It's late afternoon at a bar in the heart of Manhattan's financial district. This being early December, the place is buzzing with chatter about Wall Street's gangbuster yearend bonuses. In walks a 24-year-old banker type in a crisp London-tailored shirt and tie, sporting diamond-studded cuff links (or are they cubic zirconium?) the size of Danish butter cookies. He struts past a group of women like an urban peacock. "The bridge and tunnel crowd," he says, dismissing them as groupies from New Jersey and other hinterlands. Then he turns his gaze to this reporter. "I'm surprised they let you in with that blazer."
Just another day not at the office for Amit Chatwani, the man behind Leveraged Sell-Out (www.leveragedsellout.com), a blog that riffs on the absurdities of the twentysomething Wall Street set. A strategy consultant and Web entrepreneur by day, Chatwani moonlights as the Borat for bankers, assuming the online persona of obnoxious young striver to skewer the rarefied yet intensely insecure demographic.
Launched in September, 2005, the blog has caught fire, generating 120,000 page views a month. The success convinced Chatwani to court advertisers via Google's (GOOG) AdSense program. Now, as if oblivious to the site's mocking tone and abundant profanity, financial recruiting firms and boutique banks pay as much as $10 a click, according to Chatwani, for dibs on certain keywords. He's even shopping around a book proposal with an agent.
All vanities, from dating prerequisites to sartorial obsessions, are subject to Chatwani's ridicule. Witness the glee his alter ego feels on picking up a car-service voucher after an 18-hour day: "I can already see myself inside, laughing at the hoi polloi walking to their subways and taking their yellow taxis. I can already feel the cheap leather I pretend is expensive massaging my aching buttocks." Or how he looks down on Goldman Sachs (GS) workers donning Men's Wearhouse suits: "Do they not know how much of an embarrassment they are to the world's premier investment bank?"
The nefarious persona began to take shape when Chatwani drafted a widely forwarded mock cover letter to Lehman Brothers Inc. (LEH) during his senior year at Princeton in 2004. "I have been practicing staring at a computer monitor for extended hours," he wrote. "I can currently sit motionless in front of a screen for 28 hours, and I am improving daily."
The computer science grad moved to New York later that year, where he settled with 10 cub investment bankers in a Tribeca loft and marinated in their vernacular and rituals. He found himself invited to yearend bonus parties of P. Diddy-esque profligacy. Chatwani marveled at how conspicuously guys wore their firms' id badges to get a leg up in a shallow mating game. And how quality Wall Street relationship time consisted of stealing away from the office once a week to share an hour of TiVo. One paranoid banker even put together an intricate spreadsheet that handicapped co-workers' likely bonuses.
It all became fodder for what Chatwani calls his "consummate banker caricature." The site's first post told the tale of two gold-digging Jersey girls coming to Manhattan on a hell-bent mission for their dream bankers. "It got read way more than I had ever expected," he says. Lately, he's been poking fun at young bankers' penchant for exorbitant bottle service at nightclubs.
For all the lampooning, though, deep down Chatwani empathizes with his subjects. "It's weird," he says, fidgeting with a cuff link. "People know Wall Street is going to suck. They know they'll work 100-hour weeks. A lot of them just didn't know there was much else to do but go into banking." Recruiters would cringe at his advice to undergrads considering a career on the Street: "If you want to make money and don't really care about working a boatload or doing something creative, then it's the ideal job."
By Roben Farzad