Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Book Review - 'Young Money' by Kevin Roose

Just recently finished this book so thought I'd share a few comments on it. You can of course read loads more reviews of it at Amazon if you like.

Kevin Roose is a New York magazine journalist and has a few other books to his name during his career, so has developed a style of writing that aims to give you the impression he has become embedded in his chosen field. In this book his target is to expose the world of investment banking from the viewpoint of the young graduates entering it. Following eight graduates over about three years during some of the most turbulent times ever in finance, we learn about their work lives and some small tidbits of the effect it has on them. It's an easy read, with small chapters that rock along very quickly following one of the participants at a time.

The majority of the graduates have come from ivy league universities at which investment banks tour in the year's preceding graduation to find their next crop of interns. Quite a bit of the book is given over to how the prospects are groomed at this stage, promises that are made, and the role of the university, the courses, and indeed the pupils role in expectations of a job after university. Kevin attends some of the career fairs at the schools to find out more about how the banks attract the highest talented students to apply for their roles. I've just done a quick troll of the internet for some of them and they seem super sophisticated affairs with huge websites devoted to them at each university.

What to wear to a Career Fair - Penn State advice
What's fairly frustrating with the book is that for the most part, none of the participants know each other so there's no chance to discover them as a group. Also with eight participants we don't really get to find out too much in depth about any of them. I guess Kevin has attempted to get a cross-section of new graduates and he has chosen people from different backgrounds (within what is obviously a limited scope, as the banks involved only select the creme-de-la-creme of society). In fact, really what you witness is how homogenous the group of supposedly disparate people are. They are all motivated by only one thing - money.

We learn that to get this money the investment banks require them to work ridiculous hours every week and that all of them work seven days a week. This un-written extreme hours contract exists between the bank and the newly hired graduate analysts / brokers for two years. At that point almost all the graduates are broken and exhibiting extreme behaviours, whether that be drink / drug related or stress disorders, and their relationships with family, friends and significant others has disintegrated. They are then expected to leave the banks and move to private equity, hedge funds or traditional finance companies. It's pretty short term based thinking that reflects badly on the banks and is fairly typical of their behaviour over the last 20 years. God knows how they think they're ever going to be stable entities without any long term thinking or career based occupations for their supposedly carefully picked graduates.

This short-termism is having an effect on the career goals of the graduates themselves. Most of them realise that they chose poorly at the beginning of their career and half of them leave to pursue other interests, specifically in the world of technology. I've written previously that the internet firms would steal the world's best minds from the other high paying jobs and this book confirms that this is happening. The world of startups, equity and being able to control your time involvement in the firm is extremely tempting after the jack-booted investment bank stereotypes many of them discover.

There's no ground breaking information here. I think everyone knew that i-bankers are expected to work mental long hours. However, as a book it romps along. Short chapters with interesting snippets of work behaviour. eg. crazy unreasonable bosses, excessive behaviour, amazing deals. We get snippets of the graduates outside life but don't get to know them terribly well, certainly not well enough to actually care about any of them. Most will recognise themselves in some of the characters - the inflated perception of one's abilities and talents when first leaving university and within weeks you discover that you know absolutely nothing about the real world can be disheartening, and the best bits of the book are when the individuals involved have that realisation.

The chapter on Fashion meets Finance is the most interesting; funny, clever and eye-opening. This is an event set up for hot girls to meet men involved in finance. It's as barbaric, money grabbing and sugar daddy seeking as it sounds and yet apart from one year at the height of the GFC its been a popular event. Unbelievably there has even been one in London last month. I have no idea it it was a success or not.

As a whole Young Money is worth a read.