I love America and I like Americans. I’ve travelled in America a lot and it’s always been a pleasure. However, my experience has often been that Americans working in banking, particularly in banks in London, can be hard to handle.
American bankers in London stick together. They often come in groups and they often hang out together after work. Particularly at U.S. banks they’re often senior: global decision making is often made in the U.S. and this gives people who’ve worked in the U.S office an edge. And if they’re not senior, they’re usually well-connected internally – you have to be well-connected to achieve a costly international transfer. It means that while everyone in banking is ambitious and aggressive, the American bankers who make it to Europe are often some of the most ambitious and aggressive of the lot.
On the plus side, American bankers in London are also open-minded and keen to travel. Make that very keen to travel. No one travels more in Europe than American bankers who’s come to live in London. If you come across a group of American bankers in the office, there’s always a lot of talk about trips to French vineyards, or to St. Tropez, Ibiza, or Courchevel. It’s not just about being competitive at work: it’s about being competitively social. Senior American bankers in London love Annabel’s or 5 Hertford Street. Many are suddenly in love with Chelsea FC. In large groups, they can be overwhelming.
I should qualify things by clarifying that I was born in England, but that my parents immigrated here before my birth. I therefore have a “foreign” name. American colleagues will often ask where I’m from “originally” and when I tell them no one has a clue where it is. They’ll ask things like: Is there a war in your country? Are women allowed to work? Or, they’ll just swiftly move on to another topic.
Personal experience suggests that when U.S bankers aren’t aggressively international, they can be embarrassingly parochial. I once asked a U.S. banker at a European bank about their office in Dubai and was told, “We don’t deal with those people.” It transpired that they did have an office in Dubai, but that this guy was unaware of it. On another occasion, we were pitching South African opportunities to some U.S. clients in London and were interrupted to be told that they didn’t even know where those countries were. We were obliged to laugh along.
I should make it clear that not all Americans in banking are unpalatable. There are many I’ve met who have a deep interest in travel and in other cultures, who are self-effacing and a pleasure to be around. On the whole, though, I prefer to meet American finance professionals here individually rather than in groups. Maybe that’s just me. I’m happy to proven wrong.
Amin Abboud is the pseudonym of an M&A banker in London