Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern Moritz Erhardt died of an epileptic seizure after allegedly working three all-nighters at the investment bank.
But a coroner ruled that the young, ambitious worker's death was not caused by exhaustion. Even so, Erhardt's tragic passing has seen investment banks change their policies for interns and junior staff following the incident.
Credit Suisse is the latest lender to introduce new guidelines on Wall Street. The Swiss-based multinational urged junior workers to stay away from the office on Saturdays and that analysts and associates – typically low-level junior ranks – will not be allowed in the investment bank's US office from 6pm on Friday through to Sunday.
The news comes after other lenders, including JPMorgan among others, have made life easier for junior workers. Goldman Sachs, for instance, told its analysts they should not regularly work weekends – as the bank plans to increase its analyst intake, hiring 332 in 2014, up 14% on this year and 23% on 2012. But the changes, although welcome, may not get to the heart of the problem – the culture, or at least the perceived culture, of investment banking.
In an industry where interns can be awarded staggering salaries of £40,000 on a pro rata basis, it is not hard to see why so many young people are attracted to the diamond encrusted profession.
Why pick a career in engineering, become an academic or work in the public sector if a firm is willing to give you enormous amounts of money?
Especially after you've been being paying £9,000 a year in tuition fees alone and house prices continue to rise to ridiculous heights. You can hardly blame the wannabe "Wolfs of Wall Street".
But in the race for riches, the young workers are very eager to impress. Some are even willing to work endless amounts of hours and sacrifice their bodies and minds to secure a contract, in the case of an intern, or landing a bonus, in the case of a low-level worker. Some Wall Street interns, for example, told the Wall Street Journal that they worked 100-plus hours a week on average.
The disheartening thing is that such a revelation should be mind-blowing, but it isn't. Young workers are pitting themselves against each other in a perverse play-role of the prisoners' dilemma. The worrying thing is, with the decline of trade unionism in the UK and young people being weighed down by more and more debt, the phenomenon could creep over wholesale to this country.
The policy changes by the investment banks are important, but the marathon-man culture of the industry needs to be tackled. This won't be overcome in a boardroom or a HR policy, the interns and low-level workers will have to stick up for themselves – and this may mean taking on their peers.