It’s been a busy day for Rob, a confident young grad oozing swagger and charisma. After logging a punishing amount of hours in his job as an intern on the Cross Product Sales desk, he’s off to schmooze clients on behalf of his bank, Pierpoint.
Of course, fostering working relationships in banking is not solely done by presentations in cold, grey meeting rooms. It’s dinner first, followed by free-flowing drinks to loosen tongues (and wallets), before heading off to a nightclub.
There, someone discretely pulls up a wrap of coke; keys jingle, and a few surreptitious snorts are enjoyed under strobe lights. The night gets sweaty. Rob heads home at about 2am, able to snatch some hours of sleep before heading back to the trading floor to do it all again.
Rob is not real: he is a character from Industry, a drama series that explores the murky underbelly of a fictional investment bank, following a handful of graduates as they navigate its prestigious placement programme – and the thorny politics that dominates such a competitive workplace.
However, with the series having been created by former investment bankers Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, it’s only natural to wonder whether some of Rob’s exploits were inspired by their real-life experiences.
When Industry first hit our screens in 2020, it was hailed by the Financial Times as a realistic depiction of what working in City was really like – a somewhat scary prospect, as Industry makes no bones about just how sadistic and cutthroat investment banking can be.
When Hannah (not her real name) caught some of the show on BBC Two, she says she certainly recognised elements of the career she previously spent two decades in.
‘There’s rudeness, there’s big parties, there’s the long hours,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘It’s certainly familiar to my experience in the City.’
Hannah recalls how she was enticed into entering the lion’s den of investment banking after seeing depictions of moneyed men in the media.
And not unlike Industry’s protagonist, Harper, she didn’t fit into the usual mould of your stereotypical investment banker.
‘I was considered an outlier,’ Hannah explains. ‘I came from the north of England. I’m female. I went to a comprehensive school. I got into uni but I didn’t go to one of the usual places banks recruited from. I had to go through the backdoor – I worked for the smaller, less renown banks before getting into the top tier players in the industry.
‘I was really attracted to how the lifestyle was sold to us. I was interested in business, and had a mathematical brain. There was something about investment banking that made finance seem interesting, sexy and attractive, while also allowing me to play to my strengths and interests.’
Brett Shanley, founder of Knoma, had a more traditional route into the industry. As a graduate from University of Cambridge, and having achieved high grades while studying, he was thought to be an attractive candidate for employers; a study by the Financial Times found of those going into investment banking and wealth management in the UK, 20 per cent came from Oxford and Cambridge alone.
‘Most people at my course at Cambridge went into investment banking, management consultancy or law,’ he tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I’d done work experience at the Bank of England while I was studying and it seemed like the perfect place to kickstart my career.’
Regardless of how make your way into banking, the few who successfully earn a place on one of the big bank’s placement schemes are expected to push themselves hard to prove their worth to the company. It’s something Industry poignantly and painfully paints in its pilot episode – the state-school educated Hari, desperate to impress alongside the Eton and Oxford educated Gus, pulls multiple all-nighters fuelled by energy drinks, modafinil, and naps in the loos – before he is found dead in the toilets.
It’s a disturbing introduction to the series, showing the extreme pressures placed upon the industry’s newcomers, but it’s not a storyline that’s been plucked from the sky in the writer’s room to pack a punch, as it echoes a similar shocking real life incident in 2013.
Back then, a young intern for Bank of America’s Merill Lynch, called Moritz Erhardt, was found dead in his flat after having worked three nights in a row.
This dogged approach to work is applauded and worn like a badge of honour in the City, says Hannah. It’s referred to in some circles as the ‘magic roundabout’ – where you pull an all-nighter at the office and get a taxi home, with the car waiting for you outside while you shower and change, ready to head straight back into the office after.
‘At one bank I worked at, I worked all day, all night, all the next day, and then I came home at 7pm,’ she recalls. ‘It was the macho culture at the time. You were expected to work very late and survive on very little sleep. There was a lot of pride in people pulling all-nighters. People used to brag about it.
