After graduating from Yale in 2019, Sade Kammen had high hopes for her future career on Wall Street.
But in her two years in high finance — working first at Goldman Sachs and then the asset manager Ares — Kammen, a Black woman who is now 24, said she rarely felt at home.
“Working through the beginning of the pandemic in finance, I think I just heard things that felt so out of touch from the reality that my peers were living, that I was living, that my family was living,” she said in an interview with Insider. “Talking about someone buying a third home while people are like, ‘I’m losing my job, I’ve lost everything,’ is just so disjointing.”
She recalled the moment that crystallized her decision to leave Goldman, where she spent a year as a financial analyst for the private-wealth division. It came in June 2020, during the height of the protests following the death of George Floyd.
Kammen received a phone call from the managing director on her team to inquire about how she was holding up. She described it as just the second direct call she’d gotten from him since the firm pivoted to remote work in March, with the first coming just days into the transition. Waiting for three months for a check in, and only receiving it during the apex of national protests related to racial issues, was “harrowing” and “a slap in the face,” Kammen said.
She left the firm that same month.
A spokesperson for Goldman Sachs declined to comment. Following Floyd’s death, CEO David Solomon sent an internal voice memo to staff urging them to acknowledge the tragedy: “I want you to check in with each other, and be willing to have conversations that may take us outside of our comfort zone.”
Kammen is a member of Generation Z, defined as the cohort of young people between the ages of 9 to 24. On Wall Street, they represent the faces of a changing tide. They have new expectations, ranging from more freedom in their schedules, to more diversity in their ranks, to speedier promotions. And they’re ruffling feathers as a result.
To be sure, this isn’t the first time that a wide-eyed generation of new college grads-turned-wannabe masters of the universe has arrived on Wall Street with big dreams — only to walk away disappointed and exhausted. But the current situation appears to be different because banks are in the midst of a staffing shortage, which has been worsened by the preponderance of other industries, like tech, that offer decent pay and more magnanimous working conditions.
“You still get the gunner that has dreamed of being in investment banking since he was 8 years old and is willing to put up with whatever the industry throws at them,” Patrick Curtis, a former investment banker, told Insider.
But most Gen Z analysts and interns “are looking to have work-life balance. They’re not willing to go through the hazing and the boot-camp type mentality,” added Curtis, the founder of Wall Street Oasis, an online water cooler for the finance industry where insiders trade secrets and commiserate with one another.
I worry that banking leadership doesn’t have the capacity to do what’s needed for this generation.Julia Lamm, Partner, PwC
Insider interviewed more than 20 people — a mix of junior and senior investment bankers, finance industry education pros, and others — to better understand what the younger generation of bankers wants, and whether they stand any chance of making headway in an industry known to be slow to change. Some who spoke to Insider said Gen Z bankers’ demands are simply out of control and need to be reined in. But others said it’s the status quo that needs to change, lest Wall Street be left in the dust.
“I worry that banking leadership doesn’t have the capacity to do what’s needed for this generation,” Julia Lamm, a partner and global workforce strategy leader in the financial-services people and organization practice at PwC, told Insider.
Banking leaders are “really trying to wrap their heads” around Gen Z’s evolving expectations and outlook, Lamm said. But “the realization that they need to change is not totally hitting yet.”
The first signs of friction between young bankers and their Wall Street peers burst into public view earlier this year when two leaked presentations came to light that had Goldman Sachs investment-banking analysts venting about the tribulations of remote work.
The ensuing frenzy sparked a series of pay raises at investment banks large and small. The raises were accompanied by headline-making promises of reforms, such as
-free Fridays at Citi, protected Saturdays at Goldman, and even all-expenses-paid vacations at middle-market firm Houlihan Lokey.
Some investment banks are also trying to accommodate demands for greater work flexibility, even as firms like Goldman Sachs remain steadfast in their expectations that workers return to their desks full time.
“If an analyst says, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen my family in a while — I’m hoping to see them for that week of Thanksgiving and I’d be happy to work from home,’ we’re much more likely to allow that now,” said Devon Ritch, a partner at Union Square Advisors, an independent tech-focused mergers-and-acquisitions bank. “That really helps with morale and retention.”
It’s not just holidays. Union Square Advisors implemented a hybrid work model this year, as have larger Wall Street banks like Citi and Lazard.
In spite of these changes, industry insiders said that pressure continues to bubble beneath the surface. One reason is that some junior bankers seem to want more than to take their work with them over holiday breaks. They want greater autonomy over their schedules, more down time, and, occasionally, to even be able to turn their phones off — privileges that, until recently, were unheard of in corners of Wall Street like investment banking.
One managing director at a middle-market advisory firm recently recalled feeling miffed when a second-year analyst sent an email to announce he’d be vacationing in Central America for a week in January.
His plan would violate a sacrosanct rule of the junior-banker pledge: Never be entirely out of range. It’s impossible to know when something could go wrong on a deal, and even a junior analyst might need to intervene to solve an impromptu crisis.
“My first instinct was, that’s kind of aggressive,” the managing director told Insider, declining to be identified discussing matters relating to staff. When she was an analyst, the MD recalled, “if you were going somewhere, it would be unacceptable for you to have limited to no connectivity.”
The explosion of remote work has contributed to some of these tensions.
Amy, a 24-year-old former investment banker at a bulge-bracket firm who falls on the upper end of the Gen Z age range, said that some of her younger colleagues have used working from home as a shield to set their own schedules.
