Confessions of a Real-Life Bank of America Junior Banker

Ninety-hour workweeks may be common for some junior bankers, but not all.

Jan. 15, 2014— -- So how bad is it really for interns and junior bankers at investment banks that are putting limits on work hours? While working until 2 a.m. and on weekends isn't unusual, many junior bankers accept offers knowing they will gain valuable experience, prestige and "exit opportunities," says one Bank of America analyst.

This week, Bank of America joined Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase in limiting the hours worked for junior bankers following the death of a 21-year old intern in London in August.

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Arthur, a fake name for an employee who is not authorized to speak on behalf of the company, is a first-year "Global Banking and Markets" analyst in New York City for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Within the Global Banking and Markets group, which includes corporate banking, sales and trading, and capital markets, investment banking analysts likely have the worst hours, he said.

An intern with Bank of America before he graduated in the spring, he said investment banking analysts are "thrown into the fire" compared to other roles.

"One investment banking analyst didn't get out of work until 2 a.m. during the first week on the job. It's definitely a harsh awakening," Arthur said, adding that stories like that are "not necessarily abnormal."

A former analyst for Citibank shared similar stories of his two years working in banking that included several nights returning home at 10:45 p.m.

"I think the commonality between analysts is that you're the bottom rung of the whole corporation," said the Citibank analyst, named Benjamin, who requested to remain anonymous.

The hardest part was managing the expectations of various managers, some who were "really bad bosses," Benjamin said.

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For some junior bankers, working on a trading-floor environment is high-stress without any privacy.

"I would get chewed up by a manager in front of the whole floor. It's not the best feeling to go home with after a while, but I know they have extreme pressure from managing directors above them," Benjamin said.

His bosses never swore at him but they had no problem laying on pressure publicly, he said. The worst censure by his boss was when she threatened the whole floor with his deadline.

"She told [us], 'If you don't finish this report, nobody gets to go home.' It put a lot of pressure on my partner and me," Benjamin said. "That affects the office environment. It's not necessarily abusive words but office politics. Your coworkers might not like you that much the next day."

And it's no bonanza, at least at first. The salaries for investment banking interns and other junior bankers aren't very flashy if you break them down by hourly wage.

For some investment banking analysts who work 90 to 100 hour weeks with a $70,000 or so salary, that might not translate to more than what a food service worker earns.

"The exit opportunities are a huge draw," Arthur explains. "A lot of people do it for a couple years, but the hours do go down. The exit opportunities are fantastic. You make a lot of great contacts in finance and the client side."

Arthur said there's "no doubt" the investment banking analysts and associates are jumping for joy over Bank of America's policy announced in an internal memo this week.

Christian Meissner, head of Bank of America's global corporate and investment banking, distributed a memo obtained by ABC News and confirmed by the company.

"Following an extensive review of the work environment for junior bankers over the last several months, we are announcing a series of improvements designed to increase the efficient use of our time and resources, support work-life balance, increase our junior banker staffing levels and enhance the overall work experience," Meissner wrote in the memo.

Among the changes rolling out this quarter, Meissner said, is a requirement that analysts and associates, or junior bankers, take a minimum of four weekend days off per month. Exceptions to the guidelines must be pre-approved by a business head or the regional head of global corporate and investment banking if outside the U.S.

Bank of America is giving a staffing and resource manager greater responsibility to monitor work volume, hours and assignments.

"It's not uncommon to hear stories in which they may be ready to leave 6 o' clock in evening, which is a relatively normal time," Arthur said. "They may not have had that much work that day. But then they get staffed on a deal and work until 2 or 3 a.m. It's just the nature of the work: unpredictable."

Still, Arthur said Bank of America has a more collegial culture than the other investment banks.

"In my time as an intern and a full time analyst, this is probably where BaML separates itself in my eyes- which is why that story about the London intern was so surprising. We have many colleagues at varying levels who used to be JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, Citibank, etc., and it's a pretty wide consensus that BaML has a much more collegial culture," he said.

Like many junior bankers, Arthur's plan is to endure long hours and making Excel spreadsheets for two years or so, then to move on.

"I plan to continue in banking for possibly two more years before graduate school," Arthur said. "After that who knows… might be back, might not."

After his experience at Citibank, Benjamin decided banking was not for him and is now in graduate school studying public policy.

"I really wanted to work with people and positively affect peoples' lives," Benjamin said. "The experience I had was a tough one, but it gave me the opportunity to decide what to do."