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Welcome to the Jungle

In which Bwog freelancer Zack Hoopes infiltrates the world of I-banking infosessions.

sfd“THIS is where you need to be.  This IS where you need to be. This is where YOU need to be.” The JP Morgan interns on the TV screen said this phrase to me, over and over again, in every conceivable form of emphasis.  The jock, the foreign kid, and even the token hot chick wanted me to don a tasteful pantsuit and come with them on a magical journey of investing, trading, and general money-finagling. And why not? “Whatever got you into Columbia, that’s all the talent you’ll need for a career here at JP Morgan,” said the man at the podium. “JP Morgan and Columbia have had a long and valuable relationship.” Which is probably what his second wife said to him before she took half of his shit and moved to LA.

I have always wondered what being an i-banker (a term which I’ve been told is distasteful to those in the profession, but will be used here for convenience) would be like. There seem to be two general views on the subject: one, that i-banking is a golden opportunity to advance into the global economy of the future; and two, that it’s a loathsome and degenerate profession that profits from the injustice of capitalism. At Columbia, I’ve seen many preach the latter but act the former. In my more philosophical moments, it seems like our simultaneous appreciation and repulsion of Wall Street captures the disillusionment of a generation, born into a world where the idea of freedom has been commercialized and commodified.

But enough with the theory. I set out Wednesday night for the JP Morgan presentation/networking night at Faculty House, to find out first-hand what i-bankers are like. My initial dilemma was that the flyer for the event said “business casual at minimum.” My maximum business casual, as it turned out, was far less than their minimum. My only pants that aren’t jeans are a pair of cotton twills that I used for hiking in the boy scouts. I have a brown sport coat that hasn’t been ironed since Jerry Orbach was among the living (we miss you, Briscoe). Furthermore, I bear a distinct resemblance to Jeffery “the Dude” Lebowski. Blending in would be difficult.

There was a huge line outside faculty house to get in to the session. A guy walking out of EC stopped and approached me. “Hey, were you in my poli sci seminar this afternoon?” he asked.

“Maybe. I was in State Failure,” I replied.

“Yeah, I thought I recognized you. What’s all this for?”

“Some kind of Merrill Lynch internship thing.”

“Oh. Have fun with that.”  He gave me that ‘you’re such a tool’ sneer and turned away.

The girl in front of me in the line turned. “Actually I think this is a JP Morgan session.”

“Really?  Aren’t they sort of the same thing, though?”

She took out a black appointment book and thumbed through it. “Better be JP Morgan,” she mumbled.  I had the info written down, too – scrawled on a cocktail napkin, wadded up in the back pocket of my other pants.  Everyone around me was carrying a leather-bound folder; because apparently when you’re an i-banker, you need a folder that will see your resume unscathed through high-speed road rash.

Upon entering, I was given a sticky name tag and several fill-in-yourself business cards, for use in ‘networking’ with the JP Morgan employees and reps circulating through the room.  Since I didn’t know anybody there, I decided to maintain my anonymity. Dubbing myself “Bill Johnston,” I roamed the crowd.

Networking at a bank session is eerily similar to picking up skanks at your local dive bar. The entire point is to schmooze with somebody to the point where you can exchange phone numbers in anticipation of some later benefit. While you’re canoodling with your target, others awkwardly hang around and try to act engaged, awaiting their turn to take a stab at making an impression good enough to reap the reward (presumably a blue-chip internship, or—in the bar scenario—a blow job).

The presentation itself consisted of a guy who spoke briefly from the front of the room, followed by a videos and slide shows on several LCD screens. After a while, I realized what seemed slightly off: no one ever really talked about what JP Morgan, as a company, actually does.  Phrases like ‘financial solutions’ and ‘comprehensive investment’ were plastered all over the room, and statistics of dollar turnover flashed by on occasion. But there was no mention of a purpose to what was done, no time given to a role within the larger business world, no thought paid to how the employees actually approach their work. The topic was cunningly avoided, like a fart at the dinner table, or like how you say your brother is “away” when you really mean he’s serving a nickel for pederasty.

The entire slide show was filled with images of interns going out to dinner with one another, volunteering at a local school, running a 5k, saving the whales – doing everything but sitting in offices. Testimonials on the video praised the opportunities for advancement, the volume of money handled, and the great social atmosphere. “Your coworkers are not just your coworkers; they’re your friends and family,” a girl piped.

I honestly still don’t know what analysts at JP Morgan do. I suppose they analyze, in some capacity. All of the reps I talked to seemed turned off when I asked them about how they handled their everyday tasks, throwing out catchphrases about how “the company” functions. Maybe that’s stuff that people applying to investment banks already know.

In essence, JP Morgan told me that, in exchange for my labor, they would provide me with pre-packaged success. The job, the clothes, the social life – it was all there on the TV screen, beckoning for me to join in. But it must be exhausting. Living the i-banker life seemed to have sucked all the passion out of the employees, and replaced it with the bittersweet ‘charisma’ that the man at the podium said was the most important trait for success in business. No one seemed to identify their work with its significance; the appeal of the career came exclusively from the impressive figures the company provided and the social life surrounding it.