‘I remember being horrified one time when I met a boyfriend, who worked at a top tier bank, for a drink at 10pm, only for him to get a taxi straight back to work at 11pm as he was expected to keep working. Another time, I overheard a colleague of mine speaking to his children on the phone, and one of them said she had a new haircut and she would show him when he came home at the weekend. Because his hours were so long, his kids were in bed when he came home from work.
‘I regularly used to see colleagues on the phone to girlfriends, saying I can’t do dinner or I can’t do this party and then moan that they’re going to have to buy them another handbag in order to apologise for things they had to cancel.’
Hannah found the intense hours also bled into her social life.
‘Once, I had a weekend away and insisted on working the whole weekend. It was actually the weekend my boyfriend proposed. But I literally had an afternoon and an evening off and that was it. It was tricky to maintain relationships.’
Brett agrees that, for his short three years in investment banking, employees were expected to ‘burn the candle at both ends’.
There was outrage when a senior manager said we couldn’t put taking clients to strip clubs through to expenses anymore
‘I worked on the cash equity desk, and I’d be up at 4.15am to be at my desk, in a suit and tie, at 5.15am,’ he says. ‘I was often working until 6 or 7pm, and that was considered early compared to other desks.
‘It’s full on. I spent the first couple of years sleep deprived.’
However, Brett adds that as hard as he worked on the trading floor, he played just as hard – with meeting up with friends after work a regular occurrence when he was a young graduate still new to London.
It’s something that is reflected in Industry – despite the pressures of work, the main characters are still just like any other grads in their early twenties, and like most young people in a new city, they’re keen to commit to the sesh.
Hannah recalls going to numerous parties as a fresh-faced graduate in London, but in her experience, they certainly weren’t as glamorous, sexy or drug-fuelled as the ones on screen in Industry.
‘The parties didn’t differ too much from uni parties, just with a bit more money and a bit more alcohol,’ she says. ‘I never saw any drugs, I never saw any orgies or anything like that. However, I do remember being outrage when a senior manager said we weren’t allowed to put taking clients to strip clubs through to expenses anymore.
‘We were a young group of people all starting out on our careers together. We used to go to all the bars after work and go out for long boozy lunches. It was fun, being in a young environment with people who were a similar age to me and from a variety of backgrounds.’
Partying hard was needed to let off steam, when the working environment was simply that intense. Graduates were often thrown into the deep end, with little assistance on managing sometimes billions of pounds.
‘You’re often trying to learn on the job but it’s really hard because the people who are meant to be teaching and mentoring you are distracted with what they’re doing,’ Brett says. ‘It was sink or swim. But sometimes, the only way you’re going to learn is by getting some scars. What seems like big money to you was small money in terms of the wider bank.’
In Brett’s role, he would see the indices of the market, watching how political and geographical events were affecting the stock market in real time and having to act quickly and accordingly.
‘There is a lot of shouting, but not necessarily at you,’ he says. ‘You’re at the squawk box, and as a trader you have to communicate the volume that you’re seeing.
‘I was working the day that Bin Laden was captured and killed. I saw the impact Japan’s nuclear disaster had on the market. It is incredibly stressful, and not everyone is cut out for it. You either have the right mentality and characteristics, or you don’t. I think it’s that black or white.’
During her near two-decade tenure in the City, Hannah explains she was on the receiving end of many tongue-lashings from big-name clients.
‘I had one effing and blinding at me down the phone at me over something,’ she recalls. ‘Thinking about it now, I should have put the phone down. But I just sucked it up, it was part of what I dealt with.’
While she never had any fiery disagreements with anyone significantly senior at work, Hannah does remember seeing some of her superiors try and take credit for work that more junior members of staff had done. The dog-eat-dog atmosphere is not dissimilar to Harper’s decision to screw over pal and housemate Yasmin, as well as line manager Daria, in the final scene of the first season of Industry.
