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Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits

By Kevin Roose

Grand Central Publishing

320 pages, $27

By Stephen T. Watson

News Book reviewer

At the height of the financial crisis, when investment banks Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and others were blamed for recklessly destroying the American economy, Kevin Roose posed a question:

Why would a recently minted college graduate want to work on Wall Street?

Or, to put it another way, would the country’s top banks, used to having their pick of Ivy League students, have trouble recruiting new talent following this blow to their reputations?

To find the answer, Roose immersed himself in the world of Wall Street, which he has covered for New York magazine and the New York Times.

He interviewed banking titans, superstar investment analysts and business school professors. He participated in a training session for young analysts, attended a crass matchmaking session between financier men and fashion industry women and snuck into the annual meeting of a secret Wall Street society.

But the heart of the book is Roose’s interviewing dozens of young recruits, the future financial elite, who offer us a look inside the industry from the perspective of the workers on its lowest rung.

Roose focuses on eight financial analysts, all but embedding with them during their first three years on the job, as they candidly share their aspirations and bouts of disillusionment.

The author provides background on how Wall Street recruiting works, with the nation’s biggest banks selecting students from a variety of fields of study – not just business majors – from Penn, Princeton, Stanford and other elite schools.

In exchange for better pay than most of their classmates would see, and for the prestige of a Wall Street bank on their resume, the students are also signing up for relationship-straining, 100-hour work weeks, grindingly boring job responsibilities and harsh treatment from senior analysts.

Those were the rules that legions of college graduates eagerly accepted, but the crisis “reshaped Wall Street,” in Roose’s words, prompting closings, layoffs and slashed bonuses.

In the early days of the recession, as anger against the “Too Big to Fail” banks coalesced in the Occupy movement, grads seeking jobs on Wall Street found themselves defending that choice to friends, family and fellow alums. A few, upon meeting a stranger, lied about where they worked.

But even at the height of the backlash, 20-somethings flocked to finance.

Through Roose, we meet Chelsea Ball, who is glad to have a job but depressed by her assignment in the public finance division at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where she deals with a “pathologically paranoid” boss and takes up boxing to work out her unhappiness.

And Derrick Havens, who works in Chicago for Wells Fargo, a guy from small-town Wisconsin who mixes Adderall and Red Bull to cope with the long hours and vows to move back to Wisconsin before Wall Street takes over his soul.

Then there are Jeremy Miller-Reed and Samson White, sales and trading analysts at Goldman Sachs. Miller-Reed thrives on the adrenaline rush he gets from working on a big deal, but over time sours on his job and focuses on finding an escape route from Goldman.

His pal White keeps a diary, revealing early on in his Goldman stint, “I just hope I survive,” while gaining weight, drinking to excess and sleeping poorly because of the stress.

All of the young bankers were violating their companies’ policies by talking to a reporter, so Roose changed their names and other identifying details for “Young Money.”

Between those stories, Roose mixes in descriptions of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he covers for several weeks, and a Goldman recruiting event at Yale.

Memorably, Roose slips into a self-important, black-tie induction ceremony for the Kappa Beta Phi society, which boasts off-color humor from unfiltered masters of Wall Street.

One charming witticism captures the tone: “What’s the biggest difference between Hillary Clinton and a catfish? One has whiskers and stinks, and the other is a fish.”

Roose is exposed after he attempts to record a parody song number on his smartphone. He is escorted out, threatened and offered a bribe, while one official begs, “Just leave out the vulgar stuff, please.” Roose writes that the event “amounted to a gargantuan middle finger to Main Street.”

That’s a good, outrage-fueled line from Roose. Another elegant term that caught my eye was a reference to “amphetaminic all-nighters.”

How devoted was Roose to his reporting? One evening of drinking with Havens ended with the young banker spending the night in Roose’s apartment after Havens threw up and passed out there.

Following eight bankers provides a diversity of personalities, and experiences, but it limits our emotional investment in any one of them. For that reason, I’d still recommend Michael Lewis’ classic memoir of his early days on Wall Street, “Liar’s Poker,” which Roose cites.

But Roose tells a timely story and reaches a strong conclusion, that we as a country have paid “an enormous cost” by sending so many of our most promising graduates into finance and allowing Wall Street’s amoral culture “to enter our national bloodstream.”

Today, he writes optimistically, “at the margin, for the first time in decades, the big banks are beginning to lose their grip. And that’s good for us all.”

Stephen T. Watson is a News business reporter.