Morning Coffee: A grim start to the year with deaths in the financial district. Former CEOs cleaning bathrooms in fintech?

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Canary wharf suicide

London's Canary Wharf is home to various banks (J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Citi, Barclays). It's also a big place, with tens of thousands of people passing through the two stations there every day, each with their own story.  With a daytime working population of around 120,000 it’s not surprising that there are occasional deaths, some of them happening in public places.  But, probably by coincidence, the last week has seen two people die, both by falls from a height.

It started Monday, when a commuter fell from the escalators at the Underground station, dying before he could be taken to hospital.  And yesterday, a second person fell, this time in the busy shopping centre next to the Docklands Light Railway.

The architecture of Canary Wharf means that, unlike a lot of business districts, it has a lot of public spaces with high ceilings, balconies and atriums facing onto busy areas, so anything that happens there is going to affect a lot of people.  The most recent event, in particular, seems to have quite badly shaken many of the witnesses; some of the details in the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror’s reports are quite graphic.  Even for people who were lucky enough not to be around at the time, it’s going to be difficult to look at these spaces in the same way for quite a while.

It’s not necessarily the case that the dead people have any connection to the financial industry – neither has been named yet, and the police are not releasing any details other than to say that the deaths are  “not being treated as suspicious”.  Canary Wharf is also home to a lot of non-financial businesses these days, including some of the newspapers which have carried some of the reporting and the mere fact that they were wearing suits doesn’t necessarily mean much.  But, at a time when the markets are giving little cause for optimism and the seasonal gloom is at its worst, a stream of bad news like this contributes to the general atmosphere.

Over the holiday period, a lot of us will have had time to reflect, and these reminders of the mortality and fragility of human life might give us even more reason to reflect on what’s really important.  Spring will arrive, profits won’t go down forever and there’s always a way to make your own luck.  However grim things look right now, the financial world is a community as well as an industry and we’re all in this together.

If you feel you could use some confidential support, call the Samaritans (in the UK) on 116 123 or the National Suicide Prevention Helpline (in the USA) on 1-800-273-TALK

Separately, people whose newspaper profiles introduce them with the title “Former CEO” have usually left themselves a few issues to work out.  That’s doubly the case when you’re talking about big bank CEOs, who tend to be even less likely than football coaches to leave on a high. According to interviews in the FT, though, Vikram Pandit (Citi) and Anthony Jenkins (Barclays) appear to be enjoying the second acts to their careers.  Both men have gone into the world of fintech – Pandit as a hands-on VC investor and Jenkins as CEO of a startup – and are enjoying the intense working atmosphere and more personal relationship with their staff.

Lots of senior bankers have made this switch over the last few years and – after an initial shock on discovery that people were mainly returning their calls because of where they worked rather than who they were – they all seem to have found a certain dignity in labour when it comes to drawing up their own Powerpoint slides and booking their own flights.  The CEO of Nutmeg (a former Barclays wealth manager) found himself “the most useless person in the company” compared to the developers writing the software, and ended up volunteering to buy lunch and provide janitorial services to the office.  As Vikram Pandit says, “if [the loss of status and perks] are the kind of things that bother you, then you should do a lot of soul searching”.

Meanwhile ...

Deutsche Bank is reported to be planning to cut its overall bonus pool by 10% on last year. (Bloomberg)

Since the investment banking headcount is only down by 5%, that means per capita cuts on average and the end of a period of wishful thinking.  The expectations management process has begun with suggestions that bonuses will be paid “selectively” and with an eye to “retain top talent”, but staff are expecting falls of 15-20% in some of the worst hit business lines (FT)

Silicon Valley is attempting to resurrect the idea of an “Income Sharing Agreement”, effectively buying equity in people taking coding courses, who agree to pay over a percentage of their lifetime earnings rather than taking out college debt.  This has always hit serious problems of adverse selection and moral hazard when it’s been tried in the past, but a firm called Lambda is giving it another go. (New York Times)

Analysts are sceptical of the activist investor in Barclays; both in Edward Bramson’s ability to get himself onto the board, and whether his “slim the investment bank” strategy would deliver the goods if he got there (Bloomberg)

A deep dive into succession planning at UBS, in the wake of the Christian Meissner story a few days ago.  A number of other senior level moves are likely (Finews)

Although many of the year-end round ups suggested that 2018 was a poor year for quant investment, some of the biggest names did much better than the pack, including Rennaissance and DE Shaw (Reuters, FT)

Nomura in Japan is moving its remuneration model for domestic brokers toward a greater weighting on performance and a lower weighting on seniority, a cultural shift that shouldn’t be underestimated (Bloomberg)

The “slow morning” movement, where people who either have late starts at work or don’t like sleep find things to occupy the hours between the alarm clock and the commute (WSJ)

And Euromoney has year-in-prospect pieces on the top 25 global banks (Euromoney)

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