The London Paper – 24 July 2009
You can take the boy out of the church but you most certainly cannot take the church out of the boy. Having had an extremely religious upbringing I’ve never doubted those sentiments and they were confirmed a few days ago when Lord Myners, the Government’s City minister and former fund manager, stated in the Sunday Times that he had ‘found God’ and was giving up his day job to study theology with a view to possibly becoming ordained. Myners, who was bought up in a religious children’s home, announced that he may have ‘neglected’ the moral purpose of his life and despaired that ‘money has become everything’ for most people.
The spiritual conflict that lots of religious City boys experience when they enter the Square Mile is not to be dismissed lightly. Many well-meaning Godly types become stockbrokers hoping that they can serve both the good Lord and Mammon (‘the false god of riches’) but they soon find things aren’t as easy as that. This is simply because the spiritual man will not thrive in the cesspit of the City as well as the ruthless, cynical man. You have to be able to sell assets you don’t believe in, lie through your teeth to clients on a regular basis and play office politics like a demon if you are to maximise your earnings potential. Insider trading, spreading false rumours and sticking twenties in strippers’ G strings also generally do not sit comfortably with religious types but unfortunately such acts are all beneficial to your career prospects!
Myners is not the first City boy to seek more spiritual climbs. Twelve years ago the head of the brokerage HSBC James Capel, Jim O’Donnell, left his extremely lucrative job to become a priest. Indeed, my own brother who secured me my first position at an investment bank left the City to join the clergy one year after I’d sold my soul to the devil. He is now a Baptist minister preaching the word of the Lord to the good folk of Sicily. Like Myners and O’Donnell he could ultimately not reconcile his beliefs with his job.
Well, thank God I used to be an atheist! I succeeded in the City precisely because I had no such ethical reservations restricting my hideous ambition. However, after a few years of raking it in my religious upbringing began to rear its ugly head. I became increasingly uncomfortable with the selfish, greedy world I worked in and by early 2008 I found the decision to leave my disgustingly well-paid job the easiest I’d ever made. I’m now desperately trying to make up for my past sins … but unfortunately it looks like it’s going to take a hell of a long time!
If you have religious convictions and want to enter the City go for it … but understand that you will not succeed like the person next to you who has equal ability but fewer moral qualms. That is the tragedy of modern capitalism … and that’s why we’re in the mess we’re in.