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Morning Coffee: Awkward moment as Citi might have to rehire a trader it fired. The unlikely top UK university for finance’s elite

While some quite senior people at Citigroup are being let go after many years’ service, there’s one former employee who’s going to be asking for his job back after having been fired in 2021.  Ian Weir, a former APAC sales trader based in London, has won an employment tribunal judgement saying that he was unfairly dismissed as part of a “house clearing” exercise carried out by Citi when the Hong Kong regulator investigated and fined the bank over misleading statements made to clients.

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As part of his case, Weir said that he had flagged concerns on numerous occasions.  His lawyers also said – possibly the first time that any sales trader has ever expressed this view – that he wasn’t given enough compliance training.  Effectively, the tribunal seems to have agreed that he was a scapegoat for wider cultural problems.

For their part, Citi still maintain that they were right to fire Weir, and that they’re keeping the option to appeal while everyone waits for a date to be set for the damages hearing.  This is one of the cases subject to the British cap on damages awards (basically, £80k/$100k unless there is evidence of discrimination), so Weir’s starting position is that he wants his job back. 

That might be quite tough to achieve. Citi’s London equities team is somewhat smaller than it was two years ago, so it’s not as if there are plenty of open sales trading vacancies to walk in to.  Furthermore, according to his LinkedIn, Ian Weir has another job as a global equities dealer at Mason Stephens in...Sydney.  It feels like the two sides might need to come to some sort of settlement.

This looks like (again, assuming that Citi doesn’t overturn the judgement on appeal, which it might) like a rare exception to the rule that “there are no winner in employment tribunal cases”.  Having been fired in circumstances which made it look like he had been responsible for “gross misconduct causing a serious breakdown in trust and confidence”, Ian Weir must have been in a very bad position.  He seems to have spent a year out of the market, and then to have had to move to the other side of the world in order to get away from the bad publicity.

Now he’s able to point to an official judgement saying that whatever went on in Hong Kong between 2008 and 2018, it wasn’t all his fault.  In terms of both lifetime earnings potential and simple self-respect, that’s surely a positive result.

Elsewhere, if you asked people for a list of the most likely alma maters of the stars of finance, it’s likely that most of the names suggested would be in the top couple of declines of the Top 100 QS World University Rankings, the global “target schools” which the big investment banks like to recruit from.  But if you carry out the exercise the other way round, you often find that some of the very best traders and bankers have comparatively unprestigious educational institutions hassling them for alumni donations.

For example, Ed Emerson, the recently departed head of commodities trading and $100m employee at Goldman Sachs, did his finance degree at the University of Reading (after studying psychology at the LSE).  That’s also where Marianne Lake of JPMorgan studied physics. 

Reading isn’t a bad university by any means (it’s number 169 in the world according to the same list).  And it’s specifically got a good reputation for finance.  The ICMA Centre at its business school is even one of the best places in the world to study the foreign exchange market in the medieval era.  But it’s not exactly on the radar screen in the same way that another place slightly further up the Thames Valley is.  That’s probably something worth bearing in mind for investment banking recruiters, and for graduates.  A big name degree gives you a better chance of getting through the door, but it’s very much a depreciating asset; a very few years into your career, nobody’s going to care.

Meanwhile …

The annual Blackstone Christmas video tends to be a stand-out among corporate productions in that it is often actually (rather than “for banking”) funny.  The full film will be released on Thursday but there’s a teaser trailer available (LinkedIn)

“Excel problem sets typically lack the dynamism of boxing and basketball”, apparently.  The WSJ covers the World Championships, giving us a feel for all the pro-wrestling excitement and competitiveness, but not many clues as to what the competition actually involves, other than “math problems” and something “related to spaceship construction and asteroid mining”.  (WSJ)

A sad story that’s likely to repeat itself more than a few times as the boomer generation age; there’s a lawsuit going on between JPMorgan and a wealth management client who at some time in the past was clearly a “sophisticated investor”, but who currently isn’t even considered able to testify in the court case.  Between those two dates, he lost a lot of money on investments, after signing letters saying he understood the risks.  JPM strongly denies any wrongdoing, and the litigation continues (Bloomberg)

Due to a combination of overall market conditions and the disruption caused by the attempted demerger this year, the consulting practice of EY seems to be having a harder time than US peers.  As other professional services firms make staff redundant, EY has taken the unusual step of cutting partners, mainly in the M&A advisory practice.  (WSJ)

UBS has created an “elite of the elite” team in its investment bank.  Ros L’Esperance, who stepped down from the global banking co-head position when Marco Valla arrived from Barclays, is going to be the head of an “executive client group” of nine of the bank’s biggest rainmakers, concentrating on coverage of “our most important clients at the C-Suite level”. (Financial News)

Sometimes, you have to do a favour for a friend in the knowledge no good deed goes unpunished.  Sam Bankman-Fried’s lawyer regards him as “the worst person I’ve ever seen do a cross-examination” and suspects his friendship with Sam’s parents is broken beyond repair. (Bloomberg)

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AUTHORDaniel Davies Insider Comment

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