Mind the Gap

Why bankers and cocaine are best of friends

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 October, 2016, 3:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 10:26am

“Cocaine. It’s a hell of a drug,” said Rick James. Cocaine and investment banking have been best friends since the 1980s when Wall Street’s rise in popular culture and London’s Big Bang created wealth and the envy of having/not having wealth.

The Hong Kong murder trial of Rurik Jutting, a former vice president of structured equity, finance and trading at Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) revealed harrowing scenes that would have been taken straight out of the film American Psycho. The only scene Jutting hasn’t described from that movie is if he reviewed Genesis and Whitney Houston songs before he slaughtered his victims.

However, the violence was real and resulted in the tragic deaths of two women: Sumarti Ningsih, 23, and Seneng Mujiasih, 26. He is BAML’s second employee in Hong Kong accused of cocaine fuelled BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadomasochism), the first one being the late Robert Kissel, who met his end through a fatal beating by his wife.

The 2008 financial crisis only revealed a reality show culture of ceaseless greed that over the last 30 years has mercilessly glorified drug abuse and avarice. Cocaine is merely the party favourite.

In 1987s Wall Street, “greed is good”– morality was revealed to be as fungible as capital. In 2013, Wolf of Wall Street gleefully portrayed bankers as drug addled, sex crazed, man-boys hell bent on nihilism. Criminal behaviour was the only way to make money in finance: be first, be smarter or simply cheat.

And in 2015, The Big Short revealed American finance to essentially be a vast, racketeering influenced criminal enterprise that preys on the working poor.

Bankers impose loneliness upon themselves. The result is a build up of stress and self-pity making them vulnerable to alcohol and drug abuse.

You have to understand the sense of desperation facing young people today as some of them watch the previous generation retire with little to no net worth.

“You can make millions if you get in early,” one said to me. “That’s exactly what I wanted to do – get in. I didn’t want to be an innovator. I just wanted to make the quick easy buck.”

He quoted the rapper Notorious B.I.G. who said it best. “Either you’re slinging crack (cocaine) rock or you got a wicked jump shot.”

“Nobody wants to work for it anymore. No one wants a real job. There is only honour in the dollar. And the educated white boy way of slinging crack rock is to become an investment banker.”

There is widespread use of cocaine among bankers in their 20s and 30s as they self-medicate to cope with the stress of their work and uncertain futures. If you are a vice president or director you are making more money than and managing a bunch of analysts. But you are also facing the end of your career if you fail to establish yourself as a major revenue generator.

Bankers impose loneliness upon themselves. Given their world, it is less likely that a banker will socialise with a wide variety of people from different professions or walks of life. The result is a build up of stress and self-pity making them vulnerable to alcohol and drug abuse.

Cocaine unlocks the id and ego. Sigmund Freud extolled its therapeutic value. But, Freud himself was a cocaine addict. His greatest genius was that he invented a disease and medical practise out of an incurable human condition: misery and unhappiness.

Peter Guy is a financial writer and former international banker