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'

Paul Gallagher
Wednesday 21 August 2013 16:15
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan holds weekly group sessions with bankers of varying experience to deal with sleep deprivation, depression and stress
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan holds weekly group sessions with bankers of varying experience to deal with sleep deprivation, depression and stress

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.”

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