“When you want to get rid of a dog, you say it has rabies”. That's how Zeina Bignier's lawyer is describing what happened to her client at a French employment court this week. Ms Bignier was fired in 2016 by Socgen, who cited her management style and treatment of employees. She, on the other hand, says that nobody had any problems with her style over a 21 year career which saw her named “Socgen Woman Of The Year”, and that she was harassed out the bank by her superiors.
It's a hard case to judge, and the strangest thing is that nobody seems to disagree on the facts. Socgen freely admit that Ms Bignier was a very strong performer for most of her career, and Ms Bignier's team freely admit that she wasn't always polite in the way she dealt with colleagues. Juniors were apparently called “dimwits” and told to shut up with yelling and waving arms, while bosses were accused of “lacking courage”. On the other hand, this didn't seem to have been treated as a serious issue requiring coaching or intervention, and the only mentions of Ms Bignier’s temper that could be dragged up from performance reviews were from ten years ago.
It's the oldest personnel issue in investment banking – how do you deal with a top performer who behaves like a prima donna? In an ideal world, we’d have consistent high standards for professional behaviour, with nobody above the law. But in the real world of hyper-competitive markets, that's difficult to sustain. Other people are asked to make allowances, and the troubled genius never gets any feedback.
It’s probably significant that among the people Ms Bignier accuses of harassing her are the bank’s compliance staff, accused of creating a “Kafkaesque world of intense pressure”. That reflects the changing balance of power in the modern industry and the progressively increasing reluctance to tolerate special cases. The picture painted of the working culture at Socgen's public sector debt business is certainly not flattering; if everyone feels so stressed that they’re shouting at each other all the time, it’s rare for that to be solely the fault of one individual.
But as always, there are rarely any winners in an employment court. Ms Bignier is claiming €6m of compensation for lost earnings, saying that her tussles with Socgen management and compliance have left her burned out and unable to work for the last three years. And there’s a sense of real emotional loss coming out the court reporting. As her lawyer says, Zeina Bignier, “gave pretty much her life over to Societe Generale. She worked day and night. The dismissal letter hit her like an uppercut.”
Bignier's experience sounds like a lesson for anyone else who's inhabiting their banking job 24/7. She's not the only one to shout and belittle subordinates because of a, 'passion for success.' But it's not a nice way to be. Nor is it a good way to live your life, pouring so much emotional energy into a job which, at the end of the day, is simply incapable of loving you back.
Elsewhere, the London courts will be seeing the nastiest sexual assault case in the industry in recent years; the alleged rape of a graduate trainee at UBS by a senior banker after a graduate program event. There won't be any criminal issue at stake; it’s a civil suit brought by the victim and the main matter at issue will be the extent to which the employer bears responsibility for not doing more to protect its graduates.
The position of UBS is that it has no case to answer; the events of that night took place after the after-party for the graduate event; the accused employee resigned in March last year. But the alleged victim is claiming that UBS made her sit near to the man she claims was the perpetrator for three weeks and subjected her to a “gross violation of privacy” by monitoring her movements inside the bank and coercing the disclosure of messages she'd sent to friends. It doesn't help that the alleged attacker was a Director who was attached to the graduate training program and who with the benefit of hindsight probably shouldn’t have been. The whole case is likely to show the industry in an extremely poor light, and to further emphasize the compliance and legal risks associated with any work social event at all.
End of an era at Standard Life Aberdeen, as the co-CEO structure comes to an end (they always do) and Martin Gilbert, who oversaw his company’s rise from a solicitor's office in Aberdeen heads off into the sunset. (Financial News)
In possibly the most Canadian transaction corporate finance has ever seen, RBC Capital Markets will be advising on the acquisition of a cannabis company called Newstrike which is 5% owned by indie band The Tragically Hip. (Bloomberg)
The Deutsche Bank unions have begun to push back against the proposed merger with Commerzbank, giving very high estimates of as many as 30,000 potential job losses (Bloomberg)
The Goldman Sachs compliance team won an internal innovation competition for the proprietary search engine they designed to organise their internal files and policies (Business Insider)
Potential #quantfail episode; Barclays have received an “amber” warning because they had rather more large trading P&L variances than their value-at-risk model said they should have had. It's not too worrying – the model is fairly out of date and only kept for the regulators – but they'd probably rather not have had it happen (Bloomberg Quint)
Serious pessimism about the asset management industry from Invesco’s Martin Flanagan – he thinks a third of all asset managers around today will be gone in five years’ time (FT)
...as an example of which, Brookfield continues to consolidate the alternative asset management space with the acquisition of a controlling stake in Howard Marks's Oaktree (Bloomberg)
How to ask for a raise – this advice is mainly about how to psyche yourself up to ask for one (The Cut)
In what feels like it ought to be a metaphor for something financial, a fox was pecked to death by some chickens who used teamwork and weight of numbers to corner it (BBC)
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