The London Paper – 2 Apr 2007
It sometimes feels that paedophiles, traffic wardens and even Man United supporters have a greater chance of eliciting public sympathy than we stock brokers. Indeed, the misfortunes that we suffer are generally sources of tremendous pleasure to a public envious of our riches and bored of our incessant bragging. Frankly, I fully understand that point of view – we are generally obnoxious money-obsessed tossers and arrogant to boot (though I, of course, am pretty much perfect).
However, things are afoot now which mean that we may not be strutting around quite as cockily as we have been during the current four year bull market. Last week it became clear that Barclays may acquire the Dutch bank ABN Amro. This may signal a round of consolidation in the global banking industry and that means major potential job losses for investment bankers. At the same time Citigroup is said to be about to cut 15,000 job globally which may encourage other banks to undertake cost-cutting initiatives. This means that brokers’ conversations in wine bars across the City have moved on from how massive next year’s bonus will be to who amongst us will still have a job next year. Of course, although there may be ‘blood on the streets’ I’m painfully aware that Margaret Beckett has a higher chance of being voted Miss UK than I have of receiving any sympathy from you about my insecure future.
When the ‘bad times’ come there are two main complimentary skills to hone up: back-stabbing and arse-kissing. Whilst, in theory, when two banks merge and there are job overlaps, it is the most productive employee that survives, office politics will always play its role. When mass job culls last happened in 2001-3 I become as slippery as a Teflon-coated Tony Blair covered in KY jelly and I’ll do the same if it happens again. The main trick is to identify who’s going to be swinging the axe and then make sure you take them out for a few glasses of champers. Self-promotion during the ‘informal chat’ is de rigueur but, more complicated, is to subtly highlight the recent failings of the colleague who is your main competitor for the specific role. If the ‘axe-swinger’ comes from a bank merging with you then you’re in trouble and the best option is to get a job elsewhere – ideally with a guaranteed bonus or two which means any downturn will no have impact on you for at least a year.
Job insecurity is an occupational hazard in the City and is often used to justify our hideously large pay packets (though in modern British society the only truly secure job seems to be dealing Gak to celebrities). If mass culls in the City do occur then I’m sure most Londoners will be happy as Larry and, to be honest, even I may put an extra bottle of champagne in to be chilled. That’s because if I lose my job I may be forced to stop leaching off society in this pointless job and go and do something remotely useful with the rest of my life.