“Nit”: Financial Expression of the Day

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When your boss says, “I’ve just got a few nits,” get ready for an all-nighter.

Nit, noun, a supposedly small mistake that is highlighted for correction.  Usage note: Merriam-Webster kindly points out that Brits use this word as an abbreviated form of “nitwit,” which, in turn, is a good name for anyone who’d use today’s FEotD with a straight face.  There are a couple of ways that a more senior banker can alert his financial serf that he has editorial changes to a deck (the boring banker will choose “deck” instead of “presentation” because the former provides a thrill up his leg, à la Chris Matthews, as he imagines himself possibly cutting the deck while fitting right in at a celebrity poker tournament with Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire, and Shannon Elizabeth, instead of proofreading a deck that no one will ever read).  With a breezy inflection in his voice that belies the nature of the soul-sapping work he’s about to assign, he might phone his lackey and say, “Could you swing by my office?  I’ve got a couple of nits.”  The summons to his office is the banker’s preferred course of action because having usually worked his way up from the associate level cube-farm, he views his office as his hard earned sanctuary (complete with Lucite deal toys adorning the window sill), so he spends a strange amount of his time devising creative ways to make people come to him.

The associate on the receiving end of this phone call should hope for the best but prepare for the worst.  The term “nit” here in no way means that his boss’s changes are actually small; the i-banker uses the word to lure his underling into a false sense of relief.  He wants to tease him with the prospect of his workday ending at a decent hour.  The savvy associate quickly learns that “nit” means “edits of unknown size” and that his boss is a sadist who enjoys prolonging the associate’s uncertainly and anxiety for as long as possible about whether he’ll be there all night redoing his entire effort, which has already left him on the verge of sleep-deprived hallucinations, or merely cutting page 14.  To enhance the tension, the boss usually delays discussing his nits until late afternoon, by which time the junior banker may have foolishly begun to entertain notions of leaving the office at a reasonable time of day.

If the senior banker has come up through the ranks, more than once he was on the losing end of this cruel mind game.  So why does he continue the unhealthy pattern of behavior, like some slack-jawed, drunken fraternity brother screaming at a pledge to remount the sheep while he staggeringly presides, hawking tobacco loogies into a spittoon?  To get to the bottom of this human nature riddle, Bud Fox News’ Silence Bellows spoke with Hilarius Fuchs, Professor of Psychiatry at Colorado School of Professional Parapsychology, who has counseled innumerable investment bankers for various disorders of the central nervous system.  According to Professor Fuchs:

This is a complicated issue.  The senior banker’s ego trumps his memory.  By that I mean, he was once an analyst or associate himself and had to endure the indignity of having to reorder pages every ten minutes or re-color all the pie charts at 11:30 at night.  He remembers doing this shitwork, but he doesn’t correctly remember how long it took.  See, having been promoted to VP or higher, more than ever he thinks he’s a genius and incorrectly believes that he could process hours of changes in about 15 minutes.  

There’s also the rite of passage aspect of the whole thing.  Remember, bankers are actually very risk-averse people.  They’ve typically pursued a tried-and-true path:  top undergrad school followed by a financial job for a couple of years, then business school, then the i-banking training program.  When interviewing during b-school, they weren’t even reckless enough to pick sales-and-trading, which is still quite a risk averse path in the grand scheme of things.  So when they figure out that senior bankers traditionally have dumped shitwork all over analysts and associates, it’s not their nature to rock the boat.  They go along to get along.  

Diabolical but lazy bankers always have revisions, even on a perfect document.  They do it for two reasons.  It tells the junior banker:  “You’re not that smart, you made mistakes, thank god I was around to catch these errors.”  And it also gives the VP a sense of ownership because having contributed nothing to the effort but his cursory proofreading job, he’ll still feel comfortable saying, “Yeah, we put an 85 page presentation together for the meeting.  We’re just running the last few changes.”   

And the best bankers know, somehow instinctively, almost like drill sergeants, that the junior ranks need to be mistreated until Stockholm Syndrome kicks in.  When you, the analyst, have been beaten so badly that you fully expect to be given a weekend-killing assignment at 4:30 on Friday afternoon that will have you in the building straight through Monday…well, when your boss tells you that you only need to come in on Sunday, you’re overjoyed and think he’s a great guy.  

That’s when he owns you.         

Of course another way the senior banker can give revisions to his flunkey is by leaving the marked-up presentation book on his subordinate’s chair while he’s getting lunch.  This method is a blunter weapon; it says, “I don’t want to see you, I don’t want to talk to you, just make these changes.”  Some junior bankers don’t mind this treatment though because it allows them, upon seeing all the infuriatingly anal errata, to curse, swear, and throw things without the boss seeing the justified outburst.

A third way is for the junior banker to take the nits by scanned email, sent from the VP’s Hamptons beach house on, say, Sunday afternoon.  In this case, who’s kidding who?  If they were really nits they could have waited until Monday.


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