The Wall Street That I Once Knew No Longer Exists

I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1996. It was a tough time to attend one of the U.S. Service Academies, and I suffered all manner of indignities. I was once shaved with a bayonet by an upperclassman. I was made to do 2,000 push-ups in a day. And with 101 days to go until graduation, the barracks were turned into a war zone known as “101st Night,” with round-the-clock hazing and physical discipline that bordered on abuse. My class’s experience with 101st Night was so extreme that it was immediately banned from then on.

My memories of that period in my life are pretty good, however. It was a crucible, of sorts, and I’m glad I went through it because it gave me the mental toughness that I have today. The Coast Guard is no longer like that, and it was in the process of transforming into a “kinder, gentler” service toward the end of my tenure at the Academy. In last year’s “Swab Summer,” the Coast Guard Academy’s version of basic training, they banned yelling.

Wall Street has undergone a not so dissimilar transformation. There was a lot of yelling when I was there from 1999 to 2008, but there was a lot of a bank’s own capital being committed and a lot of risk being transferred. I probably did more yelling than anyone, and I got yelled at plenty. But at the end of the day, nobody took anything personally. If someone yelled on a trading floor today, it would probably be a career-limiting move.

Today, Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp. and Citadel Securities are reversing policies and letting people work from home for longer. And that’s not solely because of rising Covid-19 infection rates, but also because their employees seem happy to be working from home and inconvenienced by having to go into the office. Morgan Stanley just relaxed and widened its parental leave polices, and is contributing more to employee 401(k) plans. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said it will soon offer expanded leave for family care and bereavement. Earlier this year, UBS AG sent out a memo to remind employees they are entitled to a “Wellness Hour” each day. This all comes after efforts to cap the hours worked by junior bankers and interns.