James Moore: Expect frightened bankers' behaviour to get worse as their job options dwindle

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The Independent Online

Outlook: The next few weeks promise to be fraught ones in the human resources departments of the City's investment banks. Now that the bonus season is over, and the heated public debate has died down a bit, it's time to swing the axe. This firing season, however, promises to be particularly difficult thanks to the hand grenade London-based Greg Smith left for Goldman Sachs when he managed to escape without signing one of its blood-curdling confidentiality agreements and was therefore able to make his resignation letter public.

If the bank's HR people fail to secure the signatures of the victims of this year's cull on the relevant pieces of paper they will be joining the luckless thousands. The same will be true at Goldman's rivals, where the message will be: "Don't let it happen here."

Goldmans may be getting all the flack right now but it is naive to think that it is the only bank which has unhappy employees. And which has skeletons in the closet for those employees to rattle on their way out.

Many commentators have scratched their heads at Mr Smith's actions. Surely he must have killed any chances of a future in finance employment? Well, duh. The fact is they may have been dead even had he not gone public so spectacularly.

Investment banks are having to face up to some harsh realities. One of those is the fact that the reduced volumes in last year's third quarter were no aberration. The slow pick-up in hiring post the financial crisis may have to go into reverse. If you get kicked out of one investment bank there is now only the slimmest of chances that you will be able to trot along to another one. Seeing this, Mr Smith has set himself up for a book deal.

We tend to see avarice as the driving force behind investment banks. They are certainly at pains to point out what a powerful motivator it can be when designing the executive remuneration packages that are held up to public scrutiny.

But there is another, perhaps equally powerful, force governing the way investment bankers behave: fear. There are now perhaps only a relatively small number of rainmakers who won't be thinking "there but for the grace of God" as they watch the security men placing their newly departed colleagues' personal belongings into clear plastic bags. With ever more searching revenue targets, fewer people to help out with the heavy lifting, and a smaller pool from which next year's cull will be made, the motto of the banker accustomed to the high life and with a mortgage to match will be "by any means necessary". If the client makes money, great. If not, c'est la vie.

The sort of behaviour Mr Smith claims to have witnessed, with clients allegedly treated with contempt and dismissed as "muppets", is going to become more, not less, likely after this year's culls.