This my sound like I’m boasting, but within my area I’m one of the top contractors in the City of London. I’ve worked in contract roles at most major banks for well over a decade. Banks know me. I know their technology, I know their processes, I know the regulatory environment. I’m one of the SAS (the Special Forces if you’re in the U.S.). I’m brought in to do a specific job. I do it well, and then I move on. I’m well respected for this.
Except at Credit Suisse. At Credit Suisse, under CEO Tidjane Thiam, me – and contractors like me – have been treated like easily disposable juniors. And it’s time someone spoke out.
Credit Suisse has been cutting contractors instead of full time staff. The bank has cut over 3,000 contractors in the past year. This is 12% of its total, but the damage to individual teams has been far greater – I’ve seen teams working on regulatory initiatives cut from 50 to 3 people. Ok, this is partly the nature of regulatory work, but some of these cuts have been to teams where regulations have yet to be implemented.
If you’re a CEO and you’re trying to take out costs, contractors might seem like a soft target. You can get rid of us without paying severance. You can squeeze our day rate. You can force us to take a furlough over December so that we lose an entire month’s pay. You can’t do this stuff with employees.
So why not squeeze your contract staff? Because you need us.
It’s my opinion that Thiam doesn’t understand how investment banks really work. He doesn’t get that the roles done by contractors are often related to complex regulation and can’t easily be taken on by full-time staff. Nor does he get that it actually makes sense to hire contractors: we can go from zero to sixty overnight and leave when the work is done. By comparison, it takes months to train-up full time staff, and you’re stuck with them afterwards. Personally, I’ve seen experienced contractors who know my area inside out struggling to train up juniors from the pool of Credit Suisse project managers – juniors who are way out of their depth and who will make mistakes. Balls are being dropped and processes are falling apart as a result.
This isn’t all though. Thiam doesn’t seem to appreciate that contractors talk to each other, and that we remember. People who are being burned at Credit Suisse won’t want to work here again. There are better banks out there that treat contractors decently – banks like Barclays, which recognize what we have to offer and aren’t out to squeeze us at every opportunity. Contracting is a two way street: if you’re a great place to work, great contractors will come to you for a lower rate. If you’re not, contractors will either charge a higher rate or will avoid you like the plague – and your ability to respond adequately to regulatory demands will be reduced because of it. There will always be people with big mortgages to pay, but this isn’t everyone – a lot of experienced contractors have made their money and can pick and choose where to go.
There are plenty of monkeys working on banks’ internal project teams. If you offer peanuts, they’ll come running. But if you want someone who can actually do the job, who can make sure you meet your regulatory deadlines and who really understands what’s required, you may need temporary help from outside. You need to be pragmatic. Thiam isn’t, and in my opinion Credit Suisse is suffering as a result.
Suzie Wang is the pseudonym of a contractor at Credit Suisse. This subjective piece reflects her opinion and is not a representation of the opinion of eFinancialCareers.
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