For every 100-hour week-working, spreadsheet-number-crunching, stuck-in-the mid-ranks investment banker, the dream of quitting the sector to go it alone is one that is increasingly gaining traction. But for many, the golden handcuffs of high-paying financial services firms don’t just make it hard to leave – they make it difficult to stay away.
There’s no shortage of examples of bankers successfully navigating away from the industry to start their own ventures. Emboldened by their financial expertise and business acumen gained during their finance careers, investment bankers are starting everything from ultra-marathon holiday companies to family-recipe pickle-producers.
Running your own business is difficult, the hours are near-constant and it can take years before you break even. But what if you quit to follow your passion? Finance professionals who have left to work for charities, write novels or become musicians ultimately often find the lure of high salaries difficult to resist.
Following your passion doesn't pay the bills
Martyn Shone quit his job at Credit Suisse in 2008 for life on the road as a guitarist in his band Honey Ryder. They enjoyed some degree of success – a couple of top-40 hits, supporting Michael Bolton and Will Young on tour – but, ultimately, it didn’t pay the bills, especially when children came into the equation. Shone went back into the City two years ago and is now working at Lloyds Banking Group.
“The more responsibility you have then the harder it becomes to turn off the monthly salary tap,” he says. “If a City worker left the industry tomorrow for another profession it's unlikely they would be able to command the same salary 'straight off the bat' and this is where they get trapped.”
Shone is far from alone. Anthony Marber, an asset management veteran who left the industry in the mid-1990s for life as an operatic baritone, earned just £17-18k a year from 1995-2003 touring as a singer until he decided to return to financial services by joining hedge fund Marshall Wace’s investor relations division.
Freddie Tucker, who quit his asset management career to run an ecotourism safari company in Botswana, is back the City working for Cornelian Capital Partners. Xavier Aubut, who left his job at RBC Capital Markets to start a woodworking business, joined PSP Investments as an infrastructure specialist at the beginning of 2014 and Mayra Barragan, who quit accounting to start non-profit charity Sprouting Scholars in 2013, now also works as a finance recruiter.
More recently, Chris Blackburn, the former head of European event-driven sales and trading at Jefferies, who left the industry in 2012 to head up Sports Nation, a social platform for planning amateur sporting events, has just re-emerged at Morgan Stanley as an executive director.
Shone advises more creative types not to give up their day jobs entirely: “I've luckily earned the right to keep my feet in both camps. So, for example, I joined my band Honey Ryder on tour for a gig last week then chaired a programme board meeting the next day,” he says.
Similarly, bankers-turned novelists have kept their careers on track. Marietta Miemietz, the former head of pharmaceutical research at SocGen who now runs her own research boutique Primavenues, is a published author but writes in her spare time, as does Simon Leighton-Porter, a trading and derivatives specialist who’s now on his fifth book.
Banking is no longer about the money
Financial services careers will allow you to earn more money than most other industries, but increasing regulation and a new emphasis on ethical standards means the sort of get-rich-quick career paths are increasingly rare.
“Nowadays if you want to make a fortune in banking you're in for the long haul,” says Graham Ward, the former head of European equities at Goldman Sachs and now adjunct professor of leadership at INSEAD. “That is a good thing. It means that the people that are in there are there because they love and are curious about the industry. It’s because they like it, not because they're trying to make a fast buck.”
Shone agrees that it’s not all about the money. “I returned back to the City for financial reasons. However, the experience of being away has taught me to appreciate the role more and I am no longer phased or intimidated by the corporate world,” he says.
However, assuming you’re a burned out banker looking to genuinely escape, what can you do? Ward says that staying away from finance is not just about getting used to your reduced earning power – it’s down to getting a good support network that vindicates your decision.
“Build a network of like-minded and passionate people who share the same desires hopes and common purpose. You cannot go it alone and no one says you should anyway,” he says. “Throw your energy into things that excite you, audit your weeks and ask yourself the question ‘did I really make a difference?’ And have a vision for what success looks like. People wandering around in the Himalayas never got to the top of Everest. Set some goals.”