Exclusive-Bank of America banker who died had sought to leave, citing long hours, recruiter says

By Milana Vinn

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The 35-year-old Bank of America investment banker who died from a blood clot earlier this month wanted to leave the U.S. bank because he was working more than 100 hours a week, according to an executive recruiter who spoke with him about seeking a new job.

Junior banker Leo Lukenas III died of an acute coronary artery thrombus, a type of blood clot, the New York Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said last week.

Lukenas said in mid-March that he wanted to leave Bank of America because of the grueling hours, Douglas Walters, a managing partner at GrayFox Recruitment, told Reuters in an interview. GrayFox specializes in placing people in financial industry jobs, including investment banking and private equity.

In response to a question posed by Reuters, Walters said Lukenas, a U.S. Army veteran who was survived by his wife and two children, did not raise any health issues in their discussions about career options.

Reuters has no evidence that long hours at work contributed to Lukenas’ death.

Lukenas’ wife and brother did not respond to phone calls, text messages and emails seeking comment. 51 Vets, a nonprofit for veterans that is helping to organize donations for Lukenas’ family, declined to comment.

A Bank of America spokesperson declined to comment on Walters’ conversations with Lukenas about his long working hours or his job search.

The spokesperson pointed to an earlier statement in which the company said: “We are devastated by the loss of our teammate. We continue to focus on doing whatever we can to support the family and our team especially those who worked closely with him.”

After starting as an intern in March 2023, Lukenas became an associate in Bank of America’s financial institutions group in New York four months later, where he worked on mergers and acquisitions, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was part of the Bank of America team that advised regional lender UMB Financial on its $2 billion deal for smaller rival Heartland Financial that was announced on April 29, his LinkedIn profile shows.

There is no suggestion that UMB was aware of how much Lukenas was working at Bank of America. A UMB spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about Lukenas’ working hours.

Walters said he worked with Lukenas to prepare an application for an associate position at a “boutique” investment bank in New York, which Walters declined to name.

While compensation was lower at the hiring firm, Lukenas considered the role as he sought a better work-life balance, Walters said.

“He made a comment saying like, ‘hey, I’ll trade hours of sleep for a 10% (pay) cut,’” Walters said. Lukenas said he had too little time to spend with his family, Walters added.

LONDON INTERN’S DEATH

Wall Street has grappled for years with overwork among junior staff. Some firms have adopted measures such as increasing pay, holding workshops and forbidding work on Saturdays or periodic weekends.

Bank of America is among the banks that do not permit junior bankers to work Saturdays unless an exception is sought, according to current and former employees.

The bank reviewed its working culture in 2013 in the wake of an intern in London dying of epilepsy after working through nights. A coroner, who is an independent judicial officer, found the intern, Moritz Erhardt, died of natural causes.

“It’s possible that fatigue brought about his fatal seizure. It’s also possible that it just happened,” the coroner Mary Hassell told a London court hearing that was held in November 2013 to review her inquest into Erhardt’s death.

Lukenas, a former Green Beret in the U.S. Army, told Walters he thrived in a competitive culture and “would never say no” to assignments, Walters recalled. But Lukenas also asked Walters whether it was normal to put in 110 hours of work a week. Walters said he told Lukenas that consistently putting in such long hours was unusual even by Wall Street standards.

“I know (the boutique investment bank) would have called him forward, and he and I had been going back and forth on that,” Walters said.

(Reporting by Milana Vinn in New York; Additional reporting by Lananh Nguyen and Nupur Anand in New York; Editing by Greg Roumeliotis)