Alex Magliaro, the bond trader who took a lead role in Citigroup’s choir last year, doesn’t exactly fit the mould that many associate with the macho image of the trading floor. He’s an aspiring thespian and member of Sedos amateur dramatics company in the City of London, he tried to launch a film career before making the switch to investment banking in 2005 and is responsible for the UK’s first and only all-male synchronised swimming team.
He pushed, unsuccessfully, to make the latter an Olympic sport during London 2012. “People think of synchronised swimming like ice skating, in that it’s quite an effeminate sport, but like ice skating, or ballet, adding both men and women into the sport adds another dimension to it and can help synchronised swimming evolve,” he says. “The organisers have yet to recognise this.”
This is part of Out to Swim, a water polo, swimming and syncro team for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people. Magliaro has been actively involved with the project since moving to London from New York in 2005, but it’s only in the last two years that he’s felt comfortable being open about his sexuality with his co-workers.
“When I first moved to London I didn’t know anyone, and so my relationships with people at Citi were like family, but I was still a little scared to tell people I’m gay,” he says. “Monday mornings were spent telling stories about our weekend exploits, and I’d change pronouns so any guys became girls. After I came out, my manager took me aside and was like ‘What about that one girl? That was such a good story.’ I said, yep, same story, but it was a dude, not a girl.”
Despite the fact that investment banking, and finance in general, has typically been a tough place for LGBT people to work, Magliaro insists that he’s encountered very little prejudice. “I can count the number of times on one hand when trading floor banter became inappropriate and a little homophobic, but my tactic has just been to call them out about it in front of everyone, and they usually feel pretty small,” he says.
To recap, Magliaro was part of the team of bankers Citigroup put forward for ‘The Choir – Sing While You Work’ broadcast on BBC2 at the tail end of 2013. Choir master Gareth Malone went into a number of different corporations, created choirs from scratch and then pitched them against one another. Citi, made it to the final and, if you were being slightly generous, finished a respectable second.
Magliaro was the soloist in the first episode featuring the bank where he sang the opening verse to U2’s One in front of the entire company within Citi’s Canary Wharf office. While the competition was important, the show was also an opportunity for Citi to challenge the public perception of a greedy corporation and prove that bankers are people too.
“A lot of people see the whole investment banking industry as responsible for the financial crisis, but people working in the sector have felt the brunt of lay-offs over the years and it’s not an easy place to work,” says Magliaro. “It’s almost impossible to change the public perception of banking, but at least we revealed some personal feelings about how the financial crisis has hit everyone.”
When the show’s production team showed up looking for volunteers, there were more people on the trading floor immediately ruling themselves out than sticking their hand up, admits Magliaro. He was pushed forward, but felt more relaxed about taking part after getting some reassurance from the Choir’s team. The time commitment was also an issue for many busy investment bankers, and there were plenty of shots of people frantically checking their Blackberrys.
“There were three days out of the office at the Royal Academy that weren’t really planned for, and it’s not as though I can trade on my phone – I have to be at my desk to work,” says Magliaro. “My bosses knew about the choir, but my clients didn’t because of the show’s confidentiality agreements, so I kept having to make excuses like I was out at an off site. This carried on for around three months.”
The Citi choir is far from dead – it’s been performing at various conferences and internal events and the plan is to continue to do so during 2014. Whether it’s had a material impact on the public’s perception of bankers is another matter; Barclays’ CEO Antony Jenkins thinks it will take another decade before trust is restored.
For Magliaro personally, though, the impact has been overwhelmingly positive. “The feedback has been really surprising. I’ve had clients calling me up telling me that they were really happy, I’ve had people stopping me in the street – one guy said that his wife loved me – and I’ve taken a whole bunch of selfies with people. I’m pretty sure they don’t hate me.”