Why banking will inflate your ego. And what to do about it

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Banking ego

Everyone thinks it's the money that will get you in banking. It's not. The money is not even that good in banking any more and it was never conspicuous anyway - you never exactly knew who was making it on your team. But you always knew - and you know still, who is above you in the hierarchy.

Banks are hierarchical places. When you work in a bank, you know where you're ranked: you're an analyst, you're an associate, you're a vice president, or a director or an executive director or managing director (MD). Some of the world's most successful contemporary organizations have flat structures. Banks don't: banks love hierarchies. When you work for one, you will begin to be defined by your place in them.

Hierarchies are the source of ego in the banking industry. When people move up a layer, they change overnight. Colleagues who were only to happy to chat with you, will suddenly insist upon receiving emails once they've got a new business card. Friendly VPs who would talk by the coffee machine will declare that you must, "put something in the diary". It's more than just a new title; it's a new personality.

Banks could always ditch their hierarchies and become flat organisations like Tesla or Apple, but instead they seem to move in the opposite direction. Although places like Deutsche Bank are talking the talk about taking out layers of management, my experience of working in them has been that layers are usually added in. I've worked in teams where new managers have inserted new layers of bureaucracy which have seriously undermined productivity: decisions have to be signed-off by all sorts of people up and down the ladder; people who used to collaborate won't together because they're conscious of their own positions. Everyone needs to maximize and broadcast their personal achievements if they're to progress to the next level.

Banking hierarchies stink. They insidiously undermine your humanity. Watch out.

Of course, there's something you can do. You can forget that you're a VP or a D or simply an associate; you can interact as a person. You need to remember that banking is a small world. You're a managing director talking to a vice president or director today, but you might meet that subordinate in a different context tomorrow. If you abuse your power now, you will be remembered for it later.

I know this, because it happened to my ex-boss. He milked me for as much work as possible and subjected me to a combination of fear and ridicule every time bonuses were paid. Eventually, I left. The next time we met - years later - I was his client. Suddenly I was the big man and he was the sweaty, shifty-eyed underling asking for my patronage.  When he noticed I was on the team the room was filled with his surprise and panic. Of course, we didn't give him the account. Why would we? What goes around comes around - whether you're an MD or not.

Emile Dermaut is the pseudonym of a salesman at a U.S. bank in London

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