This summer, I took an oath to dive deep into the underbelly of Wall Street to find out what my fellow interns were doing. I wanted to capture the grammar mistakes in the emails, the messed-up coffee orders, the long nights with the analysts, and the short weekends hitting the town. I found one area where interns, and the youth of Wall Street, flock to vacate from hours of excel. Instagram. Not to look at pictures of friends from high school, or the girls they want to date, but can’t because of their convoluted relationship with EBITDA. Instead, they go to Instagram to look at niche Wall Street accounts that spread memes embodying the communal experience of young analysts, interns on Wall Street, and the entire financial services industry. These accounts laden with memes and images referring to excel errors, trips to Nantucket, and Patagonia vests, are growing rapidly. It started out as just a few accounts and has ballooned into dozens of accounts that post pictures much like this one:
Now I know many of you are thinking, “Is this intern seriously doing a profile of some Instagram accounts and their memes like this is some fashion blog?” And the answer is yes. But also, no. I am talking about Instagram accounts. But, I’m looking to understand the culture surrounding them, how they carved a cult following, and the niche they occupy in the Wall Street social scene. Also, I’ve been assigned to cover interns, so there is a snowball’s chance in hell I was going to make it this entire summer without writing something related to social media.
I was lucky enough to get in contact with some of the people who run accounts with tens of thousands of followers. @Arbitrage.Andy, @Litquidity, and @Bankingpledge were kind enough to give me a call, but they asked to remain anonymous (a very rational decision, seeing as they want to keep their jobs) so I will refer to them as ‘Andy’, ‘Lit’, and ‘Pledge’ whenever I quote them during the article.
Wall Street, at its core, has one of the most unusual cultures of any industry. For those who don’t have experience working in the industry, the culture comes across as self-absorbed, uncompromising, and ruthless. These Instagram accounts provide a juxtaposition to this notion, giving the outsider a look at the self-deprecating and humorous side of investment banking that they have never seen in the past. Posts regularly include some of the Wall Street staples, such as, “Deal Sleds”, the loafers worn by many in the industry. Pledge, who chose his name based on the similarities between pledging a fraternity and working at a bank, told me, “The overarching theme is that you don’t have control of your time. They can give you a task or assignment that has to be done whenever.” Yet not all posts are about the negative aspects of Wall Street. Pledge stated, “You make a lot of money, and you have the models and bottles lifestyle.” The “Models and Bottles” lifestyle, which I assumed entailed bottle service and fashion models, but in reality meant bottle service and financial models. Wall Street is the only place where your life is about bottle service and models, and models mean spreadsheets instead of gorgeous women.
As an outsider, I was curious about whether the accounts ever saw any pushback, or received negative press from the proud Wall Street elites. Yet, none of the account managers have run into any trouble for content they’ve posted. Largely because what they’re saying is true. It’s no secret that working on Wall Street day and night won’t always make for the best time of your life, “there are monotonous aspects of our jobs and everyone knows that”, said Andy.
Further proof that there are truths beholden to the memes, is how well the content resonates with the young members of Wall Street, and all around the world for that matter. Andy’s account, @arbitrage.andy has grown from 20,000 to 40,000 followers, gaining roughly 400-500 new followers every two weeks, and gaining followers from Charlotte, Houston, San Francisco, Boston, and even Singapore. Even PGA golfers follow Andy. I assume their sponsorships from firms give them a pretty good understanding of content. More impressively, they don’t even have to pay to promote their accounts. Lit “started the @litquidity account in April 2017 and surpassed 50,000 followers in the span of a year. Growth has been primarily driven by word-of-mouth of employees working across numerous financial institutions.” This can be attributed to similarities in everyone’s work experiences across the industry. And when you’re working 80+ hours a week, these experiences aren’t work experiences, these are life experiences. Anyone who works in any industry for long enough picks up on the nuances and quirks that persist across the field. So much, that it may even prompt one to make an Instagram account. Lit told me:
As an investment banking analyst, I frequently ate Seamless in the nearby conference room on our floor with other fellow analysts. We would laugh about senior banker mannerisms, discuss potential weekend plans, and talk about how we were ready to leave banking for the buyside or corp dev (update: we all did). I found this experience to be similar across other banks through conversations with my friends and I eventually found myself wanting to create a page that captured the essence of working on the street – highlighting the absurdities of late night work requests, quirky personalities, questionable fashion senses, and laughable industry jargon (e.g. “let’s open this kimono”, “don’t spin your wheels”, “low hanging fruit”, “let’s get more granular on the analysis, while still keeping it relatively high-level”, etc.).
On top of follower growth, the accounts are seeing a huge influx of submissions from the entire Wall Street community. Pledge gets, “roughly 30-50 submissions a day” and Andy said, “most of my Instagram stories are submitted. It’s turned into a community.” The “Hardos” that send content to these pages are traditionally younger men, and that is where these accounts have found their target market. According to Andy, “men make up about 93% of my followers, and about 86% of my followers are between 18-35.” Which makes you think that there is probably an MD or two who stumbled into these accounts and regularly looks at Wall Street memes. I keep imagining some old man trying to show the younger VPs, “Me-Mes.”
This growth is positioning some of the accounts to move toward monetization. Recently, @Litquidity partnered with Paul Evans (a direct-to-consumer men’s footwear brand) and did a ‘deal sled’ giveaway for his followers. Being Wall Street employees, the men behind the accounts are financially-minded individuals, but they must walk a fine line between making content that will produce revenue and maintaining content quality. Lit told me, “I’m trying to avoid monetizing the account in a ‘cheesy’ manner. Some accounts sell out and begin posting ads that do not appeal to their core user base while sacrificing content quality along the way. I’ll promote products/services that I believe will resonate with my followers.” All the accounts have done a great job maintaining the quality of content so far, and it’s a large reason why they continue to see growth.
So, what’s next for these accounts? For all we know, they could continue to hold their niche market, or they could hit the mainstream. Regardless, it’s very clear that if bankers keep acting like bankers, they’re here to stay.