If you're a junior banker today and you're trying to get a perspective on life in finance before the financial crisis, don't rely on the TV series 'Industry.' It's accurate, but not entirely. I was there; there were more parties, far fewer drugs and very little sex.
In 2008, in the days after Lehman Brother collapsed, I was a new analyst at Goldman Sachs, and I was watching fireworks with a Russian Oligarch off the bay of Monte Carlo. He was shooting his own 'private' fireworks from his supersized yacht. Goldman Sachs was hosting my team in a 5* hotel run by la Société des Bains de Mer.
This was our yearly offsite, and it was all paid for with company money. Needless to say, I have never attended another such offsite either before or since. As the fallout from the financial crisis became clear, our future offsites were more paltry affairs sponsored by the partners and the managing directors, who were considerably less generous with their own money.
2008 was the end of the “Bull Market.” In the years preceding it, everyone had made tons of money. Goldman MDs were commuting to work in Porsches - you could see them swoop into the building every morning. Travelling vice presidents (VPs) would stop at the airport and buy themselves a few Hermes ties or a Rolex without thinking twice. Associates were indulging in helicopter skiing. Several of my fellow analysts would spend a couple of thousand pounds over the week-end booking VIP tables in expensive nightclubs.
At this time of the year, there three or four Christmas parties: division, department, team. Sometimes other teams would invite you to their Christmas party too. There were open bars with the best champagne at the most extravagant venues. The firm paid for everything.
And if the firm didn't pay, senior colleagues splashed out. We regularly attended leaving drinks for people going elsewhere, who would make a point of showing-off one last time. One MD I worked for bought magnum after magnum of Dom Perignon in an exclusive members-only nightclub in Mayfair.
In the summer and autumn there were also recruiting events organized for interns and university students. I remember someone from HR telling one of the waitresses to make sure alcohol was flowing. Competition was fierce and the bank had to make a good impression. During my analyst training, we had drinks at a Manhattan rooftop bar.
The difference between now and 2008 is a reminder how many things have changed. This year, we will be lucky to get Zoom carols. It's the culmination of a long descent: since the financial crisis, the banking industry has gone steadily downmarket. Cheap pizzas and burgers are the new Christmas fare. Heads of divisions aren't quite so willing to buy champagne for everyone when they're not earning $5m+.
Some things haven't changed though. Finance jobs are still just as precarious as they were back then. While we watched the fireworks in 2008, my MD told me: “Let’s face it, if you can get a job at BNP Paribas right now you should take it”. He was let go shortly after. A few weeks later, I was too.
Amit Itelmon is a pseudonym
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