The Trader: Jane thinks it's just the job but I have my private fears

'Private banking? Your clients will be drug barons and gangsters'
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What is it with friends? There you are, happily bowling along under the impression that you have their character all worked out, then they do something that completely takes your breath away. I'm not referring to any old friend, either; I'm talking about Jane, my chief chum, principal pal and drinking partner par excellence.

It all started with her announcement that she'd landed another job. As you can imagine, I was pretty pleased for her as well as amazingly impressed. My sources ­ and my senses ­ have been telling me for weeks that recruitment is not a big priority just now.

When a respectable merchant bank can "rationalise" away a third of its workforce in entire divisions in two weeks and cause barely a murmur, you know things are looking bad. Expensive, experienced bankers might still be in demand, but recently redundant 27-year-old corporate financiers are 10 a penny.

"That's absolutely fantastic!" I say, when she tells me the news. "Well done, you little superstar! This definitely calls for champagne; what a good job we've already got a bottle. Pity, though; I'd have ordered a more expensive one if I'd known."

Jane smirks, though not as enthusiastically as she ought to in the circumstances. "Come on," I continue. "Stop being coy. It's amazing news. I thought the only company round here that was taking on more staff was the one that makes and sells black bin-liners. So, anyway, tell me all about it; you haven't even said who it's with yet or where their office is."

Jane looks even more coy, possibly even a little shifty. "It's with Blah & Blah," she says, and ­ although I try not let it happen ­ my grin slowly evaporates, because I've never heard of them.

"Who?" I say, my brow very definitely furrowed.

"Blah & Blah," Jane repeats, a little touchily. "They're in St James's. It's a private bank."

I practically fall over from the shock. I'm so shocked, in fact, that it takes me a few seconds to decide whether to let my eyes nearly pop out of my head or my jaw hit the floor, and by then it's too late and I do neither. "A private bank?" I say weakly. "But why?"

Jane sighs. "Well, for a start," she says, "because they were the only people recruiting. Then I started weighing up the pros and cons, and there turned out to be more of the former: shorter journey to work, nice offices near real shops, not being a minnow in a vast pond for a change. That sort of thing makes a difference, you know."

"But ..." I say. "I mean, private banking. Just think who your clients are going to be: Russian gangsters, Colombian drug barons, corrupt Third-World presidents."

"I think you'll find that's 'corrupt developing-world presidents' in politically correct terms," Jane says.

"Not developing very fast with you helping their presidents launder all the countries' money," I say.

"Oh, don't be ridiculous," Jane snaps. "You've been watching too many Hollywood films. Honestly, I'm sure Blah & Blah's clients are a thoroughly sedate and respectable bunch of high- net-worth individuals, and my biggest trauma will be persuading them to invest in hi-tech stocks. And, anyway, private banking's the in-thing at the moment; everyone's going for it."

I'm not convinced, but I pull myself together and smile for my friend's sake and because the champagne ­ even though it's not the expensive one ­ is having a magic relaxing effect. "I didn't mean to sound negative," I say, with just a fraction of contrition because, actually, I still believe I'm right on this one. "I'm really pleased about your new job."

Jane smiles and says, "Thanks."

"And it's not at the Wharf," I add. "It's near lots of shops and cafés, and you can walk to Soho."

Jane nods happily, but I just growl: "God, I hate you."

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