Credit Suisse

Why banking and work-life balance don't mix

February 4, 2014: 10:17 AM ET

Citigroup is the latest Wall Street bank to limit work hours, but that won't mean underlings will have more time to kick back.

By Sanjay Sanghoee

140204100215-work-life-balance-yoga-businessman-620xa

FORTUNE -- Citigroup, the nation's third-largest bank, is giving its junior bankers a break from Wall Street's infamously rigorous work hours. In a memo last week, the bank told its underlings they'll be required to take Saturdays off and use all their vacation time each year; the firm joins a growing number of banks, such as Bank of America (BAC), Credit Suisse (CS), and Goldman Sachs Group (GS), in limiting work hours to retain staff and give young bankers more predictability and flexibility with their time.

As well intended as this may sound, however, can it work? As a former investment banker, I'm surprised by the trend -- it's a far cry from the macho days of Wall Street.

MORE: Yahoo sued over Buffett's ­­billion-dollar basketball bet

Even during slow times, banking is a labor-intensive profession. From poring over reams of annual reports and analyst research to creating complex financial models and writing large offering documents and pitch books, analys­­ts and associates have their hands full at all times. Even word processing departments and copy centers that are meant to support bankers often create more work when they screw up (which happens quite a lot) than reduce it.

It is easy for banks to tell employees not to work too hard, but in practice you either put in the hours to get the work done or pay for it with your career prospects. If banks really want to alter this dynamic, they need to streamline the work process, but that too is easier said than done given the nature of the business and the demands of clients.

As much as technology makes our working lives more efficient, it also makes taking off a lot harder: I once worked with an analyst who "accidentally" dropped his pager into a toilet bowl so that it would short out. It was, he explained, the only way he could get a good night's sleep. This was before smartphones became ubiquitous; today the situation is a lot worse. Citigroup (C) does not require junior bankers to come into the office on Saturdays but still expects them to check their emails, which means they are still on the hook. Like most other jobs, constant connectivity means constant accountability, and whether you are in the office or not is irrelevant.

MORE: Not all housing bubbles crash equally

And face time continues to be a big part of the culture; it's often used to measure commitment and rewarded with large bonuses and promotions. So young bankers, in particular, feel pressured to provide it. Moreover, as the deal market has shrunk and competition amongst banks has intensified, banking fees and the compensation pool have also contracted. This creates a Darwinian struggle for money and advancement, and makes the substitute of work-life balance less attractive. Wall Street is, after all, an ambitious and competitive place.

This is not to belittle the value of work-life balance, which is considerable, but without systemic changes in the banking industry and a realignment of expectations, this shoe may not fit. In the meantime, banks should be careful not to demotivate junior bankers by replacing pay with spare time without first ensuring that the tradeoff actually works.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a political and business commentator. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner, as well as at mutli-strategy hedge fund Ramius Cowen. He has appeared on CNBC's Closing Bell, MSNBC's The Cycle, TheStreet.com, and HuffPost Live on business topics. He is also the author of two thriller novels.

  • Credit Suisse selling old private equity assets

    Credit Suisse continues to shed private equity assets.

    FORTUNE -- Credit Suisse (CS) has agreed to sell its remaining limited partnership interests in DLJ Merchant Banking Partners, a private equity group that it originally acquired via the bank's 2000 purchase of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette. The buyer is Coller Capital, a private equity firm focused on secondary transactions.

    Bloomberg News had reported on negotiations back in July, and yesterday the Federal Trade Commission disclosed MORE

    - Dec 3, 2013 2:08 PM ET
  • How tax dodgers can survive the Swiss bank bust

    Some Swiss bank holders may choose to move funds to other offshore havens like Singapore or the Cook Islands.

    By Lynnley Browning

    FORTUNE -- Americans living and working in Switzerland aren't feeling much joy these days on strolls along the Rue du Rhone in Geneva, where luxury watch shops and Gucci and Hermes boutiques nestle amid a clutch of private banks.

    Thanks to a landmark settlement last Friday between Switzerland and the MORE

    Sep 3, 2013 10:26 AM ET
  • Exclusive: Credit Suisse rejected potential PE unit buyers

    Credit Suisse is still trying to sell one of its private equity units. Maybe because it told several interested parties not to bother bidding.

    FORTUNE -- It has been nearly one year since Credit Suisse announced plans to sell off its Customized Fund Investment Group (CFIG), a private equity fund-of-funds unit that is believed to manage more than $25 billion in client assets. What it didn't say at the time, however, MORE

    - Jun 6, 2013 10:42 AM ET
  • Credit Suisse is Best Buy banker and believer

    Credit Suisse analyst says Best Buy will survive.

    FORTUNE -- Credit Suisse (CS) is advising Best Buy (BBY) founder Dick Schulze on his proposed take-private acquisition of the electronics retailer. It also is one of the few banks whose senior retail research analyst doesn't think Best Buy is on its way to the liquidation scrap heap.

    On July 31, Gary Balter published a research note titled Disagreeing with Consensus.  He begins:

    "The current consensus on MORE

    - Aug 6, 2012 4:00 PM ET
  • Exclusive: Carlyle Group poaches Credit Suisse exec

    Alternative investment firm looks to bolster its custom accounts business.

    FORTUNE -- Nadim Barakat has quietly resigned as a managing director with Credit Suisse Asset Management (CS), where he had served as chief investment officer for the bank's private equity customized fund investment group (which is being sold off).

    A source tells me that his next stop will be The Carlyle Group (CG), where he will focus on custom managed accounts and MORE

    - Jul 19, 2012 1:49 PM ET
  • It's time for a European TARP

    Investors are in panic mode over the debt crisis in parts of Europe, and they're demanding swift, sweeping action by European financial leaders to reverse its Lehman moment. Eurobonds, anyone?

    By Cyrus Sanati, contributor

    FORTUNE -- Investors are pushing the panic button as the European debt crisis spins out of control. Banks around the world are trying to calm their clients' fears, setting up special conference calls and one-on-one sessions, but there MORE

    Jul 15, 2011 8:45 AM ET
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.