‘Bulge Bracket’ Brings Wall Street’s Asian-American Faces to TV

When Christopher Au’s wife landed a job atCredit Suisse’s investment banking division in 2009, the couple moved to New York where she began logging 100-plus-hour work weeks.

“We were living together, but I felt like I never saw her,” Au, 39, said in an interview from the San Francisco Bay Area, where the couple now live. “One exception was on Saturdays. She wouldn’t have to go into the office until after lunch, and we would go on these brunch dates and catch up about our week.”

Her grueling schedule and lack of work-life balance prompted Au to examine the experiences of other investment bankers, particularly Asian-Americans like his wife, Cindy.

In 2011, Au, then working in media and business development, wrote a first draft of what would become “Bulge Bracket” — industry jargon that refers to the largest investment banks. The short-series comedy, now in its first season on Amazon Prime, marks Au’s debut as an independent TV director.

In the show, a young Asian woman portrayed by Jessika Van, right out of business school, joins fictitious Boldwyn Brothers as an investment banker. There, she’s confronted with frat boy-type colleagues, an unpleasant overture from a White male client, and a capricious boss who broke into the industry in the ’90s as the sole Asian in his cohort.

While many films have focused on the financial industry — including “The Big Short” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” — “Bulge Bracket” is arguably the first with an Asian-American perspective that aims to portray the experience of junior bankers from humble backgrounds, particularly those whose parents were immigrants.

“The management they see is living at the other extreme — they live on the Upper East Side, they send their kids to private schools, and their houses are in the Hamptons,” Au said. “For junior bankers, they’re grinding it out, not sleeping, in the hopes that one day they can make it to the top. But the truth is, not many do.”

Many Asian-American workers become pigeonholed as Excel wizards and aren’t seen as potential deal makers, he said.Data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission confirm this, suggesting that while Asians are well represented on Wall Street, they’re largely absent in the executive ranks. Au’s wife worked in the industry for less than two years before pivoting to tech.

Help From Friends

While the show may lack high-stakes drama and sophisticated cinematic techniques, episodes on revising spreadsheets and pointlessly changing the fonts on PowerPoint presentations offer fodder for comedy that resonates with office drones everywhere.

Au’s initial pitches to Hollywood agents were rebuffed due to his inexperience as a writer, forcing him to look for financial backing from friends, many of whom were also mid-career, Asian-American professionals. His perseverance paid off when shows like “Fresh Off the Boat” and movies including “Crazy Rich Asians” boosted demand for Asian-American focused programs.

“Bulge Bracket” already has a following. On Wall Street Oasis, a popular forum among bankers and wannabe bankers, a user opened a thread about the show. “Have you guys watched it?” the user posted. “Finally a show about IB (investment banking) — brought back so much PTSD.”

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