The first few years of your investment banking career are about adjusting expectations. You are not the Master of the Universe. You are not flying around the world schmoozing clients. You are sitting in a room compiling pitchbooks and working on financial models. And you are eating bad food.
Akshay Bhatia was an analyst in both the institutional securities group (ISG) and an associate in investment management at Morgan Stanley. He saw the bad food with his own eyes. "Investment banking analysts live on takeaways and ready meals," he says. “There’s a perception that when you work in finance you go on expensive lunches with clients, but most analysts and associates grab a sandwich at their desks, usually at odd times of the day like 11.30am or 4pm, depending on your commitments."
Bhatia says most young bankers are not only working long hours, but lack the experience of feeding themselves whilst doing a full time job: "Most are coming from an environment where the only wholesome, home-cooked food would have come from their parents. And a lot of analysts are from overseas and have left their parents at home to work in London."
Even so, Bhatia observed that some young analysts did eat healthily, and would bring in lunches they'd cooked for their colleagues.
The situation got Bhatia thinking. After four years in finance, he quit, moved from London to his home country of India and set about launching Mutterfly – a ‘food-sharing’ app that allows people to offer food they've prepared to people nearby, for a cost.
"The higher classes in India tend to have power couples where both are in employment, but in the middle and lower classes, it's still the men who go to work while the women stay at home," says Bhatia. "For a lot of women here, this is an opportunity to show that they can do - they can get more productive and earn some revenue."
Unfortunately, the UK has more restrictive and costly food licensing arrangements than India, meaning that you can't justifiably charge for home-cooked food that, say, could have potentially been prepared in unsanitary conditions. Bhatia's service therefore won't be coming to the City any time soon.
Bhatia said that he decided that banking wasn't for him early on, largely after realising he'd been sold false promised: “Top graduates are brainwashed into thinking that tech and finance careers are the most vibrant, but I realised quite quickly that I needed a change. Initially, I moved into asset management, but after 18 months there I had to be honest and realise I still wasn’t feeling particularly engaged.”
Part of the problem, he suggests, is that he wanted to innovate and the layers of bureaucracy: “When you join a bank, you get the speak that you’re the leaders of the future, that you’re important and they want you to innovate,” he says. “But even small changes in process can take a year to implement. I can understand why, but it’s frustrating.”
Like many investment bankers who move on to new ventures because they're disillusioned with the financial sector, Bhatia admits that the skills he gained on the job have served him well during the launch of the new product: "Banking teaches you discipline and professionalism, which has helped me get the business off the ground," he says. "I'll never say I won't go back, but I'm going to give myself at least three years running my own business before even considering it."