Do you work in the financial services industry? Do feel a bit unique? There’s a reason for that.
Lars Meier, a researcher at the Institute for Employment Research in Nuremberg, Germany, just published results to a four year study of 40 (mostly male) white German finance professionals working in the City of London and Singapore.
Meier’s findings suggest that elite white bankers who work outside their home countries become permeated with a sense of superiority derived from their physical locations. In their interviews with Meier, the 40 German financiers indicated six locational factors that were fanning their egos – each of them with different effects.
1. The buildings in the City of London give you a sense of being embedded in the heart of a long-established tradition
“You see the City of London, and on the left side you see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament,” a 37 year-old male investment banker said to Meier,”- That is a moment when I think: it is so great to work in the City. It is so impressive that I made it, that I can work in the City…I am perfectly suited to it.”
2. When you’re an overseas banker working in London, you feel part of a select transnational elite
“Of course it was a step forward in my career. Working for one or two years in London comes across really well in your personal record,” a 50 year-old head of credit told Meier. A move to London can transform a career.
3. If you can survive the pace of work in London, you feel much better than the colleagues you left at home
Various bankers told Meier that London working in banking in London was harsher than in Germany.
A 47 year-old male investment banker pointed out that you lose your job when you don’t perform in London, but this “never happens” at home.
Another said a balanced life was possible in Germany and that, “Here in London people live for their work during the week.”
The head of credit informed Maier that, “In comparison, Germany was a walk in the park.”
4. You sublimate yourself to the ‘banking identity’
German bankers in London are forced to leave their old selves behind. One young banker told Meier that he couldn’t wear the light-coloured suits he sported in Frankfurt. ‘On his arrival his clothes became unwearable and after his first working day he bought new suits exclusively in black and dark blue,’ Meier notes.
Nor is it just clothing. Meier found that Germans were keen to renounce their nationality and to assume a generic ‘European identity’ to avoid racist ‘kraut-bashing’ by the British.
5. When you’re an expat working in Singapore, you feel like an elite ‘adventurer’
While the German bankers in London felt privileged to be in the “navel of finance,” Meier found an altogether different dynamic at work in Singapore.
German financiers in Singapore felt themselves to be adventurers, says Meier. They saw Singapore as an outpost and went there to “experience something different”, in the words of one 38 year-old chief technology officer at a bank.
Because the Germans in Singapore had been singled out as foreign talent, Meier said they had an extra sense of uniqueness: ‘They see themselves as members of a small group of western expatriates who they consider to be the transnational elite.’
6. When you’re a white expat in Singapore, you feel superior to Singaporean colleagues
More dubiously, Meier also found racist influences at work in Singapore. The expat bankers saw their Singaporean colleagues as, ‘dependent, inflexible and un-creative.’ One complained to him that his Asian managers were, “fixated on what gets drummed into them three, four times every day by the newspaper, by the government”, and said they weren’t able to think for themselves as a result.
‘The German bankers’ identity formation as transnational elite is intertwined with their whiteness,’ concluded Meier. ‘Their class performance as transnational elite is dominated by performing a white identity in Singapore.’
Meier found that this ‘white identity’ also meant that expats in Singapore felt relieved of the need to wear prescriptive banking attire. Because the bankers in Singapore considered themselves to be elite “foreign talents’ in a distant outpost, they saw less need to wear formal work clothes and felt more able to dress casually.
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