On The Real-Life American Psycho

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A drug-using investment banker appears to have murdered two prostitutes in Hong Kong. It’s a pretty jarring headline–a real life American Psycho. But most bankers I know aren’t really all that surprised.

People have been calling him Patrick Bateman. Perhaps, he has an alibi and was out returning video tapes. But instead of American Psycho, I see Colonel Kurtz. What happens when you take the “Best of the West,” presumably well-raised, Cambridge-educated, and well-paid, and you throw him into an alternate reality, a world largely without societal restraints and an industry with its own set of deviant moral benchmarks? For some people, and seemingly for Rurik Jutting, things fall apart.

Hong Kong is a tropical Island masquerading as a legitimate city.

To a very large extent, expat bankers in Asia can do whatever they want. As an overhang of colonialism, they tend to get treated better than locals. They can start food fights at The Mandarin Grill, flee the scene of a car crash, or take their pants off and run around Lan Kwai Fong. And if they get so out-of-control that they get banned from three bars in one night, the cops will just take them home.

Many of my Chinese friends will speak English when they make dinner reservations or if they walk into a Gucci store, because even acting like an ABC (American Born Chinese) gets them better treatment.

My sense of reality and entitlement got so warped in Hong Kong that when I would come back to the U.S. to visit family, my mother suggested I walk around Wal-Mart just to re-acclimate myself and “be less of an asshole.”

The alleged murderer, Rurik Jutting, lived in the J-Residence building in Wan Chai, one of Hong Kong’s seedier and less prestigious areas. At around $4,000 a month, the building is popular with young bankers and (poor) expats who like to be close to Central but cant afford to live in the Mid-Levels or on The Peak.

Rurik lived two blocks away from Lockhart Road, the aorta of Hong Kong’s red light district. I have no idea if he was fond of (patronizing) prostitutes (clearly, he’s not too fond of them), but he couldn’t walk home at night without getting propositioned by streetwalking freelancers and the pros standing in front of the velvet curtain bars. “You very handsome man” and “Just one drink okay la.”

It’s an entire street filled with bars like Cockeyes, where we once hosted intern drinks (The Princelings loved it), and the now-closed Fenwicks, where we once staked out our regional head of sales, Dirty Sanchez, until we caught him walking out at 3 a.m. on Tuesday with a love monkey on each arm.

Before moving to Asia, I highly doubt Rurik Jutting was ever called handsome by anyone other than his mom. He’s what we call a “Twelve”–the term used in Asia to describe an ugly and fat (in his case) white guy with a young, attractive, usually paid-for Asian girl. He’s a two and she’s a ten.

It’s also been reported that the police also found a small amount of cocaine in his apartment. Now, I have no idea what kind of person Rurik is, but I do know that investment banking is a culture of pervasive deviance, particularly in Asia.

When I first moved to Hong Kong, the first thing one of the outgoing (repatriated) hedge fund sales guys gave me was the number of his drug dealer. “Look, I don’t really know you, but trust me, you’ll need this for your clients.” And everyone knew it when Drug Dealer Joe’s not-too-subtle Toyota Supra would show up in front of Cheung Kong Center or ICBC Tower (where Merrill Lunch is) for a delivery.

It’s often not even a function of choice. I had a colleague get chastised by our boss for not attending an important client’s bachelor party trip to Manila. “You have a pregnant wife at home, so what?” I think it was the non-forwardable Bloomberg message itinerary titled “A Weekend of Debauchery” that scared him off. And he paid a price for not indulging–getting fewer trades than his more willingly deviant counterparts at other banks.

One time I went to a dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse where an investment banking colleague showed up with two prostitutes and proceeded to hold a contest to see which of them could keep their hand on the famously-hot plates the longest.

Even formal closing dinners–a global banking tradition, where the bookrunners and clients celebrate the success of a deal in the private room of some fancy restaurant, get drunk, and hand out tombstones (Lucite deal trophies) and (in the good old days) inscribed Mont Blanc pens as mementos of their greatness–are not immune.

My first closing dinner in Hong Kong was slightly different from those that I have experienced in New York or London. Toward the end of dinner, a senior banker quietly made it known that the CEO wanted the party to continue at a karaoke bar. To avoid creating an embarrassing or awkward scene for the client, the female bankers were asked to discreetly excuse themselves from dinner. The young analyst next to me got a Blackberry message from her boss: “Hey, maybe you should go home now.”

One of my counterparts on the deal team–a pretty square, happily married guy–also tried to excuse himself from the evolving festivities. But the CEO was having none of it. “Where the fuck do you think you’re going? I don’t think so.” And that was it–he knew that future business from this client (and therefore his bonus) depended on it.

To be clear about what karaoke means, it’s a large private room where we sit around on couches, singing karaoke, drinking whiskey with iced green tea, and playing a dice version of Liar’s Poker. And then, the mama-san parades in at least thirty or forty girls in skimpy dresses, each one wearing a name tag with a number on it. From there, it doesn’t take long for the process to get started. “I’ll take number 12 and number 34.” Or “Dibs on 11.” And “Don’t be greedy; just get two.”

The mama-san also provides drugs, but it’s like buying beer at Yankee Stadium, so it’s better to bring your own.

At the end of the night, a bill is presented that says something like “Tokyo Otoro Sushi,” which is convenient when it comes to expensing it. After all, the tab can be astronomical, especially if people get “take-out.”

There are plenty of bankers, especially sales guys who cover hedge funds (which are heavily populated by expats), who conduct regular meetings at massage parlors (during lunchtime) and karaoke joints (at night).

So, Rurik Jutting, depending on how things play out for you, don’t forget–Jefferies is still hiring for equities in Asia, although you might be better off in Dallas.

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John LeFevre is the creator of the @GSElevator Twitter feed and the author of the soon-to-be-released Straight To Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, and Billion-Dollar Deals. 


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