Bank of America Corp. intern Moritz Erhardt worked day and night in the weeks before his death, sending e-mails to his parents and colleagues in the early hours of the morning.
The 21-year-old died of an epileptic seizure while taking a shower on Aug. 15, a London coroner said after an inquest yesterday. He never once complained about his workload, Erhardt’s parents and co-workers said, even when staying up until 5 a.m.
“It may be that Moritz had been working so hard that his fatigue was a trigger for the seizure that killed him,” Coroner Mary Hassell said at the inquest. “But that is only a possibility.”
The plight of Erhardt prompted Bank of America to set up a panel of senior managers to “review all aspects of this tragedy,” the bank said following his death. Erhardt was found unconscious at Claredale House, a student residential facility in East London. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 8:34 p.m. after being treated by paramedics.
“Moritz had a natural cause of death, though it’s not so natural that a young man should die like this,” Hassell said.
Erhardt’s parents told the coroner that their son contacted them the day before his death in a 5 a.m. e-mail.
“My wife noticed in his last week that he didn’t get enough sleep,” Hans-Georg Dieterle, his father, said. “We thought this might be a risk in terms of his epilepsy.”
An autopsy found that he was regularly taking medicine to treat epilepsy.
Erhardt didn’t tell the bank about his condition, answering “no” to questions about whether he suffered from seizures on a medical form, according to Hassell, who read the document out in court.
Jonathan Hough, a lawyer for the bank, asked the court to make “no reference” to circumstances other than the primary cause of death “including working practices” in the coroner’s final verdict.
Erhardt’s mother bowed her head, almost touching the wooden table in front of her, during Hough’s arguments.
“We continue to extend our heartfelt condolences and sympathy to Moritz’s family,” the bank said in an e-mailed statement. “Moritz Erhardt’s death was a tragedy that affected and saddened everyone in our company and especially those who had the privilege to spend time with him.”
Hassell questioned Erhardt’s development officer at the bank’s Merrill Lynch unit about whether working late was necessary in investment banking.
“It depends on deadlines,” said Juergen Schroeder, who works in the corporate finance department. “Some of it is peer pressure. There is a general expectation in our profession.”
Erhardt had been an exchange student at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business and attended WHU - - Otto Beisheim School of Management in Vallendar, Germany, according to his biography page on social-network site seelio.com.
“It’s not like anyone is forcing you to work,” Jana Bakunina, who stayed at Claredale House as a Merrill Lynch intern in 2001, said in a telephone interview. “It’s way more subtle than that. The young people there just want to succeed. It’s like a race track,” she said.
His father described Erhardt as “a very clever person, who had a lot of joy in his life and connected to a lot of people.”
In addition to Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America’s investment-banking division, Erhardt also said he had work experience at KPMG Consulting, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank AG’s corporate finance division.
Erhardt went to high school at Faust-Gymnasium in Staufen, Germany, where he excelled in math and tennis, according to the biography page. His hobbies included sports and politics, according to the profile.
His death brought a renewed focus to how hard interns and other junior staff have to work in London’s financial center, said Polly Courtney, who was an intern at Merrill Lynch in 2001 and is now an author.
“Being in the City is like being in a bubble,” said Courtney, who wrote “Golden Handcuffs,” a 2007 novel about London’s financial industry. “You throw yourself into it and forget about the rest of the world.”