The death of an investment-banking intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London this summer has sparked debate on the work-life balance of financial interns after many websites linked the intern’s long work hours as a probable factor in his untimely death.
Moritz Erhardt, a 21-year-old intern from Germany, had reportedly worked three subsequent all-nighters before he collapsed at his London student-housing complex on Aug. 15, 2013.
With one week remaining in the program, Bank of America offered to let the other interns in Erhardt’s program end early, but, according to London’s Financial Times, none of them went home.
Many University of Richmond students and alumni are familiar with internship hours similar to Erhardt’s.
About 600 juniors and seniors study in the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business, and about one-third of them have declared a concentration in finance, according to Laura Thorpe, the student services coordinator for the business school.
Three Richmond students who just completed finance internships shared their thoughts on the industry’s practices. The student names have been withheld to protect sources whom have been offered placement at their respective financial firms.
One Richmond student worked an average of 95 hours a week as a capital markets intern at a Wall Street firm this summer. When asked about the circumstances in London he said he wasn’t surprised that none of the Bank of America interns elected to go home.
Showing commitment was the difference of getting a job offer or not, he said. At these high-intensity internships every decision affects an intern’s chances of obtaining that prized job offer, he said.
Looking back, the student said that he equated the internship process to pledging a fraternity.
“I was always fascinated with how competitive the job is because it’s brutal,” he said. “It’s not really applying anything you learn in college. It’s really just how tough you are at the end of the day. How fast you can think on your feet and just maintain your sanity.”
Interns were expected to put in any amount of hours that were asked of them, he said. “If you complain, then you’re not going to get a job.”
In 2011, a similar overworking concern arose in the medical field. The long hours that medical residents were working were deemed unsafe. In June 2011, the Residents’ and Fellows’ Bill of Rights was released by the American Medical Association, which limited the number of hours a medical resident could be on duty.
When asked about the possibility of regulating finance intern hours, the student said it was unlikely unless every bank followed suit. Having these interns is a “right of passage” and “cheap labor” for these banks, he said.
The Richmond student accepted an entry-level position within the capital markets group of the Wall Street firm he had worked at this summer. He said obtaining the offer was a relief.
“There were definitely times when I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can do this for the long term,’” he said. “But then you always remember the good times. . . I remember the networking events, and the paycheck every two weeks. Sounds bad but it’s true.”
Another business school student said he became interested in investment banking because that career seemed to be the goal of all of the highest-achieving business school students. This summer he worked at a Wall Street firm in investment banking and worked about 100 hours per week. He also asked that his company and name remain anonymous to protect company contracts.
An investment-banking job was “the gold standard,” he said, and a high starting salary was a large incentive.
This intern would start work at 9 a.m. and end his day between midnight and 3 a.m., he said. Some days included all-nighters when he would go home, shower and go right back to work.
Interns adjust quickly, he said. He was constantly tired but simply had to get used to sleeping four hours a night, he said.
“You just have to get through it,” he said. “For an internship there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not that bad.”
A third Richmond student who worked in investment banking in New York City this summer said the internship was challenging, but not beyond what he expected. He worked a relatively light schedule of 70 to 80 hours per week, he said.
“I don’t think [the hours are] crazy because they’re only doing it for 10 weeks,” he said. “Once you get an offer, you’re doing it for about a year and a half.”
Despite the circumstances that occurred in London and the debates that have surfaced around working hours, all three Richmond students were offered jobs at their respective firms and plan to remain within the various sectors of financial banking for the foreseeable future.
Contact staff writer Kylie McKenna at email@example.com