A banking intern living in Tower Hamlets died suddenly as a result of an epileptic seizure, an inquest has confirmed.
Erhardt Moritz, 21 years old and originally from Germany, was coming to the end of an investment banking internship at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Canary Wharf when he was found dead in his Bethnal Green apartment last August. His body was discovered in a shower cubicle after reportedly working for 72 hours straight.
Although Moritz’s death sparked international controversy about the ruthless work culture at large corporate banks, coroner Mary Hassel confirmed on Friday that working long hours could not be conclusively linked to his death.
Hassel said: “One of the triggers for epilepsy is exhaustion and it may be that because Moritz had been working so hard, his fatigue was a trigger for the seizure that killed him.”
She added: “But that’s only a possibility and I don’t want his family to go away with the thought that it was something that Moritz did that caused his death.”
Moritz had taken medication for his epilepsy, but had never reported his condition to his employers or to anyone else working at the bank. In response to the inquest, Bank of America spokesperson John McIvor expressed his condolences to Moritz’s family, and stressed the bank’s commitment to improving work conditions.
McIvor said: “As we have previously announced, a senior working group has been convened to review the work environment for our junior employees. Our ultimate goal is to create better working patterns and an improved work/life balance for future interns, graduate recruits and our broader junior banker community.”
Jana Bakunina, founder of women’s forum ‘Ladies Who Impress’, completed the same internship in 2001 and lived in the same student accommodation halls as Moritz. Reflecting on the relentless work culture at Merrill Lynch, Bakunina said: “It was not unusual to boast about working all nights and all weekends; it was unthinkable to complain or leave the office before the work was done, however unreasonable the deadlines.”
“We had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the office, and I remember once asking a team secretary to buy me toothpaste because I simply did not have time to go to Boots.”
Asked if she thought the culture might change as the bank has announced, Bakunina said: “I am not sure, but I hope so. Bankers frequently have to work to genuinely tight deadlines, [and] often junior bankers face false deadlines because senior bankers don’t organise themselves better.”
Although Bank of America Merrill Lynch could not confirm the number of hours that its interns work, Moritz’s colleagues claimed the young man had worked eight “all-nighters” in the two weeks leading up to his death. Moritz had completed seven weeks of the 10-week-long internship and, according to McIvor, would have been offered a full-time position upon graduation.