The banking blog concludes its first year (it’ll be back in the autumn) with one more interviewee who got cold feet after seeing the full transcript of his words. The solution then is either to discard the interview altogether or use only disembodied quotes.
The latter course is taken here because the interviewee has such astute observations about the culture of finance, the psychological impact of a job in investment banking, and the role of debt in guiding students towards a career in banks.
He is in his mid-20s and his job is in “sales” on the trading floor of a major bank – click here if you want another interviewee to explain what that job entails.
On the zero job security in finance, he says: “I have seen it happen. My boss – let’s call him John – one day he simply disappeared. I was doing some work for him, or rather for a client of his, and I was going: ‘Where’s John? Why is he not answering his email?’ It is really like this: somebody gets a phone call at his desk. He gets up and never comes back. You may receive a call: ‘Hey, can you bring me my coat and bag?’ They’ll be outside, not allowed back in.”
He sometimes looks around his intake of people, a few dozen of them. Then he looks at the next level and there aren’t the same number of positions, quite a lot fewer. “Some of us are going to go. It is simple statistics.”
What’s the atmosphere like? “I see the guy next to me, a young father in his early 30s. He gets in around 6.30am and doesn’t get out until seven or eight in the evening. I hear him talk on the phone to his children three times a day. That is his contact with them.”
It’s another recurring point on this blog; the insane hours. “You have no time for friends,” said this young investment banker who was in mergers & acquisitions, a form of dealmaking.
Are trading floors just as bad? He says they are, at least for people his age. “People who love me say they have seen me change*. My girlfriend is not in banking but she also works till ‘stupid o’clock’ as we call it. Most employers pay for a cab home if you work after 9pm. This is often the only time we talk. On the phone when we are both in a taxi [the London underground has no reception].”
The relationship with her is still young. Can it hold? “No way your girlfriend is going to stick around if you’re never there because you’re always working. Unless she likes the trade-off; you have no time for me but you buy me expensive stuff. What kind of relationship is that**? And if you lose your job, she will dump you.”
His description of the trading floor echoes that of most on this blog: “Virtually all male, like an army.” He added an interesting point: how the rise of technology brings on a new kind of trader: “More and more people on the trading floor are university graduates with a degree in maths. Quite a few are Oxbridge educated, though rarely the privileged kind. Many are from poor backgrounds, with photos of their children on their desks. They tell me it’s to remind them why they are working so hard; so their kids can do whatever they want.”
He is from a modest background too, and when he was in university it seemed “a no-brainer” to go into banking**. “Corporations came to deliver pitches, and it was simply a matter of the highest bidder. Those were the banks, by a long shot. I was quite naive, had no real idea of what a job on the trading floor might be. I just saw the figure, realised I was 20 thousand in student debt, and there I went.”
His sense is that the privileged go into law firms these days. He explains that the trading floor is very meritocratic. When performance is measurable in a simple number, social connections and capital don’t help much.
How does he weigh the pros and cons of his job? “When the markets open you have to be ‘in the zone’ all the time, on your feet and alert. It does something to your brain. It’s very, very hard to switch off after hours. It’s also all those caffeinated drinks. Even after work when I see a paper or a TV screen with news on it, I am drawn to it. It is irresistible. Then my mind goes: how will this piece of news impact the markets, and what does that mean for me?
What makes the job great is the energy and the efficiency. My computer breaks down and gets fixed in minutes. You write an email, hit send and bang, there’s the reply. I suppose that’s the trade-off. What makes such a wired environment great also makes it exhausting. The people are great too, personable, bright, snappy. A lot of regular guys who simply want to get ahead in life. And there’s the feeling of being in touch with the world, feeling part of that world. All these screens with rolling news, the Bloomberg terminals where you see the markets move in real time … To be disconnected from all that … In a way that would be like unplugging from the Matrix.”
Finally, for those of you who believe banker-bashing will make the world a better place, he has this to say: “I would work these hours, give it my very best, and then I’d see in the press these wild accusations against bankers. It was quite depressing to be honest, and demoralizing.”
This page lists the top three best-read, most-liked and most-commented of the 70-plus interviews in this series so far. Plus a guide to the interviews that really deserve more readers.
* “People who love me say they have seen me change” This young woman talks about her struggle with the changes in her boyfriend since he became an investment banker: “These days when he finishes at 10pm I think to myself: ‘Wow, that’s really good’. I am changing as well.”
** In university it seemed “a no-brainer” to go into banking. This economics professor has harsh things to say about banks’ recruitment practices: “If this kind of brainwashing were done by a religious movement rather than the financial sector, it would have been banned long ago.”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk