When Ellen Kullman, chief executive of DuPont, asked a contract worker on the production line making Kevlar, the fibre used in bulletproof vests, what he was doing, she got an unexpected response: “We’re saving lives.”
Credit Suisse is the latest investment bank to issue an edict aimed at protecting the work-life balance of its junior employees – and it is getting roasted for it by bankers themselves.
Bloomberg reported (and the bank confirmed) that Jim Amine, global head of investment banking, had decreed in a memo that “analysts and associates in the US investment banking division should be out of the office from 6 pm Friday until 10am Sunday unless they’re working on an active deal”.
So ordered. Except that commanding your ambitious junior employees to limit their workload – Bank of America, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs have taken similar action – is quite likely to be useless, if not counter-productive. To change working practices requires a profound cultural shift, and judging from the reaction to the latest news that is not likely to happen soon.
The Moody’s downgrade of 15 banks is a backward-looking review of the strategy that has dominated global banking for the past two decades – expanding into high-margin capital markets operations. It does not get good marks.
There was always a problem inherent in banks such as Deutsche Bank, Barclays, UBS, Bank of America, Credit Suisse and others trying to play in the investment banking world. Yet it took a very long time for a penalty to be applied.
Of course, the question is why it wasn’t applied earlier. Many of the things that Moody’s writes about in its note accompanying the downgrades were evident a long time ago – high volatility came with high margins.
Jeremy Irons as the bank boss in 'Margin Call'
To those who think all bankers are villains – or heroes, for that matter – let me commend Margin Call, the excellent and balanced film about a Lehman-like bank’s implosion, released last autumn in the US and out this week in the UK.
When the movie first came out, the FT invited two real-life bankers to the screening. One of them said:
I don’t think any banker will want to go, because they lived this, and traders will just point up the stuff that wasn’t right.
It was a film “made for outsiders who want to be smart about the inside”, he added.
But, speaking as an outsider, I think it’s much better than that.