‘There’s a lot of politics and it wasn’t uncommon for people to completely turn on each other,’ Hannah admits. ‘People would take credit for stuff we’d done. It was quite common that if a report had been sent to someone really senior, the other people working on it would cross out he most junior person’s name and put their name on it.’
But for Hannah, who worked in mergers and acquisitions, the client was king, and she was expected to work in any and all environments – even if it meant to the detriment to her safety.
‘I was working during the September 11 attacks,’ she says. ‘There was a plane missing around London and I worked by the trading floor. The company I worked for at the time said we could go home which was an incredibly rare example of them showing compassion. But I had a deal that was closing and a client on the phone who wanted me to go for a meeting, so I stayed.’
However, that’s not to say all of Hannah’s bosses were necessarily supportive. While she never had to deal with a frightening altercation similar to Industry’s Harper, who was locked in a room by furious senior manager Eric, whispers were widespread about the behaviour of one of her bosses.
‘If we were to go on a business trip with one boss, who went on to be incredibly senior in the City, we were all told to lock our hotel room doors and do not answer them because he will come knocking and it’s certainly not to talk about the presentation the next day,’ she explains. ‘There were known predators within the institutions and all the girls would talk amongst ourselves about it.
‘I never had anyone proposition me but I do recall being at a dinner and wearing a low cut dress and my boss’s boss just talked to my tits the whole evening. If I was in a meeting with him, he would just stare at my legs. I was very conscious of where he was looking at – it was never my eyes.’
Both Brett and Hannah are quick to caveat that all their experiences of investment banking may now be outdated, seeing as they both left the industry more than a decade ago.
There used to be a massive need to protect rainmakers, even if they were known harassers or bullies
‘I think the advent of things like MeToo and social media have changed things for investment banking,’ Hannah says. ‘I don’t think people would necessarily put up with the same things I had to put up with.
‘There used to be a massive need to protect rainmakers – people who brought substantial amounts of money or clients to the firm – even if they were known harassers or bullies. But I don’t think that would be the case now.’
Hannah decided to leave the industry a few years after the huge financial crash of 2008. While she kept her job throughout major upheaval of the industry, she saw major changes take place practically overnight.
‘Suddenly, people just lost their jobs,’ she says. ‘I know people don’t feel sorry for bankers but these were people with huge mortgages, kids at the top schools. They had to change their entire lives instantly, leave their houses and move in with parents. I saw the results of stress and people were very, very worried about what was going to happen.’
However, for Hannah, it was the rampant misogyny that she saw during her time in banking that effectively pushed her out.
‘As a woman with a family, I was made to feel that this was used against me to show I was not committed enough,’ she says. ‘I did the typical banker thing and waited until I got my bonus and resigned. I had just mentally checked out of the role.’
Brett also had a moment where he just realised that investment banking was not his true calling.
‘I would say to friends I wished I worked at a toy factory because at least there, parents will be buying toys for their children that they can derive happiness from. I couldn’t derive any meaning from what I was doing,’ he admits.
‘I’d look around the trading desk and see my seniors who were overweight and not healthy due to the stressful lifestyle they were living. It’s just not what I wanted to do. I was happy to have some control and give back something good with my own start-up.’
And while they have both moved on from their time in the industry, neither Hannah nor Brett regret their time at the banking coalface.
‘There are many things I’ve learned from my days in investment banking that have made me more comfortable in life and it gave me confidence to give anything a go,’ Brett says. ‘It’s an industry that isn’t well liked, but it’s needed.’
‘I met some amazing, intelligent people in investment banking, and had some great times,’ adds Hannah. ‘I don’t regret my time in the industry but I do regret not standing up for myself against some comments.
‘At the end of the day, I have a nice house and my kids went to private school, so it’s swings and roundabouts.’
Industry returns on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer on 27th September.
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