 23-year-old financial analyst named AJ sipped a $200 cocktail surrounded by women he called “arm candy.”

Video: Thursday night’s the night that we ball. I mean, we go top down. Models and bottles.

Models and bottles. Back then young bankers were pulling in record bonuses and dropping the cash on nightclubs and condos.

Amit Chatwani: It’s very much been like a work hard, play hard, ball hard kind of thing.

That’s Amit Chatwani. You might have noticed how both of these guys used the term “ball.”

Chatwani: It’s just basically behaving like a rap artist.

Chatwani is not a banker. But when he moved to New York after college he lived with a bunch of finance guys. He set out to satirize their antics on a website he calls Leveraged Sell-Out.

Chatwani: You know, I was just around this culture of egregiousness. You know, you’re making maybe like 90-100 grand a year, but you’re kind of acting and living like you make like five million. And that’s the culture that I thought needed to be captured.

He eventually did that in a book called “Damn it Feels Good to be a Banker.” It described an era when 23-year-olds straight out of college made annual bonuses in the high five figures. Guys like Sean Moore. He did a two year analyst program at one of the former big five investment banks.

Sean Moore: You know you go in, and you meet a couple people in your group who are doling out the bonuses and you get a piece of paper and there’s a number on it. And I remember just sitting there and staring at this piece of paper and just saying like “Holy [BLEEP],” like, “this is going to my bank account.”

The next year, that number was even bigger. This was at the peak of Wall Street payouts. Moore says he did have a few nights out like AJ in the video. One time he and some friends dropped a few thousand dollars buying bottles of liquor at a club.

Moore: But, you know, people who are in the work know exactly what you’re going to be doing Monday morning. You’re going to go sit in your chair and look at Excel for eight hours and then you’re going to print some pitch books and send them to a banker, for the most part. So I think anyone in banking would say they’re not necessarily living the dream.

And that’s the downside of banker life. Moore says he probably worked 80 to 90 hours a week for a year and half straight. Analysts do all the grunt work behind mergers and acquisitions. Kemper Olmeyer worked at another big investment bank, though on the hedge fund side.

Kemper Olmeyer: The reason so many bankers, especially the young ones, are such caricatures, is because they have so little free time outside the banking world. So they make the most of it. You go get a Hamptons house during the summer because you want the four weekends you’re going to get for the entire summer to be great. Time becomes the scarcest commodity for a banker.

Sean Moore wanted more of it. At the end of July 2007, he left his Wall Street job and has lived off his savings ever since. He did volunteer work in Ghana, took DJ lessons. Now he’s writing a book about his experiences. And the world he was a part of isn’t at all how he left it. Just weeks after Amit Chatwani’s book came out, Lehman Brothers collapsed. Layoffs on Wall Street are forcing a lot of young people to reconsider their ambitions. Generous severance packages and savings help them do it. Matt Fiordaliso lost his job last summer at a hedge fund. He signed up for cooking school.

Matt Fiordaliso: It was going to be finally my opportunity to do something that was enjoyable to me. Eventually I would have loved to own my own restaurant or something like that.

But then an offer came through. A job helping investors value mortgage-backed securities. In the end Fiordaliso says staying in finance was too good to pass up.

In New York, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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