Private Banks and Public Enemies

Changing of the Guard - Cristal Reza

I used to work in a bank, but now I'm not sure. After our government took a major equity stake in my employer, I feel a little bit like I work in the public sector.

Obviously, the jokes about Civil Servants are stale by now. But when was the Queen's birthday, anyway? Was that the weekend I was busy disposing of toxic assets, or settling positions after Lehman went bust? In either case I didn't get the day off. Fast-forward some months, though, and things are different when your management hierarchy has politicians at its helm.

It's not as if things have changed so much day-to-day. We still trade in the same markets (well, at least in the markets where there is any trading), back-office rumbles on, and IT support sometimes comes around to reboot my PC when Bloomberg has had too many ticks (often of the red variety).

But some things are different. There are the aspects which affect the whole industry - downsizing, divesting, deleveraging and detoxification in general. Other areas of my employment which used to be the subject of internal gossip or boring internal memos (members of our board, our bonuses or lack thereof, or certain industry colleagues' pension arrangements) are now the top stories on the national news.

But it's not as if it's all doom and gloom - no, we're fresh out of gloom where I work. Because if your employer has only just cleared an iceberg which would have sunk the Titanic, then everything beyond looks like the open seas. And unlike the ship which didn't survive its maiden voyage, I expect this ocean liner to go all the way to New York - even if the band has taken a break for the moment. Just like the Scissor Sisters (was it a round of pay cuts which inspired their name?), "I don't feel like dancing", at least for the moment.

As the economy, markets and the prospects of the outgoing (UK) and incoming (US) administration look more doomed by the month, my colleagues and I have abandoned gloominess in favour of gallows humour to keep us going. Not that it's funny per se, but when the Leader of the UK House of Commons says (mistakenly) in Parliament that Sir Fred Goodwin got a knighthood for services to charity, you have to laugh. And when the person who was at the helm of a bank now in the semi-public banking sector later earns a large state-funded salary for regulating the banks, the lunatics might well be thought to be running the asylum.

I don't actually work in equities, but if I did, I would buy stock in my own company. Because I can see the Statue of Liberty on the horizon. Even if she is not waving a torch, but my P45.