How to retire from banking, work part time and earn $700 an hour
If you're feeling a bit fatigued with your relentless schedule working full time in banking, we're here to tell you there's an alternative. But you need to be pretty senior to access it.
When Peter Selman, the former head of global equities at Deutsche Bank, resurfaced after a healthy rest in June this year, it wasn't in another bank job. It wasn't even in a hedge fund. Selman is now chairman and managing partner of SEDA, a firm of expert witnesses in the financial services sector. He's in good company: other key people at SEDA are Michael Yarian, the former head of debt markets for the Americas at HSBC and Richard Marin, a former chairman and CEO at Bear Stearns Asset Management.
What makes senior bankers with a history of seven-figure salaries switch into a career of expert witnessing instead? We can't comment on compensation at SEDA specifically, but other expert witnesses who've quit banking careers say it can be lucrative. If you're an expert witness itself (rather than running an expert witness firm), you can earn a very healthy hourly rate.
"Expert witnesses can only be paid on an hourly basis. They are usually paid $100-200 more than a regular consultant due to the additional requirements needed to be an expert," says Gontran de Quillacq, an expert witness for the financial services sector who once worked in structured equities for HSBC. "In the financial industry, expert witnesses are therefore paid $600/$700 per hour, with variations on topics or the individual’s profile."
If you've made a bit of money already in banking, have some expertise in a particular niche (SEDA covers everything from risk and compliance to derivatives and asset management) and are looking for a job that pays a healthy hourly rate while also allowing for downtime as required, expert-witnessing may be it. But it's not open to everyone.
Firstly, de Quillacq says you'll need a "squeaky clean background," including in your personal life. If you have "buried an ex-spouse in the back of the garden", he says the attorney on the opposite side will unearth that. You'll also need "investigative skills and ethics" and expertise in your witnessing space. For de Quillacq that's derivatives, but he says experts are also drawn from areas like compliance and legal.
Traders can also have an edge. "Experts need the ability to stand a difficult conversation, with a skilled interrogator whose objective is to have them trip over," says de Quillacq. "The conversation is recorded, and every word counts. Traders have an advantage - it's a regular day at the office."
The downside is that careers in expert witnessing can take a while to get going. "Like all consulting businesses, the difficulty is to get calls from prospective clients," says de Quillacq. "Attorneys select experts essentially through word-of-mouth. Since legal cases take two to four years, it takes several years before an attorney can recommend you, and even more before you become recognized in the legal community. No money will ever buy that reputation. Quality work eventually pays off, but it takes patience too."
If it works out, you could end up with a part-time job that pays a good hourly rate and is intellectually stimulating. "I personally find the role rewarding. The responsibilities require expertise and experience; they nicely leverage my academia and my decades on trading floors," de Quillacq tells us. "The tasks are diverse, interesting and challenging. You work with professionals who are truly competent and skilled. There is always more to learn. You are a piece in a game of 3D chess, and there is a real satisfaction when the client wins his/her case."
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