That was the week when the markets put greed on hold

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The Independent Online

There has never been a week like the one just gone – certainly not in the City. As a profession, we have come to treat major political and economic events with increasing sangfroid. We have "priced" everything from banking crises to declarations of war, the initial drama ebbing away more and more quickly as financial markets moved on. This was different – suddenly we confronted a major event at the heart of our own tribe, with a strikingly human consequence.

There has never been a week like the one just gone – certainly not in the City. As a profession, we have come to treat major political and economic events with increasing sangfroid. We have "priced" everything from banking crises to declarations of war, the initial drama ebbing away more and more quickly as financial markets moved on. This was different – suddenly we confronted a major event at the heart of our own tribe, with a strikingly human consequence.

Like most people in the financial community, the initial paralysis of shock and horror for me gave way to the terrifying realisation of who in my world could have been there.

With growing distress, I recalled my close friend on the 80th floor of the northern tower, the client based in the southern tower, the member of my team due on a course in Manhattan, the friend flying to the States that morning ... and so the list went on. The many human chains that link to form the financial world pass inextricably through a few square miles of that island.

As I scrambled frantically to make contact, I realised that this crisis was also different in the way communications were breaking down. Emails to New York were unanswered, mobile phones seemed dead, and land lines across the Atlantic constantly engaged.

Even dealer screens were for once devoid of up-to-date information, and the City itself fell into chaos as one-by- one key institutions were evacuated. For the first time the grim humour that normally circulates the market within hours of any tragedy was absent.

One defining aspect of the financial profession is the inherent need to assess any development rapidly and to take the appropriate action. Decision-making is our duty of care; indeed it is in our blood.

There were rapid movements in selected company stocks. Insurance and airline shares suffered the obvious blows, oil stocks shot up on fears of heightened tension, then promptly fell down again.

But in so unparalleled a situation it was difficult to know exactly how to react. There were double-digit percentage swings in many company share prices. With Wall Street closed all week (unknown since the Second World War) it is perhaps not surprising that there was confusion and volatility. But it was more than that. Around world markets people spoke of a sudden reluctance to profit from this situation. What we cared passionately about the day before suddenly seemed unimportant.

The immediate effect on the financial community is obviously devastating. I am sure that there were endless back- up systems with copies of important documents and files. We spend much of our time drawing up "disaster recovery plans". But these are always premised on the destruction of buildings, and possibly, some individuals, but not a loss of life on this scale.

No other event has removed so many thousands of people in one blow from our community, and it is quite possible some financial houses will be wiped out completely, others hopelessly crippled. In this people business, so large a loss of life could destroy whole companies.

The longer-term effects on our profession are unlikely to be much different to those on the population as a whole – undoubtedly further tightened security and additional travel restrictions.

I spoke to one of the City's leading head-hunters who was strip-searched before boarding a flight on Wednesday, naturally distressing for a woman.

We may have to get used to it. If we are really moving into what President Bush describes as a war situation, how long before there are significant restrictions on key people taking the same flights, and metal detectors at every bank door?

At the time of writing I have one person missing from my own list. Like you, I'm sure, I did not find it easy sleeping last week. When my friend on the 80th floor answered his cellphone in Singapore, the relief was hard to put into words, just as is his emotion for his fellow colleagues presumed lost. As we prepare to return to our desks tomorrow, we will have had this weekend to weigh the effect on each of our lives.

This was the week when greed was put on hold.

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