On any given trading floor, the sound of the July has always been somewhere between “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk, and the voice of an undergraduate student saying “I just don’t feel like I’m using my degree”. Interns complain about not having anything to do for the first half of their internship, then, if they’re any good, they start complaining about having too much to do. But in a year when the program has been cut in half and moved online, the protestations of idleness become a bit more acute. So it’s possible to sympathise with the plight – if not all of the sentiment and definitely not all of the language – of kids posting on the Wall Street Oasis forum, saying “I’m literally on my phone and taking naps throughout the day while getting paid a ridiculous amount”.
This was not exactly an unanticipated problem. A “virtual internship” is, unless considerable effort is put into doing something different, an eight-hour Zoom call every day for ten weeks. Few bankers would willingly put themselves through that. Charles Bristow at JP Morgan and Jim Esposito at Goldman Sachs have both said in the last couple of weeks that the usual model of a summer internship – lots of rotation, lots of learning by watching and lots of “just dropping by to see if you need anything” – isn’t going to work. If banks aren’t able to develop a more structured model to train talent, the whole system isn’t going to work, and here it is in action, not working.
Some of the interns posting on the WSO thread seem to be able to take a philosophical approach. If you already have an offer for the autumn, or an internship set up for next summer, then it doesn’t matter so much if the deal flow is absent and the analysts don’t want to talk to you – you can just “speed through the bs assignments and hop back on the PS4”. These interns are likely to arrive on their first day of investment banking having missed out on all the learning and relationship building experiences of a traditional program, but many bankers are pretty cynical about that anyway. The blessing of the 2020 internship programs is that they’re short – think of it as the same amount of boredom, crammed into half the time, and with some of the summer left unruined.
On the other hand, if the offer is going to be conditional on finding someone to impress or getting a good evaluation, then the kids will need to sit around trying to be proactive and hustle, dressed in office attire from the waist up as the games console blinks away. It’s a curious kind of psychological torture. And spare a thought for the anonymous poster who is going into the office every day, for an unpaid internship at a boutique M&A firm with no work. If anyone makes it through an experience like that with their sanity intact and a continued enthusiasm for a banking career, then future experiences like “flying half way round the world to be kept waiting ten hours for a ten minute meeting to be told the deal’s off” will seem positively bearable.
Daniel Davies – Read more on efinancialcareers.com