Moritz Erhardt, a 21-year-old business administration student, has been found dead in a flat in Bethnal Green, as he came close to finishing a seven-week internship with the Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Reports are claiming that in the weeks leading up to his death he was working insanely long hours in the investment banking division, and his story shows just how dangerous the pressure to excel can be.
Long hoursErhard, who was from Freiburg in Germany, was a model intern. According to a report in the Telegraph his colleagues said he was being 'tipped for greatness'. The bank said in a statement that he was "a highly diligent intern at our company with a promising future."
Clearly Erhard had taken on board the fact that his internship was an opportunity to make an impression, and help him secure a position on graduation, and as a result he was happy to work long hours to demonstrate his commitment.
At this stage it's far too early to say exactly how long those hours were. Unverified reports from wallstreetoasis.com are claiming that Erhard's death came after he worked until 6am on three consecutive days. However, these remain unverified rumours, and we will have to wait for the post-mortem and inquest to see how he died, and what hours he was working.
Banking cultureWhile it's impossible know what the factors were in this case (at this stage), there's no denying that the huge rewards available to investment bankers come at the cost of having to work some incredibly long-hours - between 80 and 100 hours a week is not uncommon at many banks.
In some cases this is absolutely required - when a client needs a deal turned around immediately, and an employee needs to stay at their desk for 48 hours to make it happen. It's no wonder that it's a job for people in their 20s and 30s - and so many have burned out by their 40s.
There remains a question of whether this spills over into a long-hours culture, where the worth of an employee is measured by their stamina, devotion to their desk, and their refusal to go home.
The Mergers & Inquisitions blog ran a real-life 'week in the life of' feature of an investment banking analyst, which made incredible reading, with weekends starting at 12pm on Saturday after finishing work seven hours earlier. The relaxation lasted just three hours before he was called back to work.
This isn't uncommon: the University of Southern California studied the working hours of 24 entry-level investment bankers for two years. They found that they worked an average of 100 hours a week in their first year and 80 hours a week in their second year.
However, there is a real price to pay for these long hours in terms of health. When the researchers returned in their fourth year and interviewed the bankers about their health, symptoms included heart palpitations, insomnia, eating disorders, alcoholism and explosive tempers.