We spoke to Erika Shapiro, a former fixed income saleswoman at Goldman, Citi, Credit Suisse and RBS. After more than a decade in banking, Erika left the industry in July and is now a self-employed yoga instructor. This is what she told us about working in investment banking as a single parent, and about getting out to do something completely different.
Q: How did you come to work in investment banking?
My entry into investment banking was quite accidental. I studied interpreting and translating. After my studies, when I started looking for a job, I was offered a position with a start-up capital markets group in Luxembourg. I learned on the job and was lucky enough to get exposure to a number of functions: sales, trading, private banking. I later became one of the directors at the company but really wanted to experience the investment banking life in London and joined Citibank’s London offices in 1994.
Q: People say there are a lot of women in sales roles at investment banks. Is this true?
Banking generally tends to be male dominated, but sales is probably one of the areas where the percentage of women tends to be higher than the industry average. I think women tend to enjoy the social and interactive aspect of sales. Those are certainly aspects I enjoyed. I also think that the hours are more manageable in sales than in trading or research for example and are slightly more conducive to those who have families.
Q: Do you have a family?
Yes, I raised two children as a single mother and banking gave me a lot of security and an interesting life.
Q: Can you describe what it was like to be a single parent with a banking job? The perception is that banking is difficult to combined with parenthood, let alone single parenthood.
At times, it was very hard to be a single mother in banking. It's a tough environment and the hours are not conducive to parenthood in general. I always tried to make it home for dinner and spend the evenings with my family, unless I was travelling for work. I looked for balance, rather than trying to have it all. I think it is important to establish one's priorities and stick with them.
My priority was always my family, but I was not in a position to give up work and I would not have wanted to completely relinquish a career. Banking was my profession and I had a family to support. I had some very understanding bosses and others that were totally oblivious to what it meant to be a single working mother. The good thing about being in sales is that the markets shut and the day ends so one can normally leave work at a reasonable hour. The flip-side is that one starts very early and the school run is never an option. My clients were abroad so I tended to go on business trips approximately once a month for a night or two, which I felt was manageable. During the last years of my career, I was covering Dutch clients (pension funds, Insurance companies, asset managers). Many of my clients (male and female) worked reduced weeks in order to spend more time with their families and participate in their share of running a household.
Q: What do you miss about banking now that you're no longer working in the industry - is it easy to extract yourself from the news flow?
Setting up a business can be lonely so I do sometimes miss having interaction with others and being able to sound ideas with colleagues.
My friends tend to come from a number of walks of life, which means it has been very easy to extract myself from the news flow.
Q: How easy has it been to make the move out of banking from a financial perspective?
It is important to plan a move of this type adequately. The first 2 years of setting up a business can be demanding in terms of time and might generate very little income. It is important to have other sources, whether it is savings or a part-time job.
However, after leaving banking, I noticed that I needed a lot less and I seemed to have so much. When I was employed, I often lived in fear; fear of not being able to provide for my family, fear of not having private insurance, fear of not having enough. When I left, my perception shifted.
While I was working in banking, I always made sure that I saved and kept my lifestyle realistic. It is easy to get sucked up into having more and more (a better car, designer clothes, watches, expensive travel, fancy restaurants, etc). However, you need to remember that the lifestyle can end and that you need to be prepared. In banking, redundancies are a frequent reality. I didn't want to be forced into jumping into any job but wanted to have the option to choose if the time ever came or if I decided that it was time for a career change.
Q: Do you count former clients and colleagues among your yoga pupils?
So far I've been focusing on promoting my group classes, for which my clientele tends to be very local. They come from all walks of life; nannies, students, bankers, mothers, PR consultants, acupuncturists …… I will be looking at teaching more private classes in the new year and I am curious to see where the clients will come from.
Q: Why should bankers do yoga?
Yoga is an ancient system that brings harmony, both to the mind and body. It helps reduce stress levels, improves concentration, brings a sense of well-being, improves fitness levels, posture, heart and lung capacity to name just a few of the benefits. It is very beneficial to those who suffer from a stressful lifestyle and who spend many hours sitting.
Click here to learn more about Erika's yoga classes in South West London.