“Face Time”: Financial Expression of the Day

When the MD hits the road, Face Time begins

When the MD hits the road, Face Time begins

Face Time, noun phrase, in investment banking, the act of putting in more hours at the office than necessary to accomplish a given day’s worth of work; typically manifested as arriving to work earlier than co-workers and superiors, and leaving work after all colleagues have undocked for the day.

Usage Note: Germane primarily to the analyst and associate, Face Time is an affectation for the purpose of leading superiors (and competing colleagues) to believe one is uber dedicated to maniacal levels of hard work and is possessed of an unquenchable lust for the honors and riches of a tenured investment banker. One of the most mysterious puzzles inside the royal domain of investment banking, Face Time has persisted as a practice among young bankers probably since the 1980’s.

It’s an oddity that defies reasonable explanation and the practice is all the more strange considering two things in particular: 1) Why would people of otherwise high levels of intelligence do this? Why would someone want to hang around the office until 10 or 11pm on one of the few evenings when they actually don’t have something work-related to do- a ridiculous assignment hasn’t been given, or one is not engulfed in the misery of managing the latest iterative change to “the document”? 2) Knowing that in most cases, the junior banker’s superiors (Vice Presidents, Directors, or Managing Directors) have come up the ranks acting out the same mindless show makes it all the more of a charade, and unlikely to convince anyone of your i-banking bona-fides. It’s an open secret and although manifestly asinine, no one can muster the courage to break the vicious cycle because if someone higher up had to do it, then “by God, the youngsters are going to pay their dues just like I did!” Like some form of Stockholm Syndrome, the young bankers strangely feel proud to be victimized office captives (at least in the early days) as a stripe that must be earned on their way to being masters of the universe.

Now let’s consider the sequence of events that lead to this featherbrained activity called Face Time. At 6:30 or 7:00pm the Managing Director of the team will leave to go home. He typically has an hour-plus drive to get home to Summit, New Jersey in his latest rocket-sauce sports car, if he’s not heading out for “drinks” with his buddies.

At this point, the VP or Senior VP is now the top dog on watch. And if it’s a slow period, when there’s not even meaningless pitch books to conjure up for some hoped-for clients, as in the weeks leading up to Christmas for example, then the Face Time game begins. The associates and analysts will begin a watch-and-wait for the senior guy to leave. The office will be very quiet- no banter, no chit-chat. The more earnest analysts will actually do something, however unnecessary, like updating a comp table that won’t be seen by anyone. Others will surreptitiously surf the internet. At 8:30pm, the young banker will get a phone call from his frat-buddy or his girlfriend asking whether there’s any chance he can go for dinner (even though they’ve repeatedly been turned down in the past). The protagonist replies “Nah- sorry, I’m jammed here” while clicking through Facebook newsfeed.

Then it happens. The VP will leave his office, usually around 9 or 9:30pm, often without saying goodbye to anyone left in the cube-farm. Now begins a game of chicken that may last another one or two hours. Will the analysts wait out the associates? And will they wait out each other? Although no one is actually doing anything, it’s a highly charged environment. Internal dialogue intensifies. Silent calculations are being made about alpha-dog status, political capital, career mobility, and bonuses… Anxiety builds. More web surfing. Research Game Theory. What’s my best move? God, why am I doing this? It’s 10:30, I just want to go home!

Face Time: Bankers striving to be the least productive

Face Time: Bankers striving to be the least productive

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