To begin with. I was shocked. Totally amazed. When I started in banking, I couldn’t understand how the hell my colleagues got away with treating the back office the way they did. I’d never seen anything like it.
But then slowly I came to understand the dynamic.
Things may be a bit different now, but not much. I started my career at Lehman Brothers in 1999. From day one, I could see that the back office was treated like second class systems. If you wanted to dump on someone? There was the back office. If you wanted to make fun of someone? There was the back office.
While I started off shocked, I became as guilty as the rest. It was like the Stanford Prison experiment – I was too weak to ask why it was happening and I just played my part and abused the support staff in the middle and back office along with everyone else.
This doesn’t mean I had no guilt. I felt guilty all the time. It just seemed to be the way things were done. And who was I to argue with bankers decades older than me who were slamming the phone down on support staff, who were ridiculing back office in meetings, who were making sure those guys didn’t get paid or break into the front office domain?
And then I figured out what was going on. The thing is that a lot of those colleagues hated their lives. They were angry. They were mad about how their clients abused them. They were mad about their bosses stealing credit for their last deal. They were mad about not seeing their families for a week.
What you had was a group of very angry pissed people, and then you gave them some power. What they did with that power was inevitable. Angry people and power don’t mix. It’s not that they mean to be abusive, it’s just that their own egos are so damaged that looking down on other people is often their only way of feeling better.
If you’re a banker who’s been abusing the middle and the back office, I’m not berating you. I did it too, but you can change. Firstly, you need to remember that it could easily have been you there – those people are no less intelligent than you, they just didn’t get lucky. Secondly, you need to channel your anger in a more productive way. Go to the gym, call your grandma, get some rest!
And if you’re in the back office and your getting torn up by abuse from the bankers or traders you work with, I have a message too. Don’t let other people’s actions or words change how you feel about yourself. You’ve come a long way – be proud. Karma will sort things out. Secondly, try not to be angry in return. Sometimes people in the front office just need some warmth. Be nice to them when they abuse you; after a few weeks – when they realize they’re not having an impact on you, they will stop. And then lastly, schadenfreude. Come the next crisis, you should still be there if you’re in risk or regulation, while your abusers will be swept away in the cycle.
What I Learnt on Wall Street is an education focused business founded by an ex-Goldman MD and Family Office allocator. His firm has just launched: The 5 keys to unlocking a successful career in Finance, with the 1st class being held on November 23rd.
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