Where do they stand now, the bankers, in the pantheon of villains, the rogues’ gallery of vocations?
Below charity workers, that’s for sure. Time was, they were head and shoulders above the rest with their toxic collateralised bond obligations, reckless economics, obscene bonuses and general fat cattery. The image of a braying broker in pinstripes, swigging champagne and showering a Stringfellows stripper with £20 notes captured the post-millennial zeitgeist and earned the opprobrium of the nation, but now that seems an era of relative innocence compared with what’s been going on in crisis-torn, careworn countries at the hands of aid workers.
Whereas, once, a deep-seated, predatory moral ambivalence and an overactive libido qualified you to securitize mortgages and punt Eurostoxx futures, now it seems more appropriate for distributing food parcels among the world’s starving.
One by one, the other middle-class, white-collar professions, previously held in high esteem and forming the backbone of the nation, have made their bid for infamy and been successful: journalists hack, MPs touch up their research assistants and fiddle expenses, doctors routinely bodge operations, sportsmen — it would appear — can only have sexual intercourse when all their teammates are recording it on a cellphone, the church has covered up one scandal after another, social workers ignore the exploitation of the young and vulnerable by grooming gangs and the only reason the legal profession has somehow been excluded and escaped a public keelhauling is because everyone’s terrified of being sued.
In every society, each caste searches for another that it can hold in contempt and relegate to an inferior status, thereby elevating its own standing.
In prison, hardened murderers and common criminals disdain the nonces who, in turn, probably sneer at the increasing numbers of rogue traders who have swapped their pinstripes for prison stripes. Now these bank-breaking amassers of large, unauthorised futures positions can derive some satisfaction from lording it over the large number of charity workers who shall soon be swelling the prison population.
A tale of many cities
There’s a kind of aristocracy at work in the City, generally. As with other social structures, no matter how refined, everyone instinctively knows their place in it.
At the top, sitting on a golden throne, wrapped in ermine, is the chancellor of the exchequer, then come in universally acknowledged but unspoken order the following: large long-only fund managers; small long-only fund managers; large hedge fund managers; investment banks, with their finely calibrated hierarchy stretching from Goldman and Morgan Stanley at its peak to the sad shops at the bottom where I have mostly operated, eking out a living without Bloomberg or live prices.
Even within investment banks, of course, fixed-income prevails over equity, and developed markets look down their noses at their contemptible emerging counterparts. A long thread of disdain runs through, in order, economists; corporate financiers; small hedge fund managers; retail investors; syndicate and ECM desks; researchers; prop traders; convertibles; bond and equity salespeople; client traders; sales-traders; small brokers; inter-dealer brokers; FX brokers; headhunters; compliance departments; former rogue-traders who were imprisoned and now released; me.
For all the claims of politicians to be interested in social mobility, they seem oblivious to the deeply entrenched snobbery within the City.
There are some instances of people climbing the ladder but, by and large, once you are pigeon-holed, escape is almost impossible.
I would be interested to know if anyone disagreed with my rankings but surely the rum and hopeless cove bringing up the rear, propping up the second division of the Scottish league, so-to-speak, is incontrovertible. I’ve never seen a list yet in which I was not placed last, unless it was announced in reverse order.
Some things never change, but at least those of us who ply our trade in the Square Mile know we are no longer alone in the gutter. Charity workers, welcome! We were down here waiting for you, all this time.