Labour Abuse Is Rampant in ibanking So Learn To Say No Or Else…

Investment bankers drop out of the business daily and there are plenty of causes for this unfortunate phenomenon. Poor performance tops the list and, come on, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. Every young banker knows what she or he signs up for before they start. If you don’t perform as you’re expected to you’ll be fired. Very fast.

Another cause of departures has to do with a nasty case of bad luck. If the bank is getting ready to lay off people you could get the short end of the stick. It happens. Investment banks lay off people without mercy. No exaggeration.

Then there are also self-led exits. Say the job becomes so damn overwhelming that you cannot hold up the weight of your responsibilities anymore and so you just give up. You throw in the towel and decide it’s time to get out. Who knows, maybe the real reason is that you want to spend more time with your friends and family; you can’t take any more crap from your boss; or simply because, as you build your 19,000th financial model, it dawns on you that you’ll remember the best years of your life having been spent with Mr. Excel. Whatever your reasons there’s a little trick that can make life a little bit easier at the bank, save you from getting a few additional grey hairs and help you reduce – but just a little – the labour abuse that’s an inevitable part of ibanking. It’s a two-letter word which conveys one of the most powerful human messages. An expression of refusal or denial whose mastery becomes a rite of passage for all successful ibankers who remain in the business and go on to attain great success, perhaps even one day grace the  cover of The Financial Times. That word is “No”.

1) The desire or need to abuse is the natural state of affairs in the jungle of ibanking

A jungle is a wild mass of vegetation but is also a place where animals struggle to survive. You must have thick skin to endure. The tiger doesn’t hesitate to devour a wild pig the moment the latter falls in view. It doesn’t think about little piggy having piggy desires and piggy ambitions and wearing piggy pijamas. It will simply rip the prey in half, walk away and then take a nap, thinking nothing of the slaughter which occurred moments earlier. Piggy was just a means to survival.

Similarly, in an investment bank many bankers won’t give a damn about you or how hard you slave away. You’re a means for them. Your very presence elicits, in them, a desire to give you work. And regardless of how awful, stressed or agitated you look they’ll pile on more work on your plate if they can and won’t think twice about it. I’m not saying they’re heartless bastards. It’s just the nature of the business and people are there to make money. They do what they have to. In fact, it’s very likely that the abuse being dished out was done just as badly to the guy who is doing it to you. And in time you’ll do it to the school of  fresh-faced goldfish that joins the firm.

2) The naturally weak will attract more predators for they are easy prey

Ruthless struggle is part of jungle life. And easy prey is, well let’s be honest, easy. If you’re a starved feline you chase the slow, helpless creature (i.e. meal).

In an ibank’s junior class there will always be a number of young grasshoppers eager to please all. Sadly, in their attempt to demonstrate eagerness, this demographic will be seen as willing and subservient servants. And surely they will be treated as such. They are generally incapable of refusing requests, which in a bank tend to come across more so as commands – remember, ibankers are assertive.

Therefore, when a junior ibanker is identified as a “yes” man or woman they will very likely be given a steady flow of work. More so than their more defensive peers. The “yes” people in time become quite miserable.

3) Do or die young ibanker

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just the “yes” men and women who will get all the work. Most junior ibankers will be very busy most of the time. But some will exacerbate their plight because they are unable to take a stand. In some cases, especially when it comes to those who cannot utter the word “no”, they will reach a breaking point. They may even get fired because their inability to refuse or decline requests means they will take on too much work and won’t deliver superior results on some tasks. Remember, as an ibanker you’re required to deliver high quality work always. Whether it’s stapling two sheets of paper together or mixing the right amount of sugar into your line manager’s tea you must execute flawlessly.

4) No!

I won’t deny it, I was one of those guys who learned it the hard way. Early on I foolishly took on everything thrown my way. It was pathetic. It reached a point where several more senior bankers would by default call me whenever they needed something done right away and couldn’t spot another slave nearby.

At first I thought to myself, ‘cool, I’m going to learn a lot this way’. But after doing the relatively same mind-numbing tasks over and over again and stressing myself out from all the workload I’d have to shoulder, thereby jeopardising my health, I realised it was time to change my ways.

And so it was that one day I simply said no. From that day on life as an ibanker was a little easier. Not a great deal. I’d say, about 10-15% easier. Quite a change. Trust me, you’ll take that with tears of joy in your eyes if your in a rough team.


Phone rings as I’m dealing with a handful of urgent deadlines.

A more senior banker: “ibanker, we need help with a presentation. I’m going to send you a few slides. Update them right away, ok?”
The ibanker: shit! “Sure, I’ll do it right away.”


Phone rings as I’m busy chatting with a friend on my mobile.

A more senior banker: “ibanker, we need help with a presentation. I’m going to send you a few slides. Update them right away, ok?”
The ibanker: “Sorry, I’m swamped. Have a deadline and been told to not to do anything but focus on that. I’ve got to run to a meeting.”

Boom, there you have it.

Don’t underestimate the power of “no”. Absolute life-changer. To this day it remains one of the most important lessons in life for me. Most people don’t say it enough though they often want to.

Just say “no” and make sure you say it assertively.

5 thoughts on “Labour Abuse Is Rampant in ibanking So Learn To Say No Or Else…

  1. LeBlanc115 says:

    This senior banker used to not only dump work no me constantly but he would return to my desk constantly checking on my work all the time. Literally one day I had to tell him firmly to take a breather and I was working on other assignments. It definitely worked and he would appear much less frequently. I did see that he was a walking stress ball though. As he was dumping it on me he was getting it from above.

  2. steveskim78 says:

    It takes a certain type of individual to make it in banking and a certain different type to last a few years and be able to exit. All business viable models should have an exit strategy.

  3. Kevin Fernando says:

    Very interesting post. At most jobs you get used to the midset of, work your derrier off. It’s the only way to make an impression on Sr. Mngmnt and move up the ladder. Surely there comes a point where someone will make a note of your behaviour and go..this guy is not a team player. How do you find that balance where you make the smart choices to help when it will benefit you and when it’s clearly not going to get you anywhere in the long run!

    As always, great writing.


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