While “What does not kill me makes me stronger” may be an ok motivational slogan to tape to your computer screen, it’s not necessarily true. Some things are cumulative in their effect; they build up over time, like heavy metals in the bloodstream, until you finally accumulate a lethal dose. And unfortunately for bankers and traders, occupational stress is a lot more like cadmium poisoning than like martial arts training. It might take a long time, but eventually it catches up with you, like it did for Simon Rope of UBS.
The details of his case are currently the subject of a court case in London. Rope is suing the bank which employed him for 35 years, alleging that they were responsible for the anxiety disorder that’s kept him off work since 2018. They make quite distressing reading. According to Mr Rope’s lawyers, it’s a story of progressive exhaustion with a dealing floor workload, a couple of trading mistakes, public shame and shouting on the trading floor and a final breaking down in tears.
For its part, UBS says it only has records of one single trading error and that it was dealt with in a businesslike and professional manner. Furthermore, they point out that the very fact that Simon Rope had survived and thrived for so long – over a period which included some very rough times indeed for UBS – makes it hard to argue that his workload was one that should have been regarded as clearly excessive.
It’s going to be a difficult one for the court to decide. Trading floors are places where voices are raised and where hours are both long and unusually intense in the demands they make. One person can see an interaction as a robust but friendly disagreement and another as an aggressive and humiliating piece of bullying, and neither the subjective perception of someone close to the end of their tether, nor the after-the-fact records of a management team can necessarily be taken as definitive. But perhaps the larger issue here is to consider quite what it is to have spent 35 years in the industry.
Simon Rope is now aged 53. It's not clear whether that figure spans his career up to 2018 or to the present day, but he must have joined UBS (then called UBS Phillips & Drew) before the Big Bang deregulation of the 1980s. That was when desks had ashtrays, Bloomberg was an upstart competitor to Reuters, trading took place with paper tickets and telephone calls and commissions were measured in percentage points rather than basis points. No fewer than seventeen rounds of redundancies later, he was part of a team of four colleagues trading up to 3,500 different stocks every couple of milliseconds on electronic platforms.
In one sense, the job has changed beyond recognition; in another, as this case itself shows, the human dimension has hardly changed at all. It’s still a game of concentration, winning and losing money, and it still takes the same toll on bodies and minds which it always has. Look after the old lags in your office; they have seen extraordinary things.
Elsewhere, given the extent to which recruiters use automated tools to sift through resumes, it was only a matter of time before someone turned the tables and created an AI chatbot to automate the tedious process of screening interviews. David Vidal, a marketer from Spain, used a publicly available web tool to create a bot that would provide lines from his CV in response to standard questions.
It ended up being used over 30,000 times – some of these might have been from people just wanting to check it out as the link went viral on LinkedIn, but he got fourteen in-person interviews and eleven job offers out of the process. And this was with a relatively unsophisticated system which was really just meant to show off David’s communication skills and out of the box thinking. If you got a real neural network, trained it on the last decade of Jamie Dimon interviews and attached it to a video version of yourself that can participate in Hirevue interviews, you might be able to create the perfect deepfake machine for getting banking internships. Of course, then everyone will start using them, and we’ll be back to a world in which the only way to get hired is to know somebody.
After some bruising encounters with the reality of regulation, Coinbase is now advertising for someone with “excellent political judgement” and a “strong policy network in Washington” and a couple of dozen compliance officers. (Bloomberg)
After Credit Suisse announced the hiring of Israel Fernandez earlier this week, Bank of America is also restructuring its FIG group, with Will Addas, Gary Howe and Giorgio Cocini being named global co-heads. (Reuters)
Nomura continues to get back onto the front foot, promoting Jeff McDermott (who joined when they bought specialist ESG boutique Greentech last year) to global co-head of investment banking, with a mandate to expand in the USA (Financial News)
Jamie Dimon, Brian Moynihan and James Gorman – it can be seen as slightly ironic that in one of the most chaotic and fast-changing industries in the world, CEOs seem to stick around forever. The continuity and experience is good, but there’s a “bed blocking” effect where talented managers leave because they don’t see any way to progress. (FT)
Although he’s apparently calling the opposing attorney “dude” and making sarcastic remarks about the judge’s music taste, that counts as being co-operative for Bill Gross; in his long-running noisy-neighbor lawsuit, he has offered to remove a couple of his outside speakers. (Bloomberg)
One less thing to be scared of – a court has ruled that an artificial intelligence cannot be named as the inventor of anything on a patent application (FT)
How do you become a management consultant? Although one answer that comes to mind is “take the interviews for investment banking and fail”, that’s mean and unfair. Communication skills, curiosity and an ability to multitask are the things you need if you want to work the same hours as banking or worse for less money. (Financial News)
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