The London Paper  –  16 Oct 2006

Recently I had an experience that went some way to answering one of the perennial questions that has been posed at dinner parties across London for decades: does the City attract arrogant tossers or do they become so as a result of their job? Last week, I presented to a fresh-faced buy-side analyst for the second time, having previously done so just after he’d arrived in the City. Somehow, in the intervening 6 month period, this formerly (almost) acceptable young man had been transformed into the bastard son of Paris Hilton and Russell Crow. He had come to display all the modesty of Simon Cowell after a 4 day coke bender whilst showing a lack of consideration for others unmatched since Pol Pot strutted his funky stuff in Cambodia. Frankly, I would prefer to scoop my own eyes out with a rusty spoon than ever have to talk to this clown again.

I think there are three main reasons why the City can instil extraordinary arrogance into those who choose to waste their life here. Firstly, most of us enter the City so young (i.e. 21) that our personalities are not fully formed and so, when we begin earning serious cash, it goes straight to our heads. Fortunately for me, I entered the City at the relatively senior age of 24 and hence have managed to retain my near perfect personality without any hint of arrogance.

Secondly, and this applies mainly to buy-side analysts and fund managers (e.g. ‘the clients’), self-importance can rear its ugly head as a result of the constant arse-kissing that they are subject to. With too many brokers chasing too little commission even some lowly client from some god-awful little institution finds himself the recipient of offers for the kind of client entertainment that the average Joe would give their eye teeth for. If enough people kept offering you tickets to see to see Champions League football games or the latest Madonna concert you too might become as demanding as Naomi Campbell with PMT.

Finally, Cityboys (and occasionally Citygirls) become arrogant because their job demands it. Everyday a trader or fund manager buys or sells a share they’re implicitly saying that the market (e.g. everyone else) has GOT IT WRONG and mis-priced the asset. Hence, an egotistical decisiveness is key to our job. That’s why Hamlet would have been a dreadful broker whilst I’d have Lady Macbeth on my team any day of the week.

So next time you’re at a dinner party and you find yourself sat next to some dreadful idiot from the City braying on about fantastic he is remember two things. Firstly, it’s probably not the poor chap’s fault but rather his job that’s destroyed his personality. Secondly, be aware that he needs to be an arrogant buffoon in order to carry out his job properly. However, despite these two vindications it’s still probably worth asking the host if you can swap places before the next course.

Thoughts ?

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