In Kevin Roose's new book, "Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street's Post-Crash Recruits," the New York Magazine writer chronicles the lives of eight twenty-somethings as they start their careers on post-financial-crisis Wall Street.
What he finds is that the financial sector is neither the bastion of strippers and blow you see in the movies, nor the natural destination for ambitious graduates it once was. Instead, it has become a place where, for many young people, fun goes to die.
HuffPost Biz took a few minutes to chat with the 26-year-old Roose and get his take on the book and the changing financial industry. We've edited the questions and answers for clarity.
What were some of the most surprising things you found while working on the project?
I expected going into this that I’d find a bunch of young bankers who spent all their time doing coke and going to strip clubs and driving fast cars. That’s the stereotype. I didn’t find any of that. In fact, most of the young bankers that I followed were pretty depressed. They worked 100 hours a week, they never saw their friends, they had no ability to plan for events because everything could be interrupted by work. And so even though they were making good money, it was almost like it didn’t matter because they were so unhappy.
So that was a shock to me, and I think that really turns the "Wolf of Wall Street" stereotype on its head, to say these people aren’t really having the time for their lives.
Will the experiences of these people be enough to push Wall Street to change?
To be fair, it is an unprecedented step on Wall Street for analysts to be given Saturdays off. To a lot of old-school Wall Streeters, that would seem crazy. What are you there to do, if not to work Saturdays? But I think the banks are realizing that they’re really screwed -- not only when it comes to retaining their current employees, but recruiting young people for the next generation.
College students think dramatically differently about Wall Street now than they did before the crash.
How do they think differently?
It used to be that if you went to a school that fed a lot to Wall Street -- a Harvard or a Princeton or a Yale or a Wharton -- there was a certain sense in which Wall Street was the default option. It was what you did, not only if you were an economics major, but if you were a political science major or a philosophy major. You would just sort of go to Wall Street a lot of the time because it was what people did for two years. It was just sort of like a post-grad program for those schools.
It stopped becoming the default option. It’s now something that people have to actively choose. You don’t see nearly as many of the art-history majors from Harvard that sort of stumble into this and are just doing it because everyone else is.
How did you cozy up to these Young Wall Streeters to get them to tell you their stories?
The hardest part was getting people to agree to do this, because, as you know, if these young bankers talk to the media and their firms find out, then they’re fired. So I was basically trying to convince people to put their careers in my hands.
What I did was build relationships. I tried many more than eight people. The ones who said yes were the people who grew to feel comfortable with me. If I had to get inside their heads, I think probably part of the reason that they talked to me was curiosity. It felt rebellious to be talking to the media.
But after time passed and we got into years two and three of this, I think they started to see me as kind of an outlet. I was almost like free therapy. We could go out and they could tell me about how horrible their lives were, and I would just listen and write. It served as a sounding board for a lot of them.
How did you find these people?
I spent a lot of time at [obnoxious barbecue joint/Wall Street hangout] Brother Jimmy’s. I went to a bunch of networking events. I asked friends of friends. It was sort of wherever I could find them.
Were you personally victim to some of the cancelled plans you were talking about before?
I spent a lot of time trying to find time in people’s schedules. There were a lot of meetings at 11 p.m. on a Sunday because that was the only time they had available for an entire month.
Did your youth benefit your reporting?
Totally. I’m the same age as these people. I think it was in some ways an advantage because it felt like going out with another friend, a friend who happened to be writing down everything that they said.
But I absolutely think that an older journalist would have had a much tougher time with this. So in some ways, I think that was maybe a stroke of luck. My age, rather than functioning against me as it does a lot of the time with financial reporting, actually worked in my favor.
The book makes it seem like Wall Streeters are sadder than the rest of us. Is that really the case?
I thought journalists were the most miserable people on earth. After hanging out with young bankers, our lives sound pretty good. Actually, about halfway through the thing, I sort of realized that I wouldn’t switch lives with these guys. The money just isn’t worth it if you don’t have any time to spend it and if you’re miserable all the time and if all of your relationships are falling apart. Every time I heard about their lives, I felt a little happier by comparison.
What has the reaction from Wall Street and the banking community been like so far to the book?
Out of all the chapters, most people are pretty happy with all but one of them. I’ve gotten some notes from people who work on Wall Street saying, "Thank you for actually taking the time to write about us instead of just relying on stereotypes." I’ve also gotten emails from people on the other side of things, who say, "Thank you for exposing how destructive and ludicrous Wall Street is." So I think the book is functioning as sort of a rorschach test: People are reading what they want to into it, which is pretty amusing to watch.
The chapter that is the exception to that is, of course, the Kappa Beta Phi chapter, which is the secret society I crashed. And that has been sort of a firestorm. I had no idea how much reaction that was going to provoke -- thanks in part to you guys for splashing it on your homepage. I’ve gotten hundreds of emails about that, some from people who are defending the group, but most from people who are saying this is the worst thing I’ve ever heard.
The idea to crash something like that, it sort of seems obvious, but it’s something that people don’t do very often. Can you walk me through at what point you knew it was happening and how you decided you were going to go?
I was at The New York Times at the time, and I got a tip that this thing was happening, that there was this giant fraternity of Wall Street bigwigs that met every year. It had been written about before, but no one had really been in, they had sort of assumed that there was a ton of security and no one would ever make onto the inside. But I decided, you know what, maybe finally I could get in. And so I asked my editor: "Is it okay if try this, can I expense the rental tux no matter how it ends up?" And he said sure.
So I went to rent my tux -- I think I paid like 80 bucks for the tux for the night -- and then I went over to the St. Regis, and I just sort of walked in. It was amazing. I thought with something this explosive, with a group of the most powerful people on Wall Street and in New York City gathered in one room to do this sort of very incriminating ritual, I thought there would at least be someone checking IDs. But it seemed to have been going on the honor system. I was in the right kind of attire, so I got right in.
What was going through your mind as you were watching Wall Streeters in drag mock the bailout?
I was very excited. Obviously, I knew I was seeing an incredible story that I knew was going to make for a compelling narrative. But I was living in fear of the moment when someone asked me who I was. Because according to (The New York Times) ethics code, if someone asks you who you are, you have to tell them. You can’t say “I’m on the catering staff.”
I knew that as soon as that happened, the jig was up. So I was living in fear that that would happen before I got to see the real meat of it.