‘If you merge Game of Thrones with Industry, it’s more accurate’
Contains some mild Industry spoilers
There’s a scene in HBO’s Industry where the head honcho of the show’s fictional investment bank, Pierpoint, asks an intern, “Are you ready to bite the head off a bear?”. The exchange sets the tone for the rest of the series: an unflinching look at the hyper-competitive world of London’s high-end finance industry.
Inspired by co-creator Konrad Kay’s three-year stint at a top American investment bank, the show follows five young grads, each vying to be kept on by London-based Pierpoint at the end of a months-long internship. It’s depicted as a dog-eat-dog world, seething with sociopaths in tailored suits and bullish bosses with Etonian educations. There’s boozy client dinners and messy coke binges; shady alliances and toxic bravado. In the first episode, an intern literally works himself to death.
Admittedly, the series takes its creative liberties – as is the nature of television – but behind every story is an element of truth. The show reveals a culture of money and excess, touching on themes of classism, sexism, and all the sorts of morally dubious behaviour you can expect to find in an investment bank (AKA the very same institutions that brought about the 2008 financial crash).
Below, we ask young people who work in the banking industry whether the reality is anything like what’s portrayed on screen.
JAMES*, 28, BANKER, TOP TIER US PRIVATE BANK
“It’s quite realistic in many ways. It captures the drab monotony of working in an office – moving boxes around a PPT, changing fonts, printing things out (first episode); calling clients and doing things like idle chat for a few minutes before talking more seriously about business (the hourglass); the boozy dinners and client events and Christmas parties; the amount of pressure you are put under to perform instantly (mostly by yourself); the low-level of competition that is constantly humming along between yourself and other juniors.
The way that people talk to each other in the city is quite codified and the show captures the rhythm of conversations quite well (‘I am a Pierpoint person’). There’s a lot of focus on what you wear. For example, ‘no brown in town’ is a common phrase, meaning wearing brown leather shoes is seen as completely unacceptable by the more old school guys. Crazy socks are fairly common. Some of the hazing and piss-taking by the more senior people on the junior people is quite accurate.
The way people are pushed up and supported by seniors (eg. Harper is supported by Eric, and in a way, Yasmin is supported by Kenny) is usually quite beneficial but sometimes also creates toxic work cultures.
Things I thought were unrealistic were Clement being on heroin the whole time; the level of drug-taking and sex is nowhere near as much; The level of getting absolutely lit with clients (most of the scenes where Rob goes out with the Egyptian guy), while enjoyable, I didnt see that much of – that said, I guess you cant rule it out completely.”
MARK*, 25, TRADER, TOP TIER INVESTMENT BANK
“It captures some of the issues with the industry, but makes it a lot more exciting and dangerous. The finance is completely spot on, which is rare for television. Colleagues shag as much as any of the other businesses I’ve worked in – much less nowadays than I imagine a few decades ago. But it’s not a big misogynistic, racist cesspit where everyone does coke.
The guy who dies from a heart condition after working all night is based on a true story about a German guy in 2014 who died after doing three consecutive all-nighters. There used to be this thing called the magic roundabout where you take a taxi home at 3AM, have a shower, put on a new shirt, and come back for 6AM without sleeping. That sort of behaviour isn’t what I’ve experienced but it definitely happens.
People aren’t as ass-holey, at least from my experience, though (the portrayal of class) is spot on. Every single person I know went to Oxford, LSE, Harvard, or NYU. The criteria they’re looking for is the stereotypical polished, articulate, poised, with a lot of underground references to your ability to speak in a certain way. I am liked more by key people because of elements of my characters have nothing to do with the job but everything to do with that insider culture of being a white guy. It’s the dry witty English pub humour, the public school thing. One of my close colleagues is trans and no-one gives a fuck. But I couldn’t speak on behalf of her experiences.
Probably 10 per cent of people are about drugs, the rest aren’t. It’s more control types: zen meditation, yoga, wake up at 5AM, go to the gym. It’s more analytical, computer-science people, rather than rugby bros, though it’s definitely changed in the last 10 to 15 years. There’s lots of people from India, China, and the Middle East.
There’s lots of sharky people who will, subtly, try and fuck up your performance if it works for them. Or make it look like you’ve fucked up. The irony is, if you merge Game of Thrones with Industry, it’s more accurate.”
MARIA*, 27, EQUITY SALES, TOP TIER INVESTMENT BANK
“Drug culture isn’t something that is openly done or spoken about. People tend to be private about drug-taking in this day and age so if they’ve had a big night out, they’ll try to cover it up. There’s also a difference between having a hangover on a Friday morning and turning up to work wrecked on a Tuesday! The latter would most likely be frowned upon.
I’m from a North London state school and my father works for the NHS, yet I’ve never been discriminated against due to my background. That’s not to say that others aren’t. It also comes down to how much a younger member of the team (analyst/associate) is willing to stand their ground or speak up. I’ve always felt comfortable discussing politics and my background and have never been ashamed of it, but I’m under no illusion that some graduates or analysts might feel embarrassed to do so, either on a personal level or based on the environment they are in.
I’m fortunate enough to have only ever worked in big firms and so have personally never experienced misogyny (this could be down to larger HR teams, better screening of candidates). I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but the industry has come a long way in the last five to 20 years. You might hear of people making a few comments here and there, but it feels like that’s something women deal with in almost all sectors of business (still not acceptable). There’s an active push to increase female representation, not just by assigning titles or positions of power to women, but by actively helping them develop their skills, expand their networks as well as feeling like they are being heard.
Some desks and firms are much more international than others. When I’ve found a certain team to be more of a white-boys clubs, it’s generally down to the lack of churn in the team rather than discriminatory hiring. The other element in banking, particularly in the City of London, is that it’s actually a very small pool of people and a lot of people move around through word of mouth. This is both on the buyside and the sell-side. Diversity is a huge factor in hiring now but it will take some time to feed through. The task the industry is faced with is two-fold: first, improving the culture within the industry – actively condemning misogynistic, racist, classist behavior – and hiring people from a diverse range of backgrounds. We’ve made progress but there’s a long way to go.
A lot of artistic license has been used on Industry. The portrayal of the grad scheme and competitive nature of banking for a young grad is pretty accurate but we also see a lot of scenes that would constitute fireable offenses. I’ve no doubt that 20 years ago you would experience a much harsher working environment, but the level of professionalism has certainly improved. The problem around representation does exist and as a woman you do feel like you have to work extra hard to prove yourself, which isn’t fair, and it’s something that I hope will change in time.”