For 20 years until I was 40, I worked in financial services. I left university and I joined Credit Suisse’s equity trading desk for 11 years before moving to Alliance Bernstein and BTIG. I was working with amazing people and I had some amazing opportunities, but the day my 40th birthday, I quit.
Now I’m an estate agent. I was always interested in real estate and after buying and selling a few houses I realized it could be done better. I employ three people but also invest in the community and try to employ local talent, or work with the best local contractors.
Would I go back? No. I’ve been offered a couple of roles and I’m still in touch with some of my clients, but I don’t wish to return. I very much miss the guaranteed salary and bonus and I miss my banking friends and colleagues, but my life is far better away from the City. When I left in 2012, there was a lot of disillusion: people were working hard for a business they believed in, but it wasn’t the same.
Nowadays, my life is much more simple. I’m building a business long term for myself and my family. I stay away from the markets: I’ve seen too many ex-banking friends lose a lot of money day trading to do that.
It’s a great shame how the finance industry has changed. I know some brilliant people who are out of the market and have struggled to get back in again. Leaving the City is hard: there’s often a sense of loss and depression and a struggle to find one’s place in the world. I try to speak to my old friends who are out and to share my experience – to give them a call just to see if they’re ok.
Leaving banking is a shock. It’s not the end of the world. With a leap of faith and a willingness to recognize your broader skill set you can embark upon a different career. A career in banking gives you a lot of very transferable skills – even though they may not be instantly recognized by those outside. For example, you’re trained to work under extreme pressure from multiple fronts. You’re trained to focus utterly on the client, be it a fund manager, broker, shareholder, or angry boss. And you’re trained to deal with a lot of information and to see the connections between that information.
When you leave banking after a long career, these skills are ingrained in you for life. They give you a competitive edge over anyone who hasn’t spent time in the industry. – They’ve given me an advantage in real estate.
Quitting banking at 40 isn’t the end: it’s the beginning. With determination, you can create a better, simpler life! Jump before you’re pushed: no one likes being the last at the party.
James Cagney is the pseudonym of a former VP of equities trading at a bank in London