Slavery in the City: Interns at investment banks are suffering 'inhumane treatment', warns doctor

Merrill Lynch intern Moritz Erhardt may have worked until 6am for three consecutive days before collapse and death at home as doctor says staff are suffering 'inhumane treatment'

Interns at investment banks are suffering “inhumane treatment” according to a doctor who has treated ‘City burnouts’ for almost 20 years as staff struggle to cope with punishing work hours.

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, who holds weekly group sessions with bankers of varying experience to deal with sleep deprivation, depression and stress, said she is witnessing a rise in the number of recent graduates seeking help. The London-based clinician also revealed she is treating a number of patients signed off work with exhaustion, nervous breakdowns, depression and anxiety resulting in eventual collapse.

Her call for companies to do more to look after their staff comes in the aftermath of the sudden death of Bank of America Merrill Lynch summer intern Moritz Erhardt. The 21-year-old German collapsed and died in the shower of his east London flat last Thursday. It has been suggested that he may have worked for 72 hours with little or no sleep. 

Poplar Coroner’s Court said today it is awaiting the results of Mr Erhardt’s post-mortem, which could take up to three weeks, before deciding whether to hold an inquest.

Dr Ramlakhan, stress and sleep therapist at Capio Nightingale Hospital in Marleybone, began seeing staff from Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs and other large investment banks two decades ago during corporate health assessments. She frequently speaks to up to 1,000 staff at a time as senior managers invite her to give seminars at bank offices.

“The problems have got worse over the last five years and up to 20 people at a time come to my weekly sessions now,” Dr Ramlakhan told The Independent. “Not just at investment banks, but also law firms and technology companies too. More than 85 per cent of my patients are working excessively long hours – more than 12 a day – and more of them are in their early 20s. They wake up to check their emails, they work on holiday and by the time I see them they need help and advice. However, they find it incredibly difficult to put it into practice, especially interns and trainees.

“They get increasingly frustrated and I don’t think it’s sustainable. Moritz Erhardt’s death is an indication of that. They are worked so hard that it’s inhumane.

“One patient I know has been in and out of work for five years. As soon as they are well enough to return, it doesn’t take long after walking back through the doors that the same problems return.”

László Andor, the EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion tweeted on Wednesday: “Exploitation of youth is unacceptable. Tragic death of M.Erhardt is a reminder of what internships should not be about.”

Labour MP Andy Love, who sits on the parliamentary commission on banking standards, called for reform of the industry. He said today: “I was shocked to hear of the tragic death of Moritz Erhardt. As a member of the commission, which published its final report ‘Changing Banking for Good’ earlier this year, I understand that the problems within banking are not just financial but also cultural.

“Our report outlines radical reform which is required to improve standards across the banking industry. One of the main points is that banks should report on, and come up with, plans to tackle the overwhelmingly male culture within banking. Changes to this ‘macho’ culture, which includes working ridiculously long hours, need to be made.

“I believe the report is a real blueprint for change which will ensure our banks work better in the future and become much more transparent and accountable regarding their financial and cultural practices.”

A former Merrill Lynch technology investment analyst said that the working practices were very similar when they worked at the company more than a decade ago.

“I regularly pulled two or more all-nighters a week,” they told The Independent. “I’d define that as going straight through to 5am, sometimes you’d get some sleep before people start coming in, but one MD in particular actually came into the office at 5am so you’d usually not get any sleep as he’d have new revisions for you by 6am. I worked there for almost a year but except for one international vacation I only got half a day off. I worked through all the weekends.

“I remember once being too tired to drive home and falling asleep in the car in the afternoon after two straight days of work and getting really sunburned. I also regularly slept underneath my desk on the floor at night just because I was too exhausted to drive home. The work was a combination of mentally and physically exhausting, which could really take a toll on the body.”

Interns and other bank staff on finance blogs continue to debate the City’s working hours culture on forums. Referring to Mr Erhardt’s death, one said online today: “What a sad event. This certainly shows that the Associates / VP’s need to take more responsibility in sending interns (and Analysts) home after a certain point which, in my experience, is typically done so something must have failed.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance & Administrative Executive

£19000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Finance & Administrative Exec...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Administrator

£10000 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital agency is looking ...

Guru Careers: Financial Director / FD / Senior Finance Manager

Up to 70k DOE: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Financial Director ...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen