The golden rule of writing fiction is stick to what you know. For financial services professionals with a taste for creative writing, this invariably means hanging a plot around a stressed investment banker.
Michael Crawshaw, a former Schroders and Credit Lyonnais banker, published ‘To Make A Killing’ in 2012, which centres around trader Mickey Summer trying to secure a huge bonus while avoiding being murdered. David Charters, an investment banker, also has a series of best-selling novels featuring Dave Hart, who works for the fictional Grossbank.
Marietta Miemietz’s new book ‘Off-site’ claims to be creating a new genre in fiction – the ‘investment banking thriller’. Again, it features a fictional investment bank, Agribank, floundering after the financial crisis, as a team of equity researchers are whisked away for a long weekend team-building in a Cornish manor, only to discover that one of their party is a psychopath determined to pop everyone off.
Miemietz has also kept her day job – she used to work at SocGen, but is now a pharmaceutical analyst at her own boutique, Primavenue. She admits that much of the book’s “sinister atmosphere” is derived from the real world of investment banking, and that the glory days of ‘offsites’ are gone and any meetings are more likely to take place in “shabby internal meeting rooms”.
Nonetheless, Miemietz’s book, the first few chapters of which are available here, gives some interesting and subtle insights into a career in investment banking.
1. Meaningless job titles are the bane of senior management
The ‘boss’ responsible for the team-building exercise is called Vincent. Despite ostensibly being the head of research, he goes by the title ‘Super-Sector-Leader’. This is obviously a made-up title, but chimes with some of the vacuous and (often incredibly long) job titles given out to real investment bankers.
2. Working hard will not get you noticed
The main protagonist, Aline, is a long-time research analyst who has been passed over for promotion. True, this could be down to her gender, but more likely it’s down to the fact that she refuses to play office politics: “Aline’s strong work ethic should have made her a favorite with management, but the harder she worked and the more business she generated, the more disapproval she seemed to meet with,” writes Miemietz.
3. Sucking up will
Investment banks are obsessed with teamwork, so much so that you can get hired as a junior based upon your participation in team sports. In Offsite, Aline is asked what teamwork means to her, which elicits a sarcastic literal response. This is not the way to get ahead – sycophancy is the order of the day, just like the character Tom…
“To me, teamwork is all about collaboration, trust and mutual respect”, he began with his characteristic haughty air of pomposity and self-righteousness that never failed to raise Aline’s hackles. “A good friend of mine from university had the immense pleasure of meeting one of the most inspiring business leaders of our time. He described the great man as simply a good guy.”
4. There is every chance your boss will have an inflated sense of self-importance
Vincent has his own office on the floor above the research team, from which he occasionally graces his subordinates with his presence for a cliched corporate-guff-speak pep talk. “As far as Aline could tell, there was not a single research analyst who seemed to entertain cordial relations with him. She did not understand why he appeared to feel so ill at ease among them. True, he had only recently taken over the department in the wake of a management reshuffle which had effectively resulted in his demotion.”
5. And will constantly use the threat of firing and/or diminutive bonuses
What starts out as a motivational speech by Vincent quickly turns into a threat. This is appears to be in the normal scheme of things: “I know it’s not easy for you. Teamwork is still not taught sufficiently at school and university. That’s why I have brought you here. In unfamiliar surroundings, far away from any distractions, you will perform team-building exercises. You will learn to trust your colleagues. And in doing so, you may save your bonus – and your job. Enjoy your dinner.”