“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity”
– Charles Dickens, A tale of two cities
Armed with idealism, a quasi fancy suit and soaring ambition I stepped into the world of banking ready to take my place as the crown prince. Looking back at my twenty two year old self, it truly was the best of times and the worst of times. The following three anecdotes perfectly capture the first two years:
Money or power
To the outside world it would appear that bankers are a collective of ‘1 percenters’ united in their affinity for pinstripes and German sedans. However soon after my induction, I discovered a great divide between two tribes in this nation of banking. This truth became apparent to me when I decided to leave my position as a currency trader to join the real banking boot camp- an accelerated cross disciplinary management training program known as the ‘program’. The adventurous decision did not go down well within my business unit and it earned me the displeasure of a rare phone call with the man my immediate manager used to call ‘’more senior than God”. I preferred to call him the Godfather.
The Godfather explained the world to me as follows:
Godfather: “Tendo, if you leave this unit, you will leave the chance to earn real money. The world can be split into two people: those who love money and those who love power. We are the money people, every other department in this bank can only offer their top performers some bullsh*t notion of power. So what will you have?”
Tendo: “Sir, wouldn’t you agree that in the case of money vs. power, one inevitably leads to another?”
It goes without saying that my smart ass response led to an irrevocable deportation from the money tribe. Greed is good, adventure is bad.
Banking Boot Camp
Like most boot camp training, the ‘program’ was psychological. The reasoning behind this, according to Wikipedia, is that “if a recruit cannot be relied upon to obey orders and follow instructions in routine matters, it is unlikely that they will be reliable in a combat situation where they may be a strong urge to disobey orders or flee”.
We chose to (un)affectionately refer to our drill sergeant as ‘Madame’. Madame’s mission was to take this motley crew of 10 men and women handpicked from hundreds of applicants and turn them into fire spitting prophets of the gospel of banking. How did she achieve this? Madame broke us and then rebuilt us in her glorious image.
Madame’s basic training summary:
“You belong to me”
Our lives were not our own. Madame chose where we lived, told us when we ate and referred to us as nothing but expenses who would redeem ourselves by making revenue when we graduated from the program. Until such time, we were nothing and nobodies who should have been grateful that she plucked us from obscurity.
“I will not have any egg on my face”
Our every word and action was deemed a reflection upon her instruction abilities. She would have us recite the previous days training each morning and hired trainers to report back to her on the attentiveness and responsiveness of the class. To prove her point, she fired one of us 6 months into the program after a less than promising report card from an assignment.
“You are not equal”
Perhaps it was the camaraderie that Madame begun to notice among the recruits that made her decide she would have none of it. She begun to rank the class according to achievement on exams and once proudly declared: “don’t think you are equal, in a few years, some of you will be reporting to each other”. She imbued a spirit of competitiveness that would serve us well in the future as we fought the enemy within (for the bonus pool) and our enemies without (for customer business).
Investment Banking: all that glitters is not gold:
They often say you should be careful what you wish for, I learned that lesson when boot camp led me to a rotation as an intern in the investment banking unit. Young Tendo was elated! Finally the God’s above had heard my cry and it appeared that perhaps I had found a way to return to that magical place often referred to as investment banking in America.
I brushed up on my financial analysis skills ready to ensure that I would be the number one investment banking intern that they had ever experienced. I should have brushed up on my brown nosing skills because that was the scope of my daily view.
Investment banking is the ultimate quasi-military experience and I have drawn a comparison table for those new to this concept.
|Investment Banking title||Military title equivalent|
|Intern (young Tendo)||Nothing or nobody*|
Definition of terms
*Nothing or nobody: Equivalent to a sandbag.
The value chain of work preceded as follows:
1- Managing Director, Director and Vice President go to a client meeting. Managing Director does big talk, director pitches details and vice president keeps quiet and looks pretty.
2-Director and vice president return to office and huddle the troops for a briefing. Director does big talk and vice president pitches scope of work. Associate keeps quiet and looks pretty.
3-Associate gathers analyst and intern for a detailed work plan. Associate does big talk and analyst is assigned financial modelling and power point presentation. Intern keeps quiet and looks pretty.
4-Analyst and intern gather around desk. Analyst refers intern to previous presentation slides and requests intern to copy and paste keeping in mind format and alignment.
5-Everyone goes home late.
After 6 months, I was convinced that while these people earned tremendous amounts of money, there was also a considerable amount of monkey work.
Instead, young Tendo chose the path of power and made another adventurous decision: to relocate to a tropical West African country and discover his true banker self- yes oh!