Eighteen months ago, Simon McWhirter was gainfully employed at UBS. A managing director in the business advisory, treasury and analytics business, he’d spent nearly two decades years scaling the heights of UBS’s finance function, becoming head of US equity derivatives product control in 1999 and then occupying a series of global head positions in the finance department of the investment bank.
But in May 2012 McWhirter was ejected from his finance career. And after 19 years in the City, he decided to avail himself of his unexpected freedom. “I got an OK package,” says McWhirter, who has three children and lives in Surrey, “It was enough to survive on for a year or so, and I decided to take time out. Working in the City is all-encompassing and I’d been doing it ever since I’d left university. I’d never really had a proper break.”
“The books are meant to be funny and silly,” he says, “The antithesis to working in the City really. I’ve been able to be as creative and off-the-wall as I like. The idea is that children can read them themselves, but that there’s also an element that parents can enjoy.”
Having spent his City career in middle office finance roles instead of more lucrative front office trading positions, McWhirter still needs to earn a living and had hoped to make money from his writing. “I saw plenty of traders who just upped and left after the financial crisis, but I can’t afford to retire yet,” he informs us. “It’s the same for most of the guys from finance positions – you don’t have the luxury of getting out and doing nothing at all.”
Selling books has proved challenging, however. So far, McWhirter’s completed three books in the Snow Falls series and has sent drafts to numerous agents, but hasn’t achieved the hoped-for book deal. “I expected it to be difficult, but I also expected someone to see something in the books – at least enough to come back to me and suggest that I change this or that bit to improve it, but I don’t actually think they’ve got enough time to do that.”
Compared to banking, publishing is a “completely different world,” says McWhirter. “You’re dealing with quite small companies and they’ll generally only take a surefire hit.”
In an effort to achieve that hit, McWhirter is now writing something more commercial. He’s also looking for openings in the City. The latter is proving almost as difficult as finding a first agent. “I’m too senior,” he says. “If I were ten years younger I suspect it would be a lot easier, but many of the director and AVP levels have gone offshore and banks have been making finance MDs redundant.
“Banks now want to cut costs rather than headcount and that means they’re trimming the most senior staff,” McWhirter concludes. “That’s not good for people like me. I’m happy to do any finance role that’s interesting – I’ve got a lot of experience in product control and also have dealt with the more technical side of valuations and derivatives.”
And if the new finance job doesn’t work out? “I am working on the third book in the Snow Falls Gang series of books which I will self publish,” says McWhirter. “I am also working on a new idea about a young detective that should be more obviously commercial proposition. When I have a good draft I will get back on the line to agents and publishers to see of there is any interest.
“I’ve got plenty of irons in the fire,” he concludes.