Dan Gledhill: No one thinks the City is a picnic. But this was brutal

 

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Punishing hours, victimisation, physical intimidation, arbitrary dismissal. Such is the portrait of working conditions under Bob Diamond described by a former employee in today's Independent. Perhaps those Barclays Capital bankers deserved their bonuses after all, just for putting up with him.

Now I doubt many people thought trading floors were a sanctuary of civility, gentility and compassion. Based on my experience at Bank of America in the 1990s, I would say they are Darwinian environments where large egos prosper and sensitive souls suffer. But I never witnessed the kind of fist-bashing detailed by the whistleblower. Nor the paranoid centralisation of power. Nor the shameless favouritism.

In my day, being a trader was like being self-employed. You were given a market, a certain amount of money to spend, and a certain amount of risk that you were allowed to take. Then it was up to you. Sink or swim.

Barclays Capital was very different. There, the traders appear to have been very much employed. Diamond's grip on the company was absolute and worked in both directions. Anything that happened at however micro a level was conveyed to the top. And his wishes were communicated – forcefully – via a coterie of cronies all the way to the bottom.

There's some logic to this arrangement. At Bank of America, I was authorised to put on multi-million-dollar positions with only a modicum of oversight. You can understand why, in the decade or so since, banks have put their traders under much more scrutiny.

But one of the downsides is that this culture discourages free thinking and dissent. Who at Barclays Capital would have dared to disagree with Diamond? Who would have questioned the Libor fixing (whether or not the boss knew about it)? The answer is nobody who valued their job.

It is also arguable that this structure encouraged excessive risk. By constantly brandishing the stick of redundancy over his staff, Diamond may have inadvertently persuaded traders to put on even larger positions. The bigger the bet, the more profit (and bonus) you get. And if you lose? Well it's not your money and you were going to get the sack anyway.

There is a sense that Barclays Capital – and Diamond himself – owned his staff. The hours worked were long, far longer than I worked at Bank of America. And Diamond's workforce appear to have been on call at all hours. Even Goldman Sachs – hardly the Mother Teresa of employers – encourages staff to have something in their life other than work. Not because they're a nice bank, but because they think that balanced lives make for more productive workers. That might be something for the former chief executive of Barclays to ponder, now that his own work/life balance has been turned on its head.

Dan Gledhill is Deputy Editor of The Independent

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