“People would just say, ‘Yup, I’m not free on Thursday morning. I have a dentist appointment — and really maybe they’ve gone to brunch,” Amy, who has been working at a private-equity firm since the fall, said in an interview. (“Amy” is a pseudonym chosen by Insider to protect the private-equity associate’s identity, though their employment record has been verified.)
Amy recalled analysts who would dip out for early-afternoon jogs at times like 2 to 3 p.m., and the story of a notorious analyst in Miami who ducked out around 7 p.m. on weeknights to get lit on South Beach with friends — even if that meant ditching his work responsibilities. Once he had checked out for the evening, he would simply stop responding to work messages, Amy recalled.
“He added all of us on Instagram,” she said, “and we could see he was out at these club-like dinners.”
People are hesitant to change firm culture based on an increasingly transitory group of young people.
A separate middle-market director complained that early-career bankers took advantage of remote work arrangements to dodge coming into the office — even as they were meeting friends for dinners and drinks at New York City bars after work.
But the banker, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media, acknowledged that some senior bankers, too, have ignored guidance by his firm to return to work when they could. He pointed to managing directors who live in Connecticut and have “a whole wing to go do calls and close their door and have privacy.”
His view on the culture clash? It’s not worth bending over backwards for a group of people who will filter out to other jobs in a few years anyway.
“There is a certain element, whether people will admit it or not, that the old-guard — the partner, senior banker, MD-level guys — do view the analyst population as a transient group,” the director said. “People are hesitant to change firm culture based on an increasingly transitory group of young people that aren’t going to stick around long enough to make real change.”
Impatience to get ahead faster is another well-documented hallmark of Generation Z.
“This generation has grown up with iPads and grown up having smartphones, and therefore is used to things being done quickly,” said Shaam Badi, a former Deutsche Bank sales and trading summer analyst who is set to intern within the investment-banking division at Barclays in 2022.
“That can cause a disconnect, especially with banking — which is a more traditional industry and there’s a very clear pecking order,” the 22-year-old finance major at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business told Insider.
A 2019 survey released by workplace-coaching firm InsideOut Development backed that up. Three quarters of Gen Zers feel they should receive a promotion within their first year of work, the survey found. Nearly a third felt that a promotion should come as soon as their first six months.
Some banks appear to be moving the needle on their promotional timetables. Financial News reported this year that the investment-banking divisions of Jefferies Financial Group and Credit Suisse would reduce the length of their analyst programs from three years to two, speeding up the timeline for young bankers.
Riya Sharma, the 22-year-old self-proclaimed “Gossip Girl” of finance and founder of the Instagram page Wall Street Confessions, is unsurprised by Wall Street’s promotion fast-tracking. She sees pleas from junior bankers all the time who are worn out of languishing at the junior levels.
“There are people who whistleblow — they’re like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. Investment banking is worse than going to war,'” said Sharma, speaking about recent submissions to her Instagram account which has accumulated more than 126,000 followers.
But then, she added, some senior bankers take a more stringent line: “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps,” they say in the comment section, she added, even if that means doing “pivot tables for 80 hours a week.”
When it comes to sticking with their jobs, Gen Zers appear to be a particularly capricious bunch. According to a report released by Adobe in August, 56% of Gen Z-aged respondents said they were likely to switch jobs within the next year.
That’s notably contrasted from the 72% of Gen Xers — that is, adults ages 41 to 56 — who plan to spend at least seven years with a single employer, according to 2019 research by talent-recruitment platform Yello.
When Gen Xers were growing up, they were considered the job hoppers, suggesting Gen Zers may also settle down with age. In the meantime, the world is their oyster, thanks to a strong jobs market.
Wall Street is no exception, and has been increasing pay for junior bankers in part to keep pace with burgeoning demand for their services, especially when it comes to advice around mergers and acquisitions.
But money isn’t always enough of a lure. Jessica Shen, a 22-year-old finance and business analytics major at the Wharton School of Business, interned at Credit Suisse this past summer in an experience she said turned out to be “very dull.”
Though she admittedly did expect much of the internship to be composed of menial work, she also hoped to get a taste of Wall Street’s fast-paced dealmaking culture. But, in the end, she was disappointed. Most of the nine-week internship consisted of taking notes, moving logos around on a page, or making edits to PowerPoint decks, she told Insider. She received a return offer to join the Swiss bank full-time, but isn’t taking it.
Instead, Shen has decided to go into consulting. She’s accepted a job at EY Parthenon, a division of the massive consulting and accounting giant EY, where she’ll be an associate consultant following graduation next summer. She expects that the consulting lifestyle, with its more intriguing work and prospects for travel, will be more appealing.
“People in Gen Z are a lot less satisfied with the status quo or staying where they’re at,” Shen said. “They want to start switching jobs more and to do something that they’re actually passionate about. It’s not just to make money.”
I get to be in the sunshine. I had days in finance where I wouldn’t see the sun.Sade Kammen, a former financial analyst at Goldman Sachs
That sentiment — that there’s more to life than compensation — also resonates with Kammen, the former Goldman Sachs private-wealth analyst who left the financial industry this year.
After leaving Goldman, Kammen joined Ares for a year in its Los Angeles office, but resigned from the investment firm this summer. Now she teaches surf lessons, volunteers at local food banks, and is a student at the University of Southern California working toward a master’s degree in social work. She conceded that the money isn’t what it was when she lived in New York — but there are some things that matter far more.
“I get to be in the sunshine,” Kammen concluded. “I had days in finance where I wouldn’t see the sun.”
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