Banker Culture: Germans are Like Coconuts, Americans Like Peaches
When people dream of places with the highest quality of life, they often think of the beaches of the Caribbean or the medieval wine villages of Tuscany. But the reality is different. According to a new study by market research firm Mercer, people in six of the 10 cities in the world with the highest quality of life have a very different thing in common: They all speak German.
Thus, Vienna and Zurich rank No. 1 and No. 2, while the German cities of Munich (4), Dusseldorf (6) and Frankfurt (7) are also in the top 10. To find out why speaking German is suddenly in vogue around the world, we talked with Susan Spinner, an American who was an investment banker and is currently CFA Managing Director, about her life in Frankfurt.
How did you come to Germany?
I met my husband in Los Angeles. He is German.
How did you begin your career in financial services?
I began my career in the late 80s with the trading of interest rate derivatives at a major Japanese bank. I then continued to work many years in structured financial products, first in the capital markets in the U.S. and later in asset management in Germany.
What do you like about your life in Germany and Frankfurt the most?
Germany is a very special country. Legally and economically the country has a very solid foundation and is remarkably free. The Germans appreciate the benefits of their homeland, while many foreigners often have an outdated opinion of Germany. Since I have lived here so long, I can confirm without hesitation that you have to look hard and long to find a higher standard of living elsewhere. The city of Frankfurt is also much more attractive to live in than its somewhat average reputation might have you believe.
What bothers you most about Germany?
I am now quite "Germanized" so many things that used to bother me are no longer as annoying. As the “nation of poets and thinkers”, a certain spontaneity is perhaps missing in this country. The funniest random encounters that I've made in my life were always in the U.S. One doesn't make friends as fast in Germany, and Germans tend to be initially reserved, but the positive side of that is that deep and longstanding relationships and friendships seem to be more likely here.
How does daily work differ from that in the financial sector in the U.S.?
I would argue that the differences have diminished with globalization. At least with the "Starbucks factor" a kind of compensation has already taken place. Twenty years ago in Chicago, we all got a grande latte or cappuccino before work, while in Germany office colleagues still made each other pots of coffee at work. Now, the take-away coffee culture has arrived in Germany (unfortunately).
When it comes to management styles, I confess I had my best experience with supervisors in the U.S. I enjoyed a level of responsibility and decision-making freedom that is quite rare to find in Germany outside of top management. Hierarchies were flatter in the U.S. and it is less formal as people are always talking to one another during the work day on a first name basis. One should not be fooled, however, that everything is more relaxed in the U.S. It may seem chummy, but it can still be a tough environment.
This reminds me of a comparison between Germans and Americans that I once heard and although it is an exaggeration, it isn't entirely wrong:
"Americans are like peaches - soft and fluffy outside, but with a hard stone in the core. German are like coconuts, hard and brittle on the exterior, but if you crack the shell, the milk flows."
I have been lucky enough to have seen the coconut milk flowing in Germany.