When Tom Sleigh, who holds a senior position at Lloyds Banking Group, decided to run for a councillor position in the City of London, he wasn’t quite prepared for how difficult canvassing votes would be. Far from knocking on doors and kissing babies, he instead found himself meeting with large City investment banks one minute, and walking into cobblers and fish and chip shops around Liverpool Street the next.
“The concerns of RBS, for example, are rather different from a local newsagent and you need to be able to talk to all these people,” he says.
Sleigh is one of a growing number of City workers who get into politics by sticking close to the day job. Councillors in the City of London are not affiliated to any political party and they have to balance the interests of the financial sector with those of retailers dotted around the Square Mile. It’s a difficult job, it’s unpaid and you need the blessing of your employer since it can take up to two days a week fulfil your duties. It helps, though, that the role comes with a requirement to attend a lot of swanky banquets with industry and political figures.
“I’m doing this more out of a sense of civic duty, rather than political ambition, although I studied politics and always had a keen interest,” says Sleigh, who also sits on the Banking Standards Board. “I’m promoting excellent standards of behaviour in banking, and Lloyds supports this.”
In the broader political world, being associated with financial services isn’t always an advantage. Sajid Javid, recently installed UK Culture Secretary and former Deutsche Bank managing director, hasn’t exactly shouted about his investment banking past, while Suhail Rahuja, Westminster councillor and portfolio manager at Trafalgar Capital, played up his Mancunian roots while representing the Conservatives in the 2010 general election rather than his hedge fund day job (he still lost).
However, John Keys, the New Zealand Prime Minister, was formerly global head of foreign exchange at Merrill Lynch, occupying senior roles in London, Singapore and New York. He started his political career in 2001, though, long before it became popular to bash bankers.
Going into the City of London is a different game entirely. Usually, you have the blessing of your employer, and you’re also tasked with representing the financial sector. Tim Hailes is managing director, co-head of regulatory reforms and equities global practice group at JPMorgan. He’s also, as the bank was keen to point out to much fanfare last year, Alderman for the Ward of Bassishaw in the City of London, which involves taking an ambassadorial role for the UK financial services sector.
“I couldn’t do this without my employer’s support, but they still expect me to manage my time and be able to perform my duties. I do it through ruthless diary management, but my job is also now less transaction-driven and I know six months in advance what council duties I’ll have to perform,” he says. “As the new boy, when I was first elected I said yes to everything – it nearly killed me, so now I’m more savvy about the things I have to do and what I can say no to.”
Dhruv Patel has worked for Barclays Capital, but now runs his own underwriting firm in the Lloyd’s of London market. He’s also a recently elected common councilman for the ward of Aldgate, something he says appealed because he wanted to make a difference to the community.
“Because it’s unpaid, you get a lot of retired people working on the council, but also City types who are in high-level jobs but have the support of their employer,” he tells us. “It takes up around two days of my time every week, but I’m lucky that I’m self-employed and can catch up with work on the weekends.”
There is, however, another factor that could, in the long run, benefit your financial career – networking. “The position of alderman has opened networks that would never have been available to me just doing a financial services job,” says Hailes. “I already knew Martin Wheatley of the FCA, but didn’t have access to many people in the Bank of England or the treasury, and this position has enabled this. Even outside of the financial sector – I’ve had conversations with the Archbishop of Canterbury, for example. There are definitely some benefits.”
“You can make some great contacts in the City,” agrees Patel. “Firstly at the regular committee meetings and then there are some big state banquets – I met the President of Ireland recently, something I would never have had the opportunity to do without this political role.”
Patel says he’s become more adept at synthesising large quantities of information, which has helped him perform better in his day job, while Hailes – who is also a magistrate on the Central London Bench as part of this role – says that he’s become a better listener: “I spend most of my day in court sitting and listening, rather than talking. This experience has translated back to my job at JPMorgan and I’m more inclined to listen to the point of view of others more carefully.”
More than this, Hailes says he’s had the chance to dispel some myths about investment banking to the public at large and “articulate the benefits of financial services”.
“I try to translate the benefits of investment banking to real people. The many thousands of people employed in Canary Wharf have a trickle down effect on employment elsewhere, for example, on taxi drivers, restaurants as well as those in professional services and management consulting. The bottom line is that it keeps people in jobs and is a facilitator of growth,” he says.
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