We're really sorry but your career in banking is effectively over

Gold Watch

Everyone’s very kind, almost apologetically so. Nothing is too much trouble, it seems - after you’ve been given the cheery news that your career is effectively over, that is.

There’s a moment, though, when you get over the shock - when you realise that they’ve done this all before; it’s their job to process you and others as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is what happens when banks are forced to downsize. It’s nothing personal; it’s just business.

My friends’ reaction has been a bit mixed. Some say, “Oh it’s just as well, you really weren’t that happy there at the end anyway. You were always moaning about it.” Others say, “Gawd I envy you! Take 6 months off. No, why not make it a year!” And then a few even ask you if you volunteered for redundancy at the end, and you have to explain patiently, as if to a large child, that you don’t just shoot yourself after a 30 year career, because that is not how you are hard wired. You wait for them to take you out like some old nag.

The most fascinating thing about career end, or career change, or whatever you want to call this particular transition, is the sense of liberation you get once you are out of the daily commute, and all those hours stuck behind a screen on a dealing floor. You go in an instant from having a lot to do with hardly any time to fit it all in, to having a seemingly endless sea of time with very little to do, until you start filling it up with a few meetings, calls, lunch, and the occasional round of golf. I mean, why not?

But it’s not the time that’s the killer, it’s the lack of structure, the lack of deadline, the lack of, well, corporate life. Until you land something or set up your own business, you really are on your tod. You sit at your desk, as I am now, in deathly quiet, apart from the radio or the birds tweeting, or the sound of a car passing. Anything you want to do has to come from your remaining sense of self-motivation. It’s not like there’s a manager yelling at you about unachievable targets, nor those targets themselves, nor the jealousy of seeing a colleague doing a big trade - that ultimate motivator - nor even that vague sense of dread you once felt about the unknown horrors of being made redundant, because you’ve been there now, and got the tee shirt!

I couldn’t write anything about this for a month, because I was dealing with my new life, and I had to sign the exit documents. I’ve also been skiing and hiking. For the most part it’s been exciting and liberating, if for no other reason than it being high time for me to do something different. I’m not under any financial pressure. Let’s face it, after 30 years in the industry it would be a bit of a mess if I were really struggling. It all comes down to the age old question we market people struggle with, while we pull in the big bucks every month – compared to most other jobs, that is - what’s next ? How and what can we do once the gravy train grinds to a halt ? How many times do you hear how smart, lively, and entrepreneurial we City people are, as we spend 12 hours a day grubbing around for basis points in between the commuting ? Well, when you’re stuck behind a screen it tends to suck the life out of you. You just don’t have the time or energy to create career choices for further down the line. And when your friends counsel you, their idea of how much time it might take to reinvent yourself is simply breath-taking. It was even suggested I should move to the Alps and “run a business”. Err, what business, with what capital, what skills, experience ?

As for the former day job, boy, can you keep it! I never want to look at a yield, a basis point, a coupon or a lousy Bloomberg chat box ever again. If I come back to the City with my begging bowl I’ll consider I have failed miserably. The markets have changed beyond description. Every generation naturally boasts about how much more fun it was - and better paid - in their day. But you have to admit that with electronic trading, chat messaging, zero interest rates and central banks doing most of the buying in the biggest Ponzi scheme since the first scam took place, there’s not that much left requiring the human touch. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy for investment banks to cut their balance sheets by 75% cent and turf out half their staff or more.

Banking careers don’t end with a gold presentation watch, aged 60. However you’ve done in your career, the markets always get you in the end. HPP is the living proof of that - or should it be the HDP now (Highly Displaced Professional) ?

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