Banker suicides concern industry as coroners investigate

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. More

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Banker suicides concern industry as coroners investigate

Posted 3/24/14

LONDON - 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 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 & 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.”

Banks are starting to realize the scale of the problem, said Peter Rodgers, chairman of the City Mental Health Alliance, which counts Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Corp. among its members.

Cultural change

When the group was set up last year banks, law firms and accountants including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Linklaters LLP and KPMG LLP, “no one in [London] 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.”

‘Finest minds’

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.

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