Bankers learning lesson in humility

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The Independent Online

It's not a happy time to be a banker. Once the masters of the universe, bankers are nowpariahs accused of driving the world into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Many are unemployed, and those who remain are being told the days of bonuses are over.

So how does it feel to work in finance at the beginning of 2009?

It's fair to say the arrogant "can-do-no-wrong" exuberance that dominated the mindset of the Square Mile until just over a year ago has disappeared in favour of a return to a focus on basics.

"I think among the people I work with at my level, right now there is an attitude of just keeping our heads down and getting things done," said a mid-level corporate finance banker at a major US-based investment bank in London. "The people that are still in jobs are often the ones who stayed most humble before the downturn."

As the public has come to blame bankers for the credit crunch, the pride associated with tellingpeople at parties about working in the City has sometimes been replaced by shame, which extends to being rumbled in public.

"Some people are not carrying any branded bags around any more," said another worker at a City investment bank.

It's not just explicit references to work that bankers are trying to steer away from. It's also thegratuitous shows of wealth – such as exorbitant bar bills – the City became associated with that many are now more likely to shun. Sometimes for their own safety.

"There is a little more humility," said a senior analyst at a European bank with operations in London. "We were at a bar in Canary Wharf and someone whipped out a bottle of champagne; it was as if the music stopped and he got all these reproachful looks."

And for those bankers who have lost their jobs or who were relying a bit too much on their bonuses to pay their bills, it's a time for selling the extras and getting as much cash as possible in the door. Just look at the high number of Porsches and other luxury cars being offered for sale on the Bloomberg terminals all traders have on their desks.

One reaction among bankworkers, as in many such cases, is to laugh rather than cry about their predicament, as the current crop of humorous email forwards suggests. It's gallows humour, for sure, but when everyone hates you, there's not many places to find solace other than in comedy.

One such email: a poll in the German edition of 'Playboy' magazine that ranks bankers as third least popular category of people to have as friends after prostitutes and criminals. That's less popular than politicians. Or even Bayern Munich fans.