Confessions of a banker - 'Wedding rings were always optional'

Three Rings From The Rock Vault Dozen

Apparently, he came back at 5am completely wasted, trashed his hotel room, and then when he demanded a new one, they kicked him out.

Here's why New York executives will do ANYTHING to snag a trip to Asia, says @GSElevator mastermind John LeFevre.

One of the criticisms I've heard of the "bankers behaving badly" cliché is that it doesn't apply to the majority of bankers; it's just a few bad apples and they typically work in emerging markets.

Well, as someone who's worked in New York, London, and Hong Kong, and done countless deals with every bank on Wall Street, I can tell you this is not true. The deviance is pervasive.

It is true that Hong Kong can be like Disneyland for expatriate bankers, where there are fewer rules and less oversight than in the U.S. and the debauchery tends to get amplified. Misogyny is celebrated. Bankers still entertain clients in private karaoke rooms filled with scantily clad women. Drug use is ubiquitous.

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However, it wasn't the Hong Kong bankers who had the most fun — it was always the bankers and clients who visited from New York and London.

New York bankers will do just about anything to justify a trip to Asia. When I was working on the bond-syndicate desk in Hong Kong, there was always a waiting list of managing directors trying to attend our investor and borrower conferences — and wedding rings were always optional. One of our traders even got an early promotion because (in our opinion) he was so good at entertaining senior management from New York. His go-to move? The helicopter to Macau and a trip to the spa, where prostitutes bathed them in milk and massaged them without using their hands.

U.S. bankers would often justify an exotic boondoggle by convincing their clients to do an Asian investor roadshow. It's not a hard sell: stay at the Mandarin, meet some investors, get some suits and shirts made, eat Michelin-starred food, and then party all night.

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The trips are quite often pointless — Asian investors have no interest in meeting the majority of companies who force these roadshows on them. We'd frequently have to beg buy-side clients just to take a meeting, promising generous allocations on future deals in exchange for the favor. And, if we still couldn't fill out a schedule, especially for lunch or group presentations, we'd have junior sales staff pretend to be investors.

This did backfire spectacularly for me at a lunch roundtable I hosted for the finance director of a large insurance conglomerate. In a panic that the boardroom would be half empty, I rounded up a few salespeople from the China team to play the part of investors. Just as we are about to start, a first-year analyst comes running in and sits in the seat next to the presenter, which had been left empty out of politeness.

Throughout the entire duration of the lunch, this kid keeps disrupting the presentation — chewing disgustingly with his mouth open, belching, clearing his throat, slurping his tea, even farting unashamedly. When he's done eating, he starts hacking at his teeth with a toothpick. The finance director is openly struggling through the presentation. I'm opening struggling to keep my food down.

I had to show them a really good time at karaoke that night to make up for that debacle. But all was forgiven; that's what these trips are all about anyway — having a good time.

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Another time, we had a high-level executive from one of the largest GSEs go to Tokyo to be the keynote speaker at our annual conference. It started with dinner and drinks with senior management the night before. (I wasn't senior enough to be there.) As people are looking to head home around midnight, the executive says he's going to meet a guy from another bank for "one quick drink."

The following morning, there is no sign of him. About two hours before his midafternoon keynote address in front of Japan's most important investors, he is still is MIA. With his phone turned off, our senior management is left with no choice but to physically go to his hotel. The famously discreet staff reluctantly explain what happened, and it's not pretty. Apparently, he came back at 5am completely wasted, trashed his hotel room, and then when he demanded a new one, they kicked him out. The search party walks to the nearest hotel only to discover that they had just missed him. He had gone straight to the airport via chopper, where he proceeds to charter a private plane home.

In the end, their CEO [allegedly] called our CEO to say this is the official version — he got violently ill with food poisoning, end of story.

Commentary by John LeFevre, the creator of @GSElevator on Twitter, and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, "Straight To Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, And Billion-Dollar Deals."

Follow him on Twitter @JohnLeFevre.

 

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