'Young Money' takes readers inside Wall Street’s rookie class

04/22/2014 12:59 PM

04/22/2014 2:17 PM

In “Young Money,” journalist Kevin Roose doesn’t write about the Wall Street of the movies, where “Masters of the Universe” mix billion-dollar deals with over-the-top partying.

Instead, the stars of this insider tale are the just-out-of-college grunts who perform the numbers-driven dirty work demanded by their high-flying bosses. Surviving on takeout food and scant sleep, these mostly Ivy League grads spend their days and nights cranking out mind-numbing spreadsheets and client “pitch books.”

Along the way, these young bankers wrestle with the angst that comes from working grueling hours in a pressure-cooker business still unsettled by the worst recession in decades. It’s the same kind of worries that afflict many in their generation, except their jobs come with salaries and bonuses that can total six figures.

While it may be hard for readers to drum up much sympathy for these rookie financiers, “Young Money” provides an enlightening window into the system that has long groomed Wall Street investment bankers and traders. The book raises important questions about how banks utilize their young talent and whether these prospective bankers would be better off pursuing careers in medicine, technology or the nonprofit world.

First, some background.

Every year, banks on Wall Street, as well as here in Charlotte, bring in a fresh crop of college graduates to serve as “analysts” – first-year bankers who run the complex financial models that are used to pitch potential deals to clients.

Much like pledges in a fraternity, they’re expected to devote themselves entirely to the whims of their elders, frequently pulling all-nighters and abandoning any semblance of a personal life to get the job done. In return, they’re well-compensated and add an iconic Wall Street brand to their resumes.

After two years, most move on to private equity firms or hedge funds, while a few land coveted permanent positions and a fast track to bigger salaries and bonuses.

Profiles are anonymous

To populate his narrative, Roose, a New York magazine writer and former New York Times reporter, “embedded” himself with eight analysts, who shared their experiences on the promise of anonymity.

The author is upfront in explaining that he has changed names and details to protect his subjects’ identity. While there was probably no other way to write the book, I did find it distracting. I ofter caught myself wondering whether a Bank of America analyst really worked at Bank of America or how much a personal detail was altered to protect a subject.

Roose’s mission was to determine how these bankers viewed their jobs and potential careers in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. In some cases, they wondered whether they had chosen the best path or whether Occupy Wall Street protesters had a right to hate them and their colleagues.

In other cases, he found examples of the bad banker behavior that drove many on Main Street to loathe Wall Street during the crisis. In one passage, Chelsea, a Bank of America analyst, recoils when her peers fail to help out during a community service day, remaining glued to their smartphones.

“I have never seen more people disgusted to get their hands dirty in their lives,” she says.

In a fun diversion, Roose also sneaks into a private annual Wall Street gala and finds the kind of elitism, misogyny and homophobia that would make Gordon Gekko proud.

Few changes on Wall Street

If the only thing you know about banking is how to use an ATM card, this will be an eye-opening book about an industry that helped put Charlotte on the map. “Young Money” is a quick, thought-provoking read that doesn’t bog the reader down with arcane banking jargon.

But on the downside, it’s hard to get too emotionally invested with any of the analysts because the author is juggling eight characters, all of whom have been placed in a literary witness protection program.

In the end, Roose shows that not much has changed on Wall Street despite the financial crisis, although some seeds of discontent have been planted among the industry’s newest generation.

And “Young Money” may also make you think twice when you look up at Charlotte’s bank towers late at night and see the lights still on.

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