A few months into a new role, another layer of management was added. This guy came from our Italian team – he was a senior MD based in Italy and they moved him up to a product role working with us. He was supposed to provide additional sales expertise. I was initially annoyed at yet another reporting line but when I met him, I found him very pleasant and easy to work with and for. He brought a lot to the table with clients and I had already learned that it didn’t hurt to have someone older lending more authority in a client meeting. I had also learned to be protective of my client relationships, after having my sales credits pilfered by managers who had nothing to do with the clients or the trades. So I relaxed once I was told he would be paid separately based on the global team’s success and his own high profile Italian clients, and that he wouldn’t be taking my European market sales credits.
We got along smashingly and I actually came to trust him and value his opinion. He was incredibly sharp, had a lot of valuable experience and was great with clients. It also helped enormously that he was one of the few male colleagues or managers who neither made inappropriate remarks nor attempted to sleep with me. Not even on business trips away from the office. Had I finally found the holy grail of managers?
It would seem so, unless you happened to value a moral compass in your mentors and managers.
Word of an epic deal came around – I had never worked on a deal of this size – easily one of the top five largest deals the bank would do that year. We were ” in comp” i.e. in competition with at least one other bank, meaning our pricing needed to be tight and our deal needed to offer a good structure. The latter was straightforward, but our pricing so often missed the mark. However this was in the early part of the credit crisis – Bear Stearns and Lehman had failed and there was a huge flight to safer credit. Our bank offered a better credit rating than many of our competitors, which was of course priced into our bid for the deal. We weren’t the only bank on the street which could offer such a rating, and in fact I knew my previous employer would be bidding on this transaction and that they would be aggressive in their pricing. Knowing the trading team we were competing against, I mentally dismissed this as a deal we wouldn’t win. When word came out that the deal was ours, and at pricing that was not as tight as I expected, I was shocked but pleased. I wondered if relationships got us the second look or if there was another issue.
In a way I was right – it was based upon relationships. Another senior banker dropped a few jokes that I didn’t get and then he gave me a serious warning that I wouldn’t want to work too closely with this particular boss. I pressed for details and he explained that everyone knew that this MD did deals with brown paper bags in the back of cafes in Milan. A stack of euros would make a big difference in who the government employees chose as their bankers for a particular multi-billion dollar deal. He didn’t mind sharing a bit of his 7 figure bonus in advance. Apparently he had done this throughout his career – it was how he got to such a senior position in the first place. The bank didn’t mind – he brought the business, that’s all they cared about.
This experience taught me something about asking around to find out what kind of person you’re working for. Not that it is always in your control, but at least be aware instead of naive. I had always avoided what I considered “gossip” and tried to see the best in people. In real life, this is a sensible way to live. In banking however, it’s foolish. I did not want to be caught up in such a transaction, and I was relieved when the senior manager was lured away to a competitor. I started paying attention to the gossip and rumors, taking everything with a grain of salt, but filing it away in my mind. Sometimes there’s no avoiding unscrupulous colleagues and managers and the only solution is to get out. This was only one of the reasons I started looking for a new job at another bank.
More naiveté. It would take years before I would realize that these attitudes and actions likely exist in every bank. Of the banks where I worked, or where friends/colleauges worked, not a single one was completely ethical in all transactions. This was one of the reasons I eventually left banking altogether. It’s hard to feel good about the work you do when your manager is ordering you to sell inappropriate products to clients, to lie about portfolio performance, not to mention hidden fees or flat-out bribery.
Any fellow bankers have similar experiences of bribery or corruption to share?