The London Paper – 4 Sept 2006
September has tremendous potential comic value in any investment bank because this is usually the month when we have the pleasure of welcoming into our bosom, like lambs to the slaughter, a bunch of ambitious, wet behind the ears graduate trainees. Those of us with a taste for the absurd await their arrival as we would a visit by an avant-garde troupe of unintentional comedians. Of the two distinct archetypes, the scared overly-deferential buffoon and the preposterous arrogant idiot (who’ve usually read some book claiming that this is the only way to gain respect in the ‘bear pit’ that is the City), the latter is my personal favourite. Little does this poor schmuck know that his attitude will simply condemn him to a series of tried and tested wind-ups that should, if executed correctly, result in a major personality rethink and/or his swift departure (for it usually the male of the species). We might begin by anonymously putting him on the subscription list for a hardcore gay porn mag using the office as his favoured address of receipt. If this fails to moderate his attitude we may use his computer to type into the in-house intranet message system (accessible and visible to the whole bank) the domain name of some dubious website – thus making out he has inadvertently revealed to every co-worker his particular sexual proclivities.
But in general, these fresh-faced ingénues remind us burnt-out has-beens of the pleasant individuals that we once were and like bullying older pupils at some dreadful public school we feel obliged to make sure they face the same horrors that we had to endure. Our need to mock is fired up as we jealously observe in their young, naïve eyes the optimism and ambition that we once harboured, but had beaten out of us long ago by the soul-destroying tedium that our job ultimately entails. We justify our harsh treatment of these natural victims because the average grad is initially about as useful as a chocolate codpiece in the desert. Indeed, for the first six months their only function is essentially to go out and collect their senior colleagues the odd Starbucks coffee, though admittedly they get paid £40-50K for their troubles.
This year, my bank’s contingent of 60 or so grads generally tick all the stereotypical boxes: ambitious, Oxbridge graduates who have probably wanted to enter the City since they were about fourteen and got involved in the ‘milk round’ at College with all the misplaced enthusiasm of a brain-washed British Soldier about to go ‘over the top’ during the Somme. Most of them have already done some City work experience during the College Summer holidays when they should have been drinking tequila shots at Amnesia in Ibiza. If I had my way any grad who had undertaken such a dreadful misuse of their free time prior to spending 15 hours a day serving Mammon would be automatically barred. I breezed into the City over ten years ago simply because I had nothing better to do and my ever-concerned fund manager brother negotiated with a salesman, who was desperate for some orders, into giving me a temporary job at his bank in return for some commission. Sadly, those days are over and the City now insists on the kind of background that invariably produces tedious, production-line robots with all the imagination of a Channel 5 documentary.
Despite my concerns, the reality is that the grads I meet year in year out are generally very intelligent people. It is because the City is a money-making factory whose rewards are massively disproportionate to the rest of UK plc that it seduces from society those gifted individuals who in times gone by would have gone on to become great scientists, inventors, doctors, engineers and even artists. Instead these great minds are now pointlessly pre-occupied pushing around bits of paper and I have no doubt that the progress of our culture and our society is all the worse for it.