The London Paper – 6 Feb 2009
Today is apparently the last day for the equity research department at my former bank, Dresdner Kleinwort. This is the division I worked at for eight long, hard years. I left last year just before revealing my identity as ‘Cityboy’ in this paper and publishing my book of the same name. Every single one of my former colleagues is losing their job as a result of Dresdner’s takeover by Commerzbank.
Commerzbank have apparently decided that Dresdner’s far-reaching investment banking ambitions are not likely to make any money any time soon. Also because my department merely analyzed listed companies and their shares it brought in little direct commission and hence was deemed surplus to requirements.
Anyway, I decided to ring up a few ex-work mates to find out what was going on and whilst most, as usual, refused to talk to me because of my ‘toxic’ status a few were willing to chat. They revealed that there has been a bizarre atmosphere of tension and gallows humour in the bank for over five months. Despite everyone knowing that they’re going to lose their jobs they’ve all continued calling clients most days because they’ve wanted to retain relationships that could be useful were they to get a job at another bank.
Everyone has also openly been going to interviews at other City firms as if it’s going out of fashion. Of course, the problem is that banks taking on new employees is going out of fashion! Hence, the bargaining position has most definitely swung in favour of employers and so the packages being offered are ‘risible’ – though I suppose few Londoners are going to cry in their beer about experienced stockbrokers earning £150K a year rather than £400K!
What amazed me most is that only one or two of my former colleagues are using this hideous situation as an opportunity for a total reappraisal of their lives. I’ve always felt that you should only do a job if it ticks at least one of four boxes: it’s creatively fulfilling, it helps the world, it pays well or you really enjoy it. No prizes for guessing which is the one box a City career ticks for most employees and since money is now no longer in such abundance I’d have thought they’d all be rushing off to run a pub in Bath or teach scuba diving in the Maldives. Apparently not.
Some ex-colleagues said they were ‘too old’ to try to change career whilst others said they were ‘too young’ – perhaps feeling they weren’t prepared to leave until they’d gorged themselves at capitalism’s over-flowing teat during a boom time. Others spoke of not being qualified to do anything else whilst some mentioned the need to pay off little Henrietta’s school fees and a vast mortgage. In reality, it seemed to me everyone is afraid of change and finds some strange comfort in being in a rut.
When I was a stock broker I remember many of my peers across the Square Mile complaining regularly about their ‘tedious’, ‘stressful’ and ‘unfulfilling’ jobs. Now many are being given the opportunity to seek pastures new. Sadly, it seems that when it comes to our careers we all tend to opt for the devil we know.