Think of it like The Real World: Wall Street. One journalist followed around eight young strangers in their first years of banking. Then the journalist, New York magazine’s Kevin Roose, put it all together in a book.
The book is called Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits, and it’s out today.
Roose spent years interviewing his subjects, crashing parties and recruiting events, even taking an Excel modeling classes. The work shows. His book is an honest portrait of young kids who, like everyone else, are engaged in the arduous business of growing up. They just happen to have a weird environment in which to do it.
It’s clear from Roose’s writing that you don’t watch this sort of evolution without evolving yourself. That’s why Business Insider caught up with him to get some answers about what he found—what is it that desensitizes kids when they get to The Street, how he found eight (eight!) young bankers who weren’t too scared to talk to him, and more.
Here’s what he learned:
Business Insider: What did you think about Wall Street before you started this project and how has that changed?
Kevin Roose: To be honest, I don’t think my opinions of “Wall Street,” as an entity, have changed that much. I still think banks are too big. I still think greed and insufficient regulation are a problem. I still think the financial crisis was a terrible, preventable thing.
What changed is how I think about bankers. I don’t judge the young ones as a group anymore. There are good ones, and bad ones, and you kind of have to evaluate them on their individual merits, rather than writing them all off at once.
BI: How could you tell when you found someone who would make a good subject?
KR: I wanted to get a good cross-section of young Wall Street, so I had to make sure that in the group I chose, women would be represented, people of color would be represented, and they’d be spread out across Wall Street in terms of their firms and their job functions. Of course, the most important consideration was whether they were willing to be honest and real with me. If they just wanted to brag about how many beers they crushed last night or how many models they’d slept with, I wasn’t that interested.
BI: Now that you’ve done this, why do you actually think people go to Wall Street?
KR: I think some people, especially people who come out of college with student debt, or whose parents are working-class, do it for the money. But other people do it because it’s easy. If you go to Yale or Princeton, all your friends are going into banking, it pays well and gives you a prestigious launching pad and all you have to do is drop your resume into a box to apply—a lot of kids say, why not?
BI: What do all these kids have in common after their experience on the Street?
KR: Gray hair.
BI: In a sentence, what does Wall Street do to your brain?
KR: Can I do it in a GIF?
BI: Do you think these kids got paid too much?
KR: I mean, it’s a lot of money. Most of them were making somewhere between $90,000 and $130,000 their first year, and more after that. I heard some of them say that if you calculate it hourly, based on how much they work, it’s like $16 an hour. That’s a good job! But it isn’t as amazing as most people think.
BI: Have any of the kids you followed who left Wall Street shed the habits that they picked up there, or are they forever changed?
KR: I think a lot of the day-to-day habits are sheddable, especially if you get out within two years. But even the bankers who left finance told me that working on Wall Street had changed the way they thought about the world. It’s a very strong belief system. I don’t know if you can ever really leave it behind.
BI: Did you ever for any moment during your research wish you had become a banker? Even a little bit? Why? Why not?
KR: Nope! I’d be a terrible banker. I took an Excel boot camp, to learn how to make Excel models and stuff, and I think I came in last in the class on every exercise. And seeing how miserable my sources were at their jobs wasn’t exactly a glowing testimonial. Also, I’m pretty sure I’m blackballed now, even if I did have a change of heart.
BI: The bottom line is that a lot of the kids you wrote about weren’t happy. How should schools or recruiting programs change so that kids who won’t be happy on Wall Street don’t end up there?
KR: I think it’s happening naturally as the industry’s prestige wears off. It used to be that the kid at Yale who majored in archaeology would go into banking, just because that was the popular and cool thing to do. Now, that kid has more options, like going to Teach For America or Google. More of the students who are interested in Wall Street now are the ones who actually want to be bankers. There are fewer unhappy dilettantes who just do it because it’s the next step on the path.
BI: Did you ever get mad or frustrated at your subjects? And if so, why?
KR: Once, I remember prodding a guy who was feeling sorry for himself. This guy was making something like $200,000 a year as a 24-year-old in private equity and he still wasn’t happy, and he was pouring out his woes to me, and I kind of stopped him short. Like, do you know how lucky you are compared to the rest of the world? Most of the time, though, the bankers I followed had a good perspective on the relative size of their problems.
BI: What was the most obnoxious thing you saw in your research?
KR: I went to a Fashion Meets Finance dating mixer, which is where they put a bunch of Wall Street dudes in a room with a bunch of women who work in fashion. That was an atrocious party, just horrible. I actually heard a guy use the phrase “PJ,” as in “private jet.”
BI: What is it about Wall Street that desensitizes people?
KR: I think it’s the pace. When you’re 22 and working at a bank, you don’t have much time to be sensitive and introspective. It’s all about getting things done, avoiding mistakes, and impressing the boss.
BI: Did any banks seem to have a better culture than others or were they all the same?
KR: You know, I actually didn’t see much of a difference between banks. I certainly think there are tendencies within the divisions of a firm—the stereotypical oil trader is a little more jock-like and macho than the investment banker at the same firm. But all the bankers I followed tended to have a fairly common set of experiences, no matter where they worked.
BI: Do you know any adults who made it through Wall Street well adjusted? How do you think they did it?
KR: I think it has to do with avoiding social isolation. If everyone you interact with all day is a millionaire or billionaire and works in finance, it warps your perspective. The people I know who work in finance and are the best-adjusted are the people who have diverse groups of friends—you know, they play pick-up basketball with cops, or they volunteer at a school one day a week. Their lives are bigger than just banking.