But are bankers just misunderstood ?
What if it isn't coke-snorting hedonism or psychopathic sadism but rather deep emotional insecurity that drives many investment bankers ?
A recent interviewee claimed as much when she said "a lot of them just need a hug".
The interviewee, Karin Peeters, is a coach/therapist who works with bankers on a daily basis. She says:
"A common coping mechanism for dealing with a lack of self-esteem is to develop feelings of superiority and grandiosity, as a protection against feelings of inferiority. People's job title can become a real source of self-respect: 'I am with Deutsche Bank and not some second-tier bank.' And if that is so essential to their sense of self-worth, they will go to great lengths to hold on to that job, that badge."
Obviously, the financial sector is huge and Peeters' perspective is limited to the bankers who seek her out. You can read the full interview here, and she's available in the thread below to respond to your questions and comments. I found her testimony quite shocking, for example this bit about her clients:
"'Nobody at work knows who I am,' they say. 'Maybe one person on the entire trading floor is aware of what I really think and feel.' One client talked about standing in the shower screaming without a sound. Then she straightened out her face, glued on a smile and went to work."
"Clients actually talk about their 'corporate coat' or 'business persona'. 'I wear my fake face as soon as I enter the workplace; I pretend all is fine while inside I am stressed and unhappy.' Some clients grapple with extreme disillusionment with the financial sector. 'Is this it,' they ask. Many are foreigners. They will have worked in a bank in their home country and thought they were going to play in the premier league. They find it terrible. It's not the hours, they knew about that. It's the lack of respect. How their manager treats them, and how some colleagues treat each other, clients, and support staff like telephone operators or coffee ladies … They use words like 'bullying, manipulation, intimidation and conflict'."
Now, before you ask (and leave a seething comment): no, I am not pleading for sympathy with bankers. This blog is about better understanding the people who staff and run the banks that are now too big to fail, and possibly to save. So my question is this: given how awful investment bankers appear to treat each other, should we be surprised that they don't care for the rest of us?
Or maybe some do care, but feel they can't act. This is what Peeters finds when she asks clients if they can express to their manager their reservations:
"'There's no way I could tell my manager that I'm stressed and that my workload is too much,' I hear. Saying you don't want to sell this product to your clients, because you would never want to buy it yourself, is a no-go. There is no open, constructive dialogue, and many fear for their job in this economic climate. So they sell the product anyway, swallow their concerns and show a fake smile to their managers. At huge cost to their own wellbeing."
It would be really interesting if other insiders could weigh in on this; does the machismo in finance contribute to a culture that suppresses dissent?
The interviewee will dip in and out of the comment thread over the course of today to respond to insiders' comments and outsiders' questions. Please read her interview in full if you are thinking about leaving a comment because it may already contain the answer to your question.
• This banking blog features interviews with by now more than 80 insiders across the world of finance. Here is a guide to help outsiders find their way. For insiders there is this index of interviewees ranked by activity. Are you by any chance in human resources in a bank, or work as a trader in government bonds? Please help this blog: firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymity guaranteed.
• This therapist has a far bleaker view of bankers and the world of finance: "Finance is an amoral world, bordering on the immoral."
• This banking equity analyst loves his job and offers a counter perspective: "My job is a lot like being a journalist, only better."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Davy Landman