"Do you speak to happy bankers at all?" he wrote in to the blog. "Your interviewees all seem so… miserable." We are meeting for lunch on a sunny winter day. He is a cheerful, slightly sarcastic man in his mid-30s from continental Europe. He orders a salad.
"Reading your blog I get a little worried that readers get a distorted picture of finance. There are many happy bankers out there. I love my job and I think treasury is useful, too. We manage and hedge the bank's risks, and help clients manage theirs, who could be against that?
"It's the competitive element which attracts me to banking and which makes me a happy banker. To know that those who don't make the grade get cut. I have a lot to prove to myself. I'm the kind of person who wants to swim with sharks and see if I can survive. To feel myself grow when challenged by harsh achievement-driven standards. The NGO switch boys on one of your earlier blogs may not have had as much to prove. Maybe the environment made them unhappy. But it works for some people. Happy bankers are those who don't do it for the money but for the thrill.
"Years ago in the army, I was excluded from the elite unit I had always dreamed of joining. I could volunteer as 'training enemy' and alongside other volunteers (often failed elite unit hopefuls). I would pester recruits pretending to be an insurgent enemy. I loved these weekends, wearing knee-pads and a balaclava, toting an outdated model rifle deemed too old for elite units. I would always look at the boys shooting blanks at me with their state-of-the-art weapons, thinking: 'I wish I was you.'
"In the mid-90s, I visited a trading floor and the moment I saw those people in coloured jackets shouting, working together, competing together, camaraderie mixed with the promise of reward … I just fell in love with the financial sector. This is what I wanted. But could I do it?
"Years later, I was working at a small vendor. Sometimes we'd work with investment bank clients. I got along with them and noticed how their organisation, average intelligence, aggression etc was a cut above my own organisation.
"When I did get the tap on the shoulder by an investment bank I was overjoyed. During the interviews I told them: 'If you pick me for the job, I will go hell for leather, I'll bite into this opportunity and never let it go… this is what I've worked so hard for.'
"The world of investment banking is a meritocracy. Nobody ever asked me what university I went to (I'm a drop-out). I never encountered racism, sexism or homophobia and the simple reason is that people just don't give a fuck who you are. It's what you can do. Obviously the trappings are pleasant. My bank has a great gym, excellent services, a wonderful restaurant.
"Insiders on your blog who are so negative about the sector… It's not very kind to say, but they just didn't make it. They get kicked out and then they go complain to the media. It's tough to take, obviously. You had to go while your colleague is still at his desk. Because he was better. Getting sacked at a bank is like getting dumped by a woman who says: 'It's not me, it's you.' When the axe finally falls and I have to go, I hope I'll be the bigger man. Take it on the chin and move on. I had a great time, got paid well and enjoyed it while it lasted.
"I have been in a range of jobs across the sector. Currently I am in sales, selling to other financial firms services to do with our treasury functions. I can't be more specific without becoming identifiable. Finance is a collection of small worlds. Treasury traditionally has a distinctly different culture from investment banking (mergers & acquisitions and financial markets). After the crisis, it has become far more important because capital requirements have shot up as a result of Basel III and banks need to sweat every asset they've got.
"I remember the time when three guys from the investment bank arm were seconded to our department. Typically, the top people in treasury are quite formal, even in a pub they just won't undo the top button of their shirt. That made for quite a contrast to these boys who were brash, confrontational. Not only did they not wear a tie on their first day, one of them had chest hair showing.
"I will be working on a number of deals at any given time, all at different stages. My boss monitors my progress through a tool that visualises all those deals in a kind of revenue tracker. So he can tell me, you need to generate more deals, or, you need to speed up the execution of this or that deal.
"There's a lot of politics involved in my department and the art of playing that well can be a great source of joy – or stress. Say I am working on four deals, one of which is relatively minor. Now, my boss gets in touch and tells me: 'Work on that smaller deal with firm X.' He doesn't mention the other deals, just this small one. He won't tell me why, but I know he means what he says. So I devote more energy on that deal and when I win it, there's widespread exultation. Turns out my boss got wind that someone high up in the bank had heard about my deal, and had had lunch with an old friend at firm X. He comes back from the lunch and tells my boss, it's a done deal.
