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GUEST COMMENT: Banking may be 80% full of middle class mediocrities, but the other 20% are smart, commercial and fascinating eccentrics you wouldn’t find anywhere else

There is talent in these cubicles

One former banker, who resigned to become an itinerant musician, has an unfavourable opinion about his former colleagues. His original piece, published on the website Wall Street Oasis, has now disappeared, but was covered on eFinancialCareers here.  

If you worked with this individual (Stephen Ridley, a Durham gradate with a first class degree in PPE), or if you work in banking and are full of self-doubt (admittedly unlikely), it is this verdict on his colleagues that is likely to have proven most troubling to you:

 “…a sad middle class bland people, with unexciting lives, and unexciting prospects.  A bunch of nerds who got caught up in a cage made of money and dreams and greed, and never got out.”

This strikes me as not just a case of sour grapes but a Magnum of putrid vinegar.

Durham quit his M&A job at a ‘European Bank’ (what was the matter – were Goldman or Morgan Stanley not hiring? Had they already filled their boots with better calibre graduates from Oxbridge and LSE?) after just over a year.

He goes on to say that his decision to leave banking and become a musician was the best thing he has ever done. Well good for him. He did not manage to stick it out for long, so I think we can safely conclude that he just isn't suited to finance. There’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t judge those who can’t hack long hours and difficult personalities.

I was a little amazed though that he seemed to think that these working conditions were the banking sector’s best-kept secret. It’s a well-publicised fact that bankers work crazy hard. Why did he think we get paid so much compared to teachers and postmen?

Moreover, it should have come as no surprise that many of the people Ridley came across in financial services were a little sad. Like all job sectors, the City follows Pareto’s rule; 80% of the glamour & money accrues to the top 20% of bankers and the rest get stuck with the boring donkey-work.

Of course there are losers. Lord knows, I’ve witnessed quite a few animated discussions about which Beta figure to use in a Weighted Average Cost of Capital calculation.

However, there are also a sizeable minority of bankers who are smart, eccentric, interesting with eclectic tastes outside of the office and who lead much more exciting lifestyles than anything the author has experienced, even in his current iteration.

I have friends who, as part of landmark emerging markets deals, have been challenged to arm wrestling matches over vodka in Central Asia by oligarchs-cum-presidential candidates. They’ve flown on clients’ private jets, met top politicians and celebrities. Their deals have changed the commercial landscapes of countries and regions.

They love their job, and they wouldn't have been exposed to the same opportunities outside of banking. Most importantly, they don't fit the "bean counter" stereotype that the author is pushing.

I’m happy that Mr. Ridley is now getting “more female attention than I thought a guy with my face could get!” in his new life after banking, but, sir, please leave your middle-class complexes at the door and leave us City-folk alone.

The author has worked in a number of roles across the City from M&A to capital markets, and considers himself better than average.

AUTHORAnonymous Insider Comment
  • he
    12 June 2012

    Investment Bankers tend have a greater opinion of themselves than their clients have of them. Their clients often don't believe they add value and use them as a process function - to do the grunt work or as an insurance policy in case anything goes wrong.

    Lets be honest what use is a degree in History, PPE or English for Investment Banking. I would much rather hire someone with a degree in maths, science or engineering.

    Finally what is this obsession with Oxbridge, LSE and Goldman Sachs. Sounds like the bland statements that only a recruitment agent would spout.

  • LL
    12 June 2012

    The author sounds like a caricature. He doesn't seem to understand that spending hours making stupid presentations or playing a zero sum game with a computer doesn't add any value to the economy. If bankers are well paid it's because their banks benefit from asset bubbles when they expand and cheap credit/ taxpayer money when they bust. As Bill Gross says in a very good paper, "They would have you believe that stocks, bonds and real estate move higher because of their wisdom, when in fact, prices float on an ocean of credit", ( If a guy who creates a vaccine against flu is less paid than a broker shouting prices in a box it's because the financial system is screwed and the economy inefficient not because bankers are smart or are working hard. Otherwise chinese workers would be richer than the bunch of idiots spending hours on pointless ppt presentations. No need to be very clever to understand that. It's been 3 years that I have been working as a trader in a 1st Tier investment bank, and it is impossible to deny that this job is not smart at all. I am now hopping to find something else to leave this boring industry.
    Concerning the "friends" of the author and their hobbies (wrestling matches over vodka in Central Asia and private jets), we can only laugh. It looks like a truck driver's fantasm.It illustrates very well how intellectually poor and how show off many bankers are. A perfect example of the "unexciting lives, and unexciting prospects". Thanks to the current crisis, these arrogants will probably know what their real value is soon.

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