On a particularly snowy morning last winter, a young female research analyst at a boutique investment bank in New York was trying to catch a cab up to midtown when she saw a slick twentysomething guy appear in a suit across the street. He was about to steal the taxi she thought would be hers. The tailored suit, she thought, was a sign he was likely headed uptown as well, and so, being cold and late, she sprinted across the street to ask if they might share. He obliged.
During the short ride, they exchanged pleasantries, and he asked if she shared cabs often. He said that he worked at a hedge fund, and she shared only her first name and the name of the company for which she worked (both of which she asked not be mentioned here). She dropped him off first, and a few blocks later, got out at her office building.
When she got to her desk, she logged in to her Bloomberg terminal and started to work. In the late morning, a message popped up in the terminal's proprietary instant messaging service: "How's the rest of your day going." She saw the first name and recognized who it was immediately: the guy from the cab.
Bloomberg terminals, the big iconic machines that bankers and traders use primarily to track markets and place trades and each of which costs companies over $20,000 per year to rent, also have an internal instant messaging system with which you can find and message anyone else who is logged in — really easily. By typing in the woman's (mildly unusual) first name and employer, the hedge fund trader from the cab was able to directly message the analyst (provided she was logged on) and could also see her phone number, email address, and employment history. The ability to see when users are logged on at their desks has even been cause for some scandal. This summer, Bloomberg News admitted that some of its reporters had used the terminals to snoop on companies and track employees logging in, to advance its reporting.
The instant messaging system, known as Instant Bloomberg, has become a sore spot for many financial institutions, and earlier this week, some of the world's biggest banks announced they were considering limiting employees' access to chatrooms. Useful as the service is for busy traders, banks are worried about employees using Instant Bloomberg chatrooms to manipulate markets or share information with outside firms. The casual convenience, paired with the paper trail left behind, is a concern for firms and an easy target for regulators.
If Instant Bloomberg is banned, it might also mean the end of something that seems to be much more rampant than the fraudulent manipulating of markets: using the chats to flirt. Or sometimes, even to ask someone out, like the hedge fund trader did a few days after the shared cab ride.
The date went fine enough, and it turned out the pair lived on the same block, a fact that seemed amazingly coincidental at first, but which became pretty obvious when you consider the original morning taxi-getting. Then they never saw each other again.
Lovely as the story is, most advances on Instant Bloomberg do not have all the trappings of a romantic comedy.
"My friend's boss discovered very graphic sexting between an FX sales girl and a guy on the Russian sales team," explained a woman who formerly worked in derivatives sales at a British investment bank. "There were details from positions they did the night before, their favorite things to do to each other, their weekend escapes. The girl was engaged and the guy was married at the time."
The woman, who asked her name and former employer not be mentioned, said she frequently met men in bars and clubs who later looked her up on Instant Bloomberg. "Being asked out happens a lot, especially if you are a good-looking sales woman," she said. "A lot of people who work on the trading floor don't go out much and their dating pool is each other."
The advances occasionally came from clients. "The most uncomfortable for me was always flirting from clients. There were messages like, 'You looked really great in that dress at dinner,' or, 'You drink like a man, I wonder what else you do like a man.'"
Because most banks ban access to Gmail, Facebook, and other chat clients, Instant Bloomberg is the only outlet for many traders glued to their terminals. "The IM is used a lot for personal use and there is a lot of chat and gossip behind everyone's back, like, 'She dresses so slutty, he is such a asshole, that person said this, did this did that,'" the woman who worked in derivatives sales explained.
At her firm, she said, managers could more easily read employees' corporate email than their Bloomberg messages, which made people more laid back in their IMs.
That attitude extends past searching for hookups.
"We'd send links of funny articles, discuss football betting lines, and brainstorm what meals we planned on ordering on Seamless that night," said a former Morgan Stanley trader. "The expense limit was $25 if you stayed past 8 p.m., so the move was to order a sushi deluxe and meet the delivery guy in the lobby on your way out."
CORRECTION: Banks are considering limiting employees' access to chatrooms. An earlier version misstated that fact . (11/13/13)