"Now, what happens if my bank ends up not getting the deal? It will be humiliating to that person high up in my bank. His old friend may well have been overplaying his power and position as people often do. And rather than admitting that maybe he just didn't have as much leverage as he thought he did at firm X, he is going to trash me: 'You lost this deal even though I worked so hard for you? You must be really incompetent.'
"This was why my boss said: 'Concentrate on getting the deal from firm X,' even though it's smaller than the other potential deals. That's office politics.
"The other day I just couldn't close a deal. It was cross-border. So I had to ask a colleague in my bank's parent country for help. He made a few calls, did some legwork… It wasn't much compared to what I had put in, but we did close the deal. I then gave him 30% of the credit, which counts towards his bonus. He could have helped me earlier, but he held out until he knew I would give him the credit. That's office politics, too.
"Almost everyone in the bank I work for are fine and decent people. Yes, you have the odd evil exception. Why don't banks kick these out? Well, as long as they make money for the banks that's really hard to do.
"There's something narcotic about landing a big deal, absolutely. Now before the word "narcotic' leads people to have funny ideas, the thought that bankers are all hardcore coke users is nonsense, absolute nonsense. I can honestly say that in my time I have not seen people use, or even talk about it. And the idea of coming to work all coked-up is silly; imagine the scope for a client to sue if a bank's employee turns out to have worked with the client under influence.
"But walking into the bank on the day that you know a congratulatory email has gone out saying: 'Listen up everyone, so and so has done really well,' is fabulous. People stop you in the corridor to congratulate you and emails flood in. You feel on top of the world. In the long run, the department needs to make money and if a colleague does well it helps the revenue per head which is a great defensive move against headcount reduction.
"By the way, these congratulatory emails are vetted in advance. So you send a draft to your boss who might for office political reasons include some other people, giving them credit when they don't really deserve it. 'Revenue tourism', that's called. I don't mind as long as my boss knows the real score.
"The City has a lottery element to it, yes. In sales if a new client calls and you pick up the phone then that client is 'yours'. The entire team may work on the deal for a full year but that client goes down in the books as your client. Now imagine that client brings £30m in business to the bank. This happens. Not a lot. Not even regularly. But it does happen. I know of a colleague who picked up the phone for what turned out to be a huge deal. When bonus time came he was in for millions, literally. And not just for that year but for every subsequent year that the client stayed with the bank and brought £30m in business. Because the bank is afraid that unless they continue paying the bonus the banker will go to a competitor and take the client with him.
"This is one reason people will try to be available on the phone all the time. Because if you're out, your phone gets automatically transferred to your colleagues – prospective clients calling the bank never, ever go to voice mail.
This is the City: it's not that all of us make millions. Absolutely not. But we all know someone who does, and we've seen how luck plays a huge part. So why not stick around for another year hoping to strike gold yourself?
"The one thing that does freak me out about banking is the redundancy process. It is simply shocking to return from the gym and find the desk next to you emptied out. Someone you've worked with every day for years has been marched out of the building, his email is blocked, phone number disconnected … No farewell email. It hurts. You can get back in touch via LinkedIn, but some ex-colleagues won't respond Maybe it's too painful for them. You got to stay, he is out.
"People say "he resigned', though everyone knows that nine out of 10, someone was fired. It sounds better, and one in 10 it's true. Like soldiers in a firing squad who know one of them is given a blank. If you said 'he was fired', you might think: 'Hey, that was a good guy and he still had to go. If that can happen to him it can also happen to me.' So we say 'he resigned', implying he went on to an even better job.
"The banker-bashing is a funny thing. I went to this dinner. People from different walks of life. A woman asked me what I did for a living. Now, I know that some colleagues try to hide they are bankers, but that's not my style. So we were sitting in a group and before me this guy said: 'I am a surgeon.' That went down very well with some of the ladies, obviously. When my turn came I said I was a banker. A fierce discussion broke out with people saying, look at that surgeon, now he is doing something useful. And I went: 'I think banking is just as useful.' So this woman next to me explodes into a tirade about bankers being parasites and what have you. She really had a go at me, but under the table her hand was riding up the inside of my thigh. It's an irresistible mix for some women; this idea of bankers as rich and evil bad boys."
• If you would like to comment on this interview, please visit the accompanying blogpost
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Infusionsoft