Everyone’s talking about the new banking series over on the BBC. Industry is a drama that goes behind the scenes of a fictional trading floor called Pierpont. It follows the stories of a handful of juniors, including Harper (Myha’la Herrold), Rob (Harry Lawtey) and Yas (Marisa Abela) who work as traders in the fast-paced market division, and Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan) and Gus (David Jonsson) who work in the gruelling investment banking division.
Some of it looks quite hardcore. There are a lot of drugs, inter-office sex and some pretty nasty bosses. But is that what it’s really like? We wanted to find out more, so hunted down an investment banker, who has worked in some of the leading London banks, to tell us the truth…
There’s a lot of talk about the lack of sleep in Industry. In episode one, Hari takes a nap in the loo during an overnight stay at the office. Does sleeping in the bathroom cubicles actually happen?
Yes. And crying in them. My average work hours as a junior were from 9am to about 2am or 3am the next day. And at least once a week I would work through the night. And sometimes I would work three nights on the go.
When I was a graduate I worked for 6 months without any weekends. Not one. After that, I would book off a Friday, so that when I had to work it, I would complain and they would have to give me the Saturday afternoon off.
It makes it very difficult to keep commitments. Friends and family grow tired of you cancelling plans or turning up at 2am to a party. And as for relationships, you have to find yourself a very understanding partner. You’ll be taking calls a 3am some mornings, or answering emails on holiday. It’s just the way it is, but that’s why you get paid a lot.
In episode one, Hari dies from exhaustion after several all-nighters. Did these levels of exhaustion take their toll on you?
Yes, when I did get to go on holiday, I would sleep a lot. An ex and I were once going on holiday and he literally couldn’t wake me up. He had to roll me out of bed to get a reaction or we would miss our flight. And another time, I went on a skiing holiday with my mum for four days – I was asleep for three of them.
Now, after many years working in the industry, I’ve managed to find a better balance. It got to a point where I was meeting friends and I didn’t have anything to talk about apart from my job. They were laughing at cultural references, films they’d seen and theatre trips they’d been on – and I just had nothing to offer. I told my boss that all I want is to be able to book an 8pm reservation for dinner, and actually make it. Now I can.
In the first episode, Rob goes into work straight from a night out where he took ketamin, and others are seen snorting coke in the loo at a work dinner. Are drugs a problem in banking?
In my experience, no. Certainly no more than in any other industry, such as PR or journalism. At the same time, if you work in sales on the trading floor, part of your job is to entertain clients and build relationships. So, yes, you could be drinking until 3am. But it’s certainly no Wolf of Wall Street. Those days are long gone.
There’s a lot of sex being had in the office in Industry. Is that the case in the City’s banks?
There aren’t very many women in banking. In my cohort of 55 graduates, there were only 5 women. That doesn’t make for very good odds. Plus, within that small group, it means everyone knows about your relationship so it’s not something my colleagues did. There’s certainly no more inter-office relationships than say consulting, where there are lots, particularly as they go abroad a lot for training.
In episode 1, Rob is mocked for wearing a black Ted Baker suit on his first day. Are appearances an important deal in banking?
On the trading floor there’s definitely more of a focus on dressing well; an Hermès briefcase and a nice tie collection doesn’t go amiss. I knew one person who had a cheap pocket square ripped from his suit just for a laugh. But in the smaller banks and start-ups it’s less of an issue.
The juniors seem to be doing endless coffee and salad runs. Is that what you had to do?
Yes. The senior people are so busy, they literally don’t have time to move from their desk. So you’d have to do lots of coffee errands. I once saw a guy wandering around the mall with a hand-drawn map from his boss, who wanted a very specific coffee but couldn’t remember the name of the shop. But where you see all the traders going to the gym every morning, over in investment banking, we don’t have time for that.
Yas is bullied a lot by her boss – is this something that’s commonplace for juniors in the team?
It depends where you work. On the trading floor there’s a lot of swearing and shouting. In my area in investment banking, there’s less so. Bosses can be gruff, but you get used to it. In fact, you start to appreciate it. If there’s an end-of-year review and you’re in the bottom 10%, your team will be fired. You need a boss who is going to fight your corner and also call you up on stuff if you’re not doing things properly.
No matter how many things happen in the office and how stressful it gets, the characters keep coming back to work. Why do you still work in banking?
It’s intoxicating. It’s fast-paced. I’d rather do a job like that than something that’s really boring. Plus, the money is really good. To put it into perspective: when I was a junior, my boss’ phone bill alone was £5,000 a month. There are people in fashion and beauty, for example, who work terrible hours and get paid next to nothing. We’re under no illusion in banking. If we stopped getting good salaries, we’d just not turn up to work.
Plus, when I went into banking, it was the financial crash of 2009. I had £20k of student debt and no way to pay it off. Most of my friends were unemployed, while my starting salary was £45k plus free meals and taxis in the evening if I needed them. That’s why it’s an attractive prospect for young people now in this economic downturn. I’ve also been really lucky that I’ve had supportive bosses who genuinely want to see me do well in my job, and also in life.