Whatever you do, don’t get someone who works in a bank onto subject of their pet peeves – particularly if that person happens to be a former bank employee who now does something much more socially acceptable, like working for an arts fundraising organisation instead.
This seems to have been the mistake of Louise Nash, a student pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at the UK’s Essex University. Nash asked a selection of 18 ‘bankers’ (many of them weren’t in the front office, but in HR, or PR (media relations), or IT roles in finance) to describe their experiences of working in the City for her thesis on, “Place and Performativity in the City of London.”
The result was mostly a lot of high end grumbling.
Nash asked, for example, what colour the City was. Most of them said red or black, and not in a good way. Anna, a part time press and communications officer for a bank, said it was black. Black in the sense of a “black hole,” or something, “monstrous.” Claire, an ex-investment banker now working in arts funding, said the City was red in the sense of, ‘hell, heat and discomfort.’ Some of the men were a bit more cheery: one said he thought the City was black, but in, “a sort of shiny black, modern,” way. Only one person (a woman) thought it was dynamically orange.
Even though most of her interviewees were in HR, or PR (media relations), or IT, rather than sales or trading or M&A, Nash observed that they all felt part of a high-pressure culture. “There is just something in the air here…it becomes like an addiction,” said Claire, who also complained of feeling oppressed by Broadgate Circus (where UBS is based): “…once you were in it was quite difficult to find your way. And trying to get out again was impossible.”
Neil, an IT consultant who’s worked in banks for over 20 years, said he felt invisible in the City because he dressed down (even though this appeared to be his choice). “To be noticed or to be a big fish here you have to have all the trappings – top job, that confidence that money brings, right clothes, smart suit,” he told Nash, adding that because he was a contractor he also felt a bit transient: “No-one in the workplace takes much notice of you if you’re dressed more casually…they make the assumption that you’re in a ‘lesser’ role and so you quickly become invisible…You can feel very anonymous and unimportant.”
Nash elicited complaints about the drinking culture in the City of London. Neil informed her that people, “go wild” in the evenings, but that they do so “behind closed doors.” Jennifer, a chartered surveyor who’s now got a portfolio career (but worked on property deals in the past) complained that the partying was more public: “You go home at night and you see people kind of fallen over in the gutter.” Jennifer said that in her experience of “attending 20 hour meetings,” whilst doing “big deals,” drug taking was the norm: “You’d go into the loo about half 11 at night and there’d be somebody there just openly taking cocaine.”
Nash pressed her interviewees on the extent to which the perceived the City as a masculine place. Claire complained the City is, “deliberately designed to exclude…‘normal life’…‘schools, hospitals, children, parks.’ When she was pregnant, Jennifer said she’d been subject to outrageous bets on whether her belly would get bigger than her boobs, and sent to Boots for breast-pads when she started leaking milk (there weren’t any breast pads at the Boots in the City).
Few of the interviewees had much that was positive to say about working in the City of London. More than anything else, Nash noted that they all talked about “performance.” However, Dave, a business development director for an asset management company and comparative neophyte (he’d only worked in the City for four years) was very positive. He said he loved the energy, opportunities and focus of being there.
The biggest plus point was, predictably, the pay. Anna in HR said, “I like the fact that I still get paid more here than I would anywhere else.” Elizabeth, a partner in a professional services firm, was by far the most enthusiastic, telling Nash that working in the City is, “infinitely rewarding.”
Infinite rewards or not, Nash’s research seems unlikely to tempt her into the City herself.