As I walked out of Faculty House, I had to ask myself; if presented with the opportunity to be an i-banker would I take it? I-bankers will undoubtedly own nicer cars than me, live in fancier apartments, and bang hotter women. But if I learned anything from the JP Morgan session, it’s that there’s a trade off. To live the life of luxury, you have to be able to stomach the looming presence of the company itself, able to endure the strictures of the financier’s lifestyle and attitude. For all the power that is associated with Wall Street, I felt powerless in that room.

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  • clearly says:

    @clearly Bwog is biased.

  • Hipsters Unwelcome says:

    @Hipsters Unwelcome The reason they didn’t mention “what” they do, is because they assumed anybody there worth hiring knew what JP Morgan does, knew Investment banks’ role in the financial markets, and whatever other stuff you seem so concerned about. Btw, info sessions early in September are aimed at hiring seniors who have had experience in the industry. The ones that will be held in the fall will explain the nature of the jobs on offer.

    People who perpetuate the myth of “I-banking” as this soulless, playboy-esque profession don’t realize that a lot of I-banking is…wait for it… fun! Trading is fun, quant trading and securities research requires instinct and intellect, and Investment banking requires persistence, intelligence & good people-skills. The profession rewards well because they demand talent and commitment.
    Next time, please send somebody educated to an event like this.

    1. odd says:

      @odd usually TTan signs his posts…

  • *later in the fall says:

    @*later in the fall , not in the fall

  • but seriously says:

    @but seriously what the fuck do i-bankers do? i went to one of those things last year at the request of my parents, and i came out about as baffled as the bwog writer. they literally dance around the subject of what they actually do like a fart at a dinner party.

    1. A flavor says:

      @A flavor of what I-bankers do – here are some examples:
      When a company wants to go public, go private, acquire another company or merge w/ another, they get Investment Banks to help w/ that. So in the case of an IPO, an investment bank will do the due diligence behind a company, use their client base to lock in institutional investors with stakes in the company, price the shares of the company, and do all the work that needs to be done before the company can be listed on a stock exchange.
      They help finance M&A & share buybacks by deciding on the mode of financing (eg: loans or bond issuance) & related debt structuring, pricing bonds/loans, selling the debt to investors, etc.

      Those are some basic examples of what Investment Bankers do. That’s just the sell-side; there’s also the buy side, including sales & trading (of stocks, bonds, derivatives, etc) , brokerage, wealth management, etc. This is why calling all of it “i-banking” is kind of irritating; in fact traders and Investment Bankers can’t even talk to each other about the work they’re doing.

  • Wait says:

    @Wait Who claimed that I-Bankers are miserable? That’s not really the point. I think it has more to do with working endless hours in pursuit of nothing but money, working for a company that has no real social interest but money. It’s the exploitative element that bothers people, and the elevation of “getting money” to the point of your sole driving force. That is a bit soulless.

    N.B.: I work on Wall Street.

    1. Yes but says:

      @Yes but if you really enjoy what you do, then you’re not doing it all in pursuit of money, although I guess most people do it purely for the money. But if I enjoy putting what I learnt in Math and in Engineering classes to real use and watching economies grow from shit to wealth, is that really soulless?
      At the end of the day, there is a social interest here because pension funds, mutual funds, average investors, etc. all stand to gain from booming stock markets. Besides, bulge bracket firms contribute huge amounts to NGOs and are at the forefront of corporations going green.

      All I’m saying is hate the playa not the game. Don’t judge people by the profession they choose; not everyone that becomes a banker or a trader is a d-bag by virtue of his profession.

      1. Yes, but again... says:

        @Yes, but again... I’ve never met one I really found interesting.

      2. Sure says:

        @Sure yeah, I’m willing to admit that. (I mean, I made my peace with finance…) Although I’d bet for every trader who loves it, there’s ten that love boats.

        So would they, now that I mention it.

  • whoah says:

    @whoah I call shenanigans.

    This article has been re-written, re-titled, and all old comments removed.

    What are you playing at bwog?

  • LOLhipster says:

    @LOLhipster How does an investment bank profit from the so-called “injustice of capitalism?”

  • Charisma says:

    @Charisma Sadly, all jobs require you dismantle your personality. At least I-banking pays enough to almost make it worth while. The fucking NGO I work for is no different, just pays way, way lower.

  • thanks! says:

    @thanks! thanks bwog, you seem to have listened to this summer’s comments. or maybe this is just a random occurrence. either way it’s nice to see a topic that is huge on campus get some notice on the campus’s most widely read “news” medium

  • I think says:

    @I think ibankers like having jobs they can hate

  • business networking says:

    @business networking is a euphemism for sticking your nose as far up some suit’s ass as it goes until you pull out a business card. like truffling.

  • ooooh says:

    @ooooh really funny until the predictable end!! it’s too bad the writer had to resort to a slightly dogmatic refusal to find out for himself what investment banking is.

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