Our IT department likes me. I make very few demands on their time and resources and the occasional enquiry I do have is resolved, usually within seconds. “It won’t turn on” and “I had something open somewhere a minute ago but it’s gone AWOL” would account for 90% of our interaction. I always ask them to fix it when I’m not looking because I don’t want to spoil the conjuror’s trick by knowing how it works, and when you don’t understand a technology it is indistinguishable from magic.
I dialled the help desk and explained I had a problem with the Excel spreadsheet he knocked up for me recently. “It’s not adding up.”
A while back I had asked them to create a file which would allow me to record all my trades and simply tot up the commission. I think it’s the most basic request they ever received. “You mean you simply want all the figures in column F to be aggregated at the bottom?”
I did. And for a period, while they wondered why Salvation Bank employed a creature of such startling naïveté, I was able to input bargains, calculate the commission accrued and lo and behold, the spreadsheet would do the rest for me. This obviated the need to work out how to use our client management system but not the necessity of extracting orders from my customers which is like pulling Excalibur from a lake.
IT came over. I pointed to the cell which contained my revenue figure and observed that it appeared to be stuck and so maybe the there was something wrong with his formula. This total is very important. No matter how much I contribute to Salvation Bank’s team ethos and its culture, how much I may enhance its prestige, how diligently and promptly complete my online compliance training modules or discharge my ambassadorial duties, the only thing which matters, all that I am, is that number.
I stared out of the window as he tapped away and did his business. “It all looks fine” he said.
“But it’s not updating.”
“When did you last input an order?” I struggled to remember my last print. It certainly wasn’t today or this week. Had I traded yet this year?
“A little while ago.”
“Well, the number won’t increase unless you actually make some commission. It doesn’t just accumulate automatically.”
I looked at him doubtfully. What kind of crappy spreadsheet is that? Con artist, I thought. No dread thaumaturge he. The same as all the others.
I wasn’t being entirely truthful here. I did execute an order on Tuesday. Would you like to hear the story? Are you sitting comfortably? Then we can begin.
A buy-side dealer called in and asked if I would make a risk price in some European stock of which I had never heard. This is not my field of expertise. (I have no field of expertise.) He bought some shares from us and left us the balance of his order to work in the market once we had covered our short.
As is often the case, a stock which was previously languishing unloved and unremembered, instantly became, the minute after we dealt, the most prized and eagerly sought-after stock in the market with punters falling over themselves to buy it in advance of us. Within five minutes the stock had rallied several percent, the losses racked up were three times the commission generated, and our position was still uncomfortably short.
Another large fund saw Salvation Bank active in the name and decided to offer us a large block of stock. My fund manager went incommunicado and so no cross was possible… until someone else’s client noticed the rising turnover, phoned in an order and bought them all. By the time contact had been made with my fund manager, their business was complete and no further trading took place.
Two salesmen at Salvation Bank were satisfied to put up a big print in an illiquid stock and three buy-siders had successfully executed their orders with minimal market impact. Meanwhile, I was wearing a loss which dwarfed the brokerage earned from the only trade in 2019 in which I could recall my involvement. They say in a card game if you have not worked out who is the patsy within the first few hands then you are the patsy. I didn’t need so long.
Since this would have meant a minus sign in my spreadsheet and a reduction in my all-important number, I declined to make any personal record of this trade. My number may not ever augment but I’ll be damned if it ever decreases.
So blaming technology was unsuccessful, what options are remaining to me?
Maybe they think of me here like a heron. Motionless and impassive for hours on end, giving every impression of doing sod all but all the while, in his own way, beneath the surface, he is fishing. That said, my neighbour has a pond in his back garden from which the carp have long gone but, from time to time, one particularly hapless heron will come and stand there for hours with no hope of catching anything. I’m that species of heron.
I have been debating internally whether I should attempt to transfer to another role or another division of the bank altogether, like cleaning or security, before the decision is taken out of my hands. However, will that strategy merely highlight my lack of success and bring it under the megawatt glare of management? Would I be better advised to keep schtum and just hope they do not notice the overhead in their midst?
In chess, Zugzwang is an unavoidable move which automatically puts the player in a more disadvantageous position than he was already. I’m no grandmaster but looking at my pieces on the board, my predicament would appear to be a Zugzwang cubed.
A new junior from one of our satellite offices was in London this week to meet investors. He was pointed in my direction as a person who might be useful in arranging a few friendly introductions. He showed me a list of perhaps 10 people whom he would like to meet. I was sure that nine of those on the list would not want to meet me, let alone someone I was recommending, and the 10th person?
The 10th person wouldn't be meeting anyone because I was quietly confident he died about three years ago. When I say quietly confident, I don't mean like when I'm quietly confident XYZ stock will rally, which means I've just picked a name at random and am saying prayers, "Please go up. Please" or I'm quietly confident I parked the car on Level 3 but I’m just bluffing or I’m quietly confident I turned the steam iron off before I left the house.
No, by 'quietly confident’ here, I mean, I knew he was dead and not just inactive. Anything to distract him from my fundamental inability to pull in a favour from the remaining 90% of the client base, I homed in on the corpse: "Who gave you this guy's co-ordinates?" He wasn't sure. Even though I receive regular messages from the spirit world, I doubted our ability to make contact in a meaningful way.
Commission Ramadan, technological anachronism, career Zugzwang, fishing where the fish don’t swim, and stockbroking via a Ouija board… Dr Johnson averred when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. But when a man is tired of sales-trading, it’s understandable.