According to this New York Times article, young wannabe bankers are the first to go in the most recent round of financial sector lay-offs.
I know. Boo hoo, right?
I won’t ask anyone to shed a tear for these youngsters who still have plenty of time to rethink the trajectory of their professional lives. Besides, looked at one way, the recession is the best thing to happen to this generation of young, ambitious college grads. Without easy access to the lucrative field of magical fairy dust mortgage derivatives, they might actually do something meaningful with their lives.
But the article also forces me to poke a hole in what has become a bizarre misconception about bankers. According to the article, “Being young on Wall Street once meant having it all: style, smarts and too much money to spend wisely.”
I won’t dispute whether young bankers ever spent money unwisely. I’ve seen them plunk down hundred dollar bills for the privilege of having some surly waitress/struggling artist bring them a bottle of vodka and some juice then tell them to make their own drinks–a neat little nightlife mutation called “cracking a bottle” that was meant to allow bankers to feel elite while non-bankers deftly took their money.
But the idea that bankers are widely renowned for their “style” or “smarts,” is, at best, laughable. I lived in New York for twenty years. I knew lots of professionals, both in banking and out of it. Without question, the bankers were not the smartest knives in the drawer. Even most of the bankers I’ve known would confess to a widespread intellectual mediocrity among their peers. The smartest ones, hands down, were the scientists, artists, and teachers.
As for style? Please. Find one person, other than a banker, who emulates the way bankers dress. Oversized grey or navy blue suits? Come on. Find a tailor, gentlemen. And, as for the ladies? Meh. It’s impossible to look stylish when you’re enslaved to a dress code intended to evoke uniform dullness.
In terms of the cultural life of New York City, bankers contribute exactly one thing: money. That’s no small thing, mind you, and I’m sure quite a few bartenders, waiters, and restaurant owners (not to mention strippers, hookers, and drug dealers) can credit the financial industry with a large portion of their profits. But I can promise you that no New Yorker ever lined up to get into a restaurant because it was popular with bankers. No one ever sought out the latest, hippest bar that bankers frequented. If anything, the arrival of hordes of bankers meant it was time to move on to a new bar. I used to play this cat and mouse game with my friends in New York City at a revolving Happy Hour wherein bankers basically chased us from Tribeca to Alphabet City and beyond.
So, to the young college graduates now being evicted from the financial services sector, I have this to say: thank your lucky stars. As a banker, people would have gladly relieved you of your money in a variety of ways. They would have even allowed you to feel elite as they did so. But they would not have admired you in the process. They would not have emulated you or sought out your company. They would not have found you cool. So if you want to be more than a leaking wallet in the cultural life of New York, or any city, find a job that has some kind of intrinsic value.
And to the former Goldman Sachs analyst who claims that, in the wake of Occupy Wall Street, the banking industry has “lost its luster,” I say this:
It never had any to begin with.