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Asperger’s in the City?

The former head of equity derivatives at Credit Suisse has it, and recruiters come across it frequently. Is the City a haven for Asperger’s sufferers?

Last week, Jerome Drean, CS’s former equity derivatives head, received a criminal conviction and a suspended prison sentence for attempting to defraud the University of York by sitting an exam on behalf of one of its students.

Drean, who’ll find it difficult to work in the City again, suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, according to the Times.

A form of autism, Asperger’s is a lifelong condition which causes sufferers to have varying amounts of difficulty in social situations. Many are of above average intelligence and can be obsessed with particular fields of interest.

Recruiters say Asperger’s syndrome is relatively prevalent on quant desks, where it helps to have a passion for numbers, and client contact isn’t an issue.

“I’ve come across quite a few people who I suspect have it,” says the managing director of one quant-focused recruitment firm, who asked not to be named. “There are a few heads of desks who are very awkward socially, unable to look you in the eye, and who talk in a monotone. It’s not an issue as long as they can communicate with the traders.”

Another quant recruiter says Asperger’s can be a plus for some roles: “My client hired someone with Asperger’s into a data analysis role. He’d memorised every postcode in the county and had interests based around digesting huge sets of data. The role involved analysing data sets across 125 different markets, so he was considered ideal.”

Does banking offer sufferers of Asperger’s syndrome an opportunity to use their disability constructively? And how prevalent is it really? Comments welcomed.

Comments (15)

  1. As a former medical doctor who is now working as a equity research analyst in the City, I can categorically say that the article is a reflection of reality. The sad truth is that although Asperger’s Syndrome sufferers are given a safe home (initially) in banking, ultimately banking is detrimental to their well being. The immersion into vast quantities of numerical data and minimal client contact initally seems like Utopia for many with the condition. But I have seen quite a few people fail to grasp the political and client-oriented aspect of what working in an investment bank really involves. This inevitably holds them back or worse, makes them redundant. From my anecdotal observations many Asperger’s sufferers seem unable to cope with the backstabbing, lies, brownnosing, discrmination and mendacity – all of which form a big part of the culture of an investment bank.

  2. Aspergers can be seen as a lack of ‘social intelligence’, and where some areas of intelligence lack in certain individuals others exist in abundence. Therefore it follows that those who have a high level of numeracy-based skills, such as quants will more than likely be lacking in social intelligence. It is not a revelation that techie or data-savvy workers lack social skills. This is the reason recruitment professional exist. Good headhunters posses the right level of social intelligence to have a wide network and to get to the root of what makes a ‘candidate’ an individual. Obviously there are exceptions that prove the rule, but my theory stands up as a large percentage of the most successful recruiters I know are shockingly bad at maths!

    Oliver Stannard Reply
  3. Sadly, this is the new face of the city. Boffins with no social skills, old fashioned values or street smarts, who have no perception of historical value or basic trading. Hence we get inflated prices, rogue trading and greed.

  4. An article claiming that traders have great social skills but only mediocre intelligence at best, would have been considered offensive. Why is it ok to write in this manner about quants?

  5. I think the Aspergers debate is a little too narrow here. It seems quite plausible that they might form a subset of a much wider set of individuals who, for whatever reason, lacked social status at school and who therefore found a niche in areas which others lacked the patience to master. It also seems plausible that some individuals might find the intellectual rigor of the sciences appealing. At some point these types realize the academic world is no longer what its cracked up to be and decide to make money instead. The truth is many of them probably aren’t that interested in finance, have been brought up to believe in ‘meritocracy’ and actively dislike the sales and backstabbing culture they have to tolerate. But they aren’t alone: I think you would find plenty of people in hospitals and other ‘caring professions’ who would despise that culture too. As for lack of ‘social skills’, you may find these academically-oriented individuals look down on the personality-cult as outmoded. I suspect you may find a disproportionate number of quants are from state-schools and have a different value-set/social network to their privately-educated peers and thus find it harder to fit in.

    Buy-side analyst Reply
  6. Speaking as someone who has been diagnosed with (mild) Asperger’s Syndrome and has worked in banking for eight years (IT and latterly Front Office) I 100% agree with “Physician” – Progression in banking is much more about social manipulation than hard skills and hence people on the autistic spectrum will ultimately struggle in that environment and most likely fail to progress beyond a niche technical role. Sad but true.

  7. I am an ex-quant (3 years) who now works in trading. I have never met people with these kind of problems. The quants I work with have a healthy and balanced life (friends, wife…). Then I think quant roles are an excellent way to start a career in finance. Most of the quants from my ex-team are now either traders or structurers. The proportion of people who stay working as quants is very small.

  8. Whatever….I’m a number cruncher, currently in internal audit and low on the social skills…big deal…I think commentaries offended at the reality of Asperger syndrome are merely short-fused. It is something to work on….the career trap of an Aspergian is a reality….but that doesn’t make him or her an abnormal person…I guess the matter brings back the sickening memories of lonely growing up life…? Get over it…I did…

  9. Thank heavens that banking offers employment that plays to the skills of Asperger’s! So many fail to find a way to get into work at all. Of course the condition varies in individuals, and some are more able to manage people in groups than others. Don’t forget that it is, at core, a neurological condition in which certain parts of the social and emotional brain fail to function normally, and that this is a life long condition. You wouldn’t ask a color blind person to respond to a green signal, and it is useless to ask someone with Asperger’s to get over it. They can’t. I am delighted to hear about people working, as I meet loads who don’t, despite their ability, and saddened at the lack of long term prospects available to them – a great deal of social business is about the backstabbing and cliquing and is so hurtful to them, and damaging to the company. If people were a little more understanding and willing to take the other persons part, we would all win, including the guys with Asperger’s , the company and each of us individually. We could perhaps learn from them though finding way to make the social climate a little more temperate.

  10. I also suffer from asperger’s though it is mild in my case. This was actually the problem. I started out on my desk with a lot of asperger’s guys who were very very good and much better than me so i was outcast and the thicky of the bunch. However i was socially much better than them and quickly became the guy people came to becuase i was somewhat approachable.I rose up in the deak and then after receiving a promotion i just did not have the skills to cope with the banking culture and in the space of 2 years ended up a train wreck. So if you have mild asperger’s things can be worse than if you have it very badly.

  11. Interviewed once for this Drean guy. Smartest boss I ever met in the City.

  12. They say that the most common desease is “diagnosis”. One should remember that we are talking about something here which 30 years ago would have caused nobody to rise an eyebrow. It comes from another industry who makes a business out of “diagnosing” hetherto unknown “deseases” and then offering their “cure” for it.

  13. Good point – Fund Manager. Another analogy is psychometric testing. Complete hocus pocus but some people have made a lot of money from this kind of nonsense.

  14. Please stop referring to “Asperger sufferers”. Asperger syndrome is not a disease: people have it, they don’t suffer from it.

  15. @LouisaRadice: Please stop spreading your lies about Asperger’s Syndrome. People do suffer from it. If people didn’t suffer from it, then it wouldn’t have such a negative connotation. You probably are one of those narrow “disability activists” anyways.

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