The disturbing rash of finance suicides

February 18, 2014

There’s been a spate of suicides among current and former finance workers recently. Earlier today, a 33 year-old committed suicide by jumping from the roof of JP Morgan’s Asia headquarters in Hong Kong.

  • January 26: William Broeksmit, a former Deutsche Bank executive, was found hanging in his London home. Broeksmit joined Deutsche from Merrill Lynch in the 1990’s and helped start the German firm’s investment banking business. After the financial crisis, he worked to shrink the company’s balance sheet and reduce risk.
  • January 28: Gabriel Magee fell to his death from JP Morgan’s London Canary Wharf offices. Magee was a vice president in the banks corporate and investment bank technology group. Magee’s death is being treated by London law enforcement as non-suspicious.
  • January 31: Mike Dueker, the chief economist at Russell Investments, was found dead of an apparent suicide next to a Washington State highway. He had been reported missing by his family two days earlier. Dueker worked at the Saint Louis Fed from 1991 to 2008.
  • February 4: Richard Talley, the founder and CEO of American Title Services killed himself in his Colorado home, reportedly shooting himself seven to eight times with a nail gun. American Title Services was under investigation by Colorado’s insurance regulator.

In September, Steven Stack, a West Virginia University professor who studies suicide, told the International Business Times that “we know very little about the degree of suicide risk for this small occupational group”. Cause of death is recorded by at the state level; states, Stack said, don’t necessarily record the occupation of the deceased. The result is haphazard, incomplete, and unreliable data.

Occupational stress, the trigger so often associated with banker suicides, is only one of four main risk suicide factors, according to Stack. The other three major risk factor Stack identifies are: demographics (the white, the middle-aged, and men have higher a higher risk of killing themselves); “pre-existing psychiatric morbidity”; and ease of access to a means of death. The latter may explain why what data is available shows healthcare workers with ready access to lethal drugs have higher suicide rates.

In 2009, Michael Idov looked Stack’s research and how these risk factors apply to bankers:

The available data appears to suggest that bankers are no more or less likely to kill themselves, in good times or bad, than anyone else… There is some demographic overlap between American suicide victims and bankers (both groups are largely white and male), but that’s a correlative, not a causal, relationship. Bankers don’t appear to be any more prone to preexisting psychiatric problems than other groups, nor do they have any special ease in procuring poisons, guns, and the like.

Stack also found that “highly publicized [suicide] stories increase the national suicide rate by only 2.51% in the month of media coverage”. The cause of that increase, however, is not entirely clear. Stack finds that while there is some evidence supporting the idea that media coverage causes copy-cat suicides “most of the evidence to date for a copycat suicide effect is very indirect and not fully satisfactory”.

The recent string of suicides in the financial sector may simply be nothing more than the illusion of a cluster within a series of random events. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t feel like more than that.

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