Bankers' Deaths Shine Light on Stress in Industry, Tunnel Vision
Coroners in London are preparing to investigate two apparent suicides as unexpected deaths by finance workers around the world have raised concerns about mental health and stress levels in the industry.
The inquest into the death of William Broeksmit, 58, a retired Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) risk executive found dead in his London home in January, will start tomorrow. The inquest for Gabriel Magee, a 39-year-old vice president in technology operations at JPMorgan Chase (JPM) & Co., who died after falling from the firm’s 33-story London headquarters, is scheduled for late May.
The suicides were followed by others around the world, including at JPMorgan in Hong Kong, as well as Mike Dueker, the chief economist at Seattle-based Russell Investment Management Co. The financial world’s aggressive, hard-working culture may be hurting itself, professionals advising on mental health in the industry say.
At greatest risk are “those who have not cultivated friendships, networks, outside of their company,” said Stewart Black, professor of global leadership and strategy at IMD, a business school in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“A lot of executives keep their nose down, work hard, do great work and don’t really cultivate extra networks,” he said. “Those broader networks act as safety valves.”
When the group was set up last year banks, law firms and accountants including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), Linklaters LLP and KPMG LLP, “no one in the City was really talking” about mental health, Rodgers said. Now they have 18 firms on their list, including the Bank of England, the central bank.
The banking sector has “seen a number of initiatives” to improve staff well-being but they “need to be accepted by a cultural change at the very top,” said Rodgers, who is also deputy general counsel at KPMG.
Magee’s family didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. Ed Adler, a spokesman for the New York-based Broeksmit Family Foundation, also didn’t return a call seeking comment. Kathryn Haynes, spokeswoman for Deutsche Bank in London, and Jennifer Zuccarelli, a spokeswoman for JPMorgan, declined to comment.
Finance “does tend to have a long-hours culture,” said Emma Mamo, who leads workplace initiatives at Mind, a U.K. mental health charity. “People can’t keep doing long hours; you need perspective and downtime.”
Broeksmit died on Jan. 26 at his home in Chelsea, west London, according to a memo to employees obtained by Bloomberg News. Police said he was found hanging and they aren’t treating the death as suspicious.
“He was considered by many of his peers to be among the finest minds in the fields of risk and capital management,” Deutsche Bank’s co-CEOs Anshu Jain and Juergen Fitschen wrote in the memo. They said Broeksmit was “instrumental as a founder of our investment bank.”
Dueker was found dead at the side of a highway that leads to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington state, according to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. He was 50.
The reviews into the deaths of Broeksmit and Magee will be overseen by a coroner, whose role is to question witnesses and police to determine where, when, how and why sudden or unexplained deaths occur, including suicides.
Magee’s inquest will be held by Mary Hassell, the coroner who said practices at Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s London office may have been a factor in the death of 21-year-old intern Moritz Erhardt from an epileptic seizure last year.
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“It may be that Moritz had been working so hard that his fatigue was a trigger for the seizure that killed him,” Hassell said at the Nov. 23 inquest. “But that is only a possibility.”
Erhardt was found unconscious in a shower at Claredale House, a student residence in East London, on Aug. 15. His parents told the coroner that their son contacted them the day before his death in a 5 a.m. e-mail and that they were worried he was working too hard and sleeping too little.
Hassell questioned Juergen Schroeder, Erhardt’s development officer at Merrill Lynch, about whether working late was necessary in investment banking.
“There is a general expectation in our profession,” Schroeder said.
Bank of America told staff on Jan. 10 its junior bankers should take some weekends off. Christian Meissner, head of global corporate and investment banking at the lender, said in a memo to employees that analysts and associates should “take a minimum of four weekend days off per month.”
JPMorgan, which has had at least two suicides so far this year, isn’t a member of the City Mental Health Alliance and hasn’t publicly announced measures to deal with the aftermath of the deaths.
“JPMorgan haven’t come forward to us and we haven’t approached them either,” Rodgers said. “There’s a period of mourning. The last thing they need is us sticking our heads in. I’m confident they will come forward.”
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