Why Wall Street Banks Should Kill the Morning Meeting

by | Mar 6, 2016

It’s the worst part of the job.

For the most part, I had a blast working at a Wall Street bank: traveling the world, sourcing lucrative trades, and learning from CEOs. But there is one thing that grew old fast: the daily morning meeting. Every morning at 6:45 am EST — rain, snow, or shine — we were required to huddle in a conference room and discuss the latest research and market events. My situation wasn’t unique. Almost every investment banking and capital market group holds a morning meeting. Some teams even host two meetings per day to calibrate its message to clients. But the daily morning meeting is antiquated, unhelpful, and unnecessary. Here’s why it’s time for Wall Street to end the practice.

These meetings are kabuki dances. Here’s the standard agenda for an equity morning meeting: research analysts discuss (in person or over the phone) their latest research, answer questions, and pontificate on the markets. But they usually regurgitate what they’ve already published (and what’s already been disseminated to clients). So why get in at the crack of dawn? Why miss seeing your kids off to school in the morning?

Among equity departments, there is a trend to internationalize the morning meeting, so that global markets and research are discussed. But these meetings end up being so broad that sales specialists don’t find them useful. If you sell Asian stocks, you are likely covering clients that invest in emerging markets. Don’t waste your time listening to small cap US stock ideas. All too often, sales and trading personnel feign interest by asking fake questions – even as they won’t use the information obtained during the meeting.

Investing is asynchronous. Even though equity transactions are executed when the markets are open, an institutional investor’s decision whether to buy or sell isn’t a morning game time one. The decision usually rests with portfolio managers who spend a significant amount of time doing their due diligence. Typically, after the morning meeting, you’re supposed to call the client. But in most cases, the call goes straight to voicemail because the client wants to avoid another useless message. Or they are traveling or sleeping (possibly recovering from the night before). So it makes little sense to arrive at work hours before your client gets in and the market opens. Besides, it’s likely that the client already knows whatever you want to relay: most research and news is distributed immediately over email.

The morning meeting is where people take minutes to waste hours. It kills productivity and lowers morale. A typical meeting lasts thirty minutes and can involve, say, twenty people. One meeting equates to 600 man minutes or 10 man hours. That’s 50 man hours a week, 200 per month, and 2400 per year – or 100 days of meetings. That’s time when you can be at home with your family, or providing more value-added services to clients — not listening to folks drone about an email they’ve already sent.

The daily morning meeting serves as a traditional Wall Street census, of which veteran bankers boast “out with the boys, in with the men.” After a long night out with clients it’s honorable to show up untrammeled the next morning. But it’s an antiquated practice that belongs more in a 1990s Wall Street movie than today. The computer screen, not the teleconference, is the principal portal of today’s investing class.

Even if banks don’t kill the daily meeting, they should consider shortening it, or moving to the middle of the day. Most sales and trading professionals eat alone at their desks, so a mid-day meeting might actually encourage teamwork, cross-selling, and better morale.

It’s time to sunset the morning meeting.

[This article was also published in Fortune.]

Kabir Sehgal is the author of New York Times bestseller Coined: The Rich History of Money And How Its History Has Shaped Us.