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The downside to being an 'elite worker.'

Morning Coffee: The ‘crushing intensity of exploiting an expensive education to extract a return.’ Bank jettisons job titles

If you’re an average banker or trader working 12+ hour days to make a living, Yale Law professor Daniel Markovits  has coined the sort of phrase that might make you wonder about your choices. In an extract from his new book, the Meritocracy Trap published in the Atlantic, Markovits says winning at the meritocracy game is not all it’s supposed to be. Instead of enjoying the fruits of their (often excessive) labors, he says meritocracy’s champions are burdened by the need to, ‘work with crushing intensity, ruthlessly exploiting their expensive education in order to extract a return.’

Markovits is talking about bankers. But he’s also talking about lawyers, consultants, employees of big tech firms and any members of the meritocratic elite who have achieved their positions by virtue of their own (very) hard work. The winners in meritocratic systems are just as trapped by their positions as the losers, says Markowitz. – If your wealth and status depend on your ‘human capital’, you can’t afford to follow your passion. Instead, you need to devote yourself to ‘a narrowly restricted class of high-paying jobs, concentrated in finance, management, law, and medicine.’ This is particularly the case if you want to afford the kind of elite education which will give your own children a chance of winning themselves. The result is a need to work with, ‘unprecedented intensity.’

Markovits’ proposed solution is a sort of dilution of the meritocratic game: winners don’t win so big and losers don’t lose so catastrophically. Given that he himself is a meritocratic medalist (Yale professor, graduate of the London School of Economics, Oxford, and Harvard), he might be accused of hypocrisy or public self-flagellation. 

Nonetheless, there could be something in it. – Markovits notes that 66% of elite workers say they’d decline a new job if it meant even more hours and that people working 60+ hours a week say that, on average, they’d like to work 25 hours less.  In the meantime, working weeks for winners keep rising. – In 1962 the American Bar Association said ‘normal’ lawyers should have 1,300 fee-earning hours per year; by 2000 that had gone up to 2,400 (implying 12 hour days, six days a week, with no vacation or sick time) for anyone who wanted to make partner at one top law firm.

Something similar has happened in banking, where Markovits notes that ‘bankers’ hours’ of 10am to 3pm in the 19th century were supplanted by a banker’s 9-5 (9am to 5am) in the late 20th. There might be a category mismatch here – the 19th century figures sound distinctly retail banking-related, but it’s difficult to dispute that life can be grueling at the top of the pole. - And that working from 10-3 would be rather relaxing.

Separately, one bank has gone down the route of making everyone into a homogenous mass by doing away with some of its job titles. Copenhagen-based Danske Bank recently had 3,600 job titles according to Bloomberg; soon it will only have 400. Rather than doing-away with hierarchical nomenclature, Danske is simply going to be cancelling some of the more obtuse jobs that have crept into its compendium (- Compliance Wizard?). Bankers like a bit of hierarchy anyhow – BNP Paribas deliberately introduced the rank of managing director in 2016 because, ‘people like to know where they stand.’


34 year-old Christian Trunz, who worked at JPMorgan’s London, Singapore and New York offices, admitted to placing thousands of orders for gold, silver and other metals futures contracts that he did not intend to execute. – ‘Spoofing.’ (Financial Times)  

Barclays hired Alastair Blackman from Deutsche Bank as a managing director and UK coverage banker. (Financial News)

UBS’s new post-Brexit European operations will be led by a woman. Frankfurt-baesd Christine Novakovic is one of the fewer than 10% women who occupy top jobs in Germany’s finance industry.  (Reuters)

Demand for big data skills at U.S finance firms was up 60% in the 12 months to July. “Highly trained” finance workers need to be “retrained to focus on data science and all of the job functions that are required to support data science analytics,” says Andrew Lo, director of the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering in Cambridge, Mass. (Bloomberg) 

A hedge fund manager committed suicide after being charged with trading on confidential governmental information. The hedge fund that employed him still wants the $100m back that it paid him between 2007 and 2016. (New York Post)  

Edward Bramson still wants Barclays to rein-in its investment bank. (Reuters)

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.comin the first instance. Whatsapp/Signal/Telegram also available.

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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