Is there anything the financial sector fears more than ‘insiders’ giving away all its trade secrets? The demise of the book deal for @GSElevator’s John Lefevre was gleefully celebrated by the bank’s own Twitter account, while it also went out of its way to undermine Greg Smith’s tale of working there.
While most insider accounts tend to tap into previous assumptions about the industry – think Cityboy’s cocaine and booze-filled account of life in the Square Mile – Ian Sean John is taking a gentler approach.
Sean John (a pseudonym), a 20-year veteran of quant trading in both proprietary trading and fund management, is the man behind a new online comic strip called the City Pub. Think old-school Dilbert-esque snippets depicting working life in the City of London. Covered in its regular three black and white minimalist drawings are keen observations on everything from working hours to bonuses, to inter-office banter and occasionally strained personal relationships caused by workaholic tendencies.
He’s been posting them since late-2013 and the idea is to shine a spotlight on the real financial sector culture, but in more of a knowing-mocking than exposé approach. “I have actually been in a GS elevator and I can tell you that everybody was pretty quiet in there,” he says. “Of course, besides giving me a means to express my creativity, the comic probably also provides a way of venting my occasional professional frustrations and to handle some of the pressure you face when trading in the markets. Who knows? It works for me.”
There’s no shortage of jokes about office politics in the sketches, or the clashes between old school traders and techie quants, and sly digs at greed around bonus payments, but Sean John believes that he is, in actual fact, defending the industry in a roundabout way.
“It’s often perceived as very harsh, cold and cynical, so I’m showing that there is a dose of self-irony out there and that we don’t take ourselves too seriously - well, at least not all of us,” he says. “Of course, there are a lot of things that are pretty weird and just plain wrong in this area as money is a dominating factor and that tends to attract ‘a few’ oddballs, but there are also a decent amount of good eggs involved.”
Banks would have you believe that they only employ the best people, over-achievers willing to put in the hours and bring home the bacon. This is not always the case. “Although I have met some incredible intelligent and friendly people in this business, there’s no question that there are a few cases where the salary is in no relation to its recipient’s input and/or IQ, and this is something I try to joke about whenever possible,” says Sean John.
Financial sector firms are very adept at perpetuating clichés about big swingers and big bonuses, when the reality is often more mundane. “A lot of stuff is definitely still kept below the radar but with all the books of late, social media, blogs and so on, more and more details are being exposed,” says Sean John. “I think transparency in general is good and for the benefit of everybody in the long run. Well, maybe. Some things are probably best kept secret,” he quips.
Long-term he has no plans to quit the day job, not while the wife and kids still maintain control over his “calendar”, but there could eventually be a book around a particular topic – the most obvious being the human side to the 2008 financial crisis. For now, he’s still trying to find the right tone.
“On one hand, if I mock my profession too much, I might make the outsiders laugh but offend my peers, and if I go into too much industry-specific detail in the stories, outsiders are not going to get it whilst the insiders might smirk a little bit,” he says. “So it’s somewhat of a balancing act and I’m not 100% convinced I have found the perfect mix yet.”