Besides business-as-usual interrupted by random activities I have already described (http://anjci.com/monkey-business-random-stuff-i-did-a-2/ and http://anjci.com/monkey-business-random-stuff-i-did-a/), my investment banking existence was defined by a number of important routines. It was perhaps that pressure levels were so consistently high. Get rid of the routines, and the establishment could have easily sunk into chaos, landing most of us in a mental clinic. Routines were important in segmenting our everyday working life, by this making it more manageable and providing the predictability otherwise lacking.
The first important routine of the day was breakfast. Most bankers would have it in the office, supposedly extending their sleep time. I chose not to compromise and resisted the temptation of such classic takeaway breakfast options as Starbucks muffins, Pret’s triple sandwiches or butter-soaked toasts from our Deli canteen. I could never quite overcome every banker’s Starbucks coffee addiction, though. There was a Starbucks shop on the ground floor of my UBS building, and, besides making friends with the entire Polish staff there, I frequented the place for some caffeine fix, too.
Breakfast time varied substantially across bankers. For those only hit by inspiration in the night hours (predominantly Southern Europeans), mornings were late and breakfast often approached the lunch hour. For early birds, breakfast came at a normal office entry hour around 9am. For a weak minority of home breakfasters (like myself), 9am was the coffee time. I never understood how a few extra moments of sleep could beat the privilege of a breakfast without facing your computer – or your colleagues, in a case yet worse.
The next important daily routine was – predictably – lunch. Unfortunately, whoever had designed investment banking forgot to allocate some quality time for this second meal of the day. A lunch outside the office was an emergency measure only – an excuse to attend an interview or some precious time to sort out real health issues. Emergency conditions not satisfied, lunch was consumed in front of one’s computer, oily or wasabi-stained fingers ceaselessly tapping the keyboard.
During my 4-month experience at the European Central Bank (with 1-hour mandatory lunch breaks), I developed a kind of allergy for office lunches. My little sign of protest was to skip lunch at UBS altogether and stick to bananas picked up from some senior guy’s private basket. At least having fruit in the office did not feel quite as bad as choking on lunch in full view of the people whose mere sight magically deactivated any appetite.
After lunch came the gym. I speak for myself here, as bankers are not exactly the most avid gym-goers. In addition, those who went could also pick early mornings (suicide killers) or late evenings (sleep walkers). I tried to stick to my mid-afternoon routine though, shamelessly walking out of the office around 3pm and taking up a full 1.5 hours to swim. I never felt a slightest remorse. When you are in the office for the minimum of 15 hours a day, popping out in the middle of the day loses its criminal spark. Of course, wise analysts hit the gym when their seniors were not around. I guess I had failed that ultimate analyst wisdom test.
The primary routine of the day came around 6:45-7pm, when the fruit basket came. Yes, back in the good old days, UBS had free baskets full of seasonal fruit supplied to every banking floor. The baskets were meant both for mornings and evenings, but it was the evening one that soared impatience in the air as the due hour approached. Some bankers got off their feet and circled anxiously around the spot where the evening basket would arrive. Some were looking at the door impatiently. Some would zoom off for some groceries, not forgetting to instruct their colleagues to save some fruit. The electricity load would reach its critical point when – bingo! – the door would fly open, the fruit trolley roll in, the Filipino lady enter, and the basket of fruit land on its usual spot.
Bananas, as well as grapes, were especially popular with monkeys like us. I personally was famous for rapid depletion of the entire floor’s grapes supply – until once overdosing on glucose and having to cut off. In general, banking was about taking everything to extreme. Partying meant none or heavy. Sleeping meant none or day-long. Bonus was zero or a fat salary multiple. I came to live the concept. Grapes meant tonnes. Or none.
After fruit came dinner, typically ordered online and consumed in a conference room. Another option was to shop at Marks & Spenser nearby for a daily allowance. After heavy abuse of the system (some individuals reportedly squeezed frying pans and flowers into their dinner bills), the initial allowance was cut by 40%. It was still enough for a bunch of snacks, a hot meal and a soft drink. Unfortunately, we never managed to convince the management to stretch that dinner definition onto alcohol. Not even did champagne qualify.
The online selection of meals never quite impressed. I remember a couple of sushi options (which I could not stomach after eating sushi for three months daily), several bad Chinese ones (with sweet-and-sour sauce a screaming shade of red), an Indian place (the food I generally cannot stand), two pizza points (Friday night dinner sorted) and several others. Another disadvantage of online ordering was the waiting time. Not once did the delivery bikers go into oblivion, only to emerge two hours later with the most unthinkable excuses. The order reaching its destination as planned, a junior person would be sent downstairs to collect it together with soft drinks and plastic cutlery (which UBS provided for free). Everything would be brought into a large conference room, of which every floor typically had several, and the feast would start.
One thing I never understood was why, instead of trying to wrap up as soon as possible and have dinner at home, would the bankers make themselves comfortable in that stinking conference room instead, taking over an hour to munch through their fast food and daily gossip. I refused to follow, first naively thinking that it would get me home sooner, and then choosing to sort my private online matters in the absence of my colleagues. The fact aggravating the problem was that most of my colleagues were male. In fact, for most of the time, I was the only female banker in the team of about 18 males. Even when I did feel an urge to socialise, entering the conference room full of tired males was for me like breaking into a village pub where everyone had known each other for years. The guys would go silent for a while, and then continue in a more awkward, stumbling manner. After a while, I stopped trying, instead choosing to live with the “anti-social” stamp in my every review.
The penultimate routine of the day was calling a cab. It was indeed the most magic moment of the day and the last obstacle on our way to sleep. The trick here was to exit as quietly as possible. Some bankers left their computers on, complex Excel spreadsheets all over the screen for diversion. Some would leave their personal possessions behind. Some would call cabs from conference rooms or remote desks. I personally favoured a combination of a blackberry cab call from the ladies toilet followed by an emergency exit escape. My computer would always stay on, which, I suspect, eventually lost its message as everybody else was doing the same.
The very last episode on the way home was the cab drive. After a few months, I started recognising individual cab drivers, inquiring about their families and even discussing personal romantic disappointments. Somehow I looked forward to those drives as my only daily source of interaction with non-banker species. And non-foreigners, too.
And then the new day came. Breakfast, lunch, gym, fruit, dinner, cab. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat…