Monday, 31 March 2008

Back to Work

I've been on holiday. I'm feeling refreshed, renewed and invigorated - and I'm confidently expecting all that good health and happiness to be dissipated within the next 48 hours. The long faces around here would be quite comical if I didn't expect to be joining their ranks imminently.

Events, events. Bear Stearns - what banker didn't shudder with horror and simultaneously twitch with delight at that great hubristic beast's fall? As for the FSA's mea culpa, about time. From a comfortable distance, I must say, the whole mess took on a rather surreal glow. Nothing like being abroad with one's lovely family to render all things financial quite trivial. That is, apart from the correct working of a foreign ATM. Certainly, when my daredevil son fell off a 10ft wall and split his chin open, I can genuinely say that nothing in the world seemed more important than getting him to the nearest hospital. A dozen banks could have collapsed that afternoon and I wouldn't have cared.

Back to work. Oh, joy.

Thursday, 21 February 2008


For those who enjoyed or resented my forays against philanthropy last year, a couple of lovely quotes I've recently discovered:

Philanthropist: A rich (and usually bald) old gentleman who has trained himself to grin while his conscience is picking his pocket.
- Ambrose Bierce

Philanthropic people lose all sense of humanity. It is their distinguishing characteristic.
- Oscar Wilde

Humour aside, I believe there is genuinely some truth in both.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

BBC Voices

I think I am allergic to Robert Peston's voice. He was a perfectly good financial journalist at the FT, but I just can't bear the drawn-out syllables of his radio and TV appearances as BBC Business Editor.

He has just managed to say "Rock" in a way I would never have believed possible. It's one syllable, for Christ's sake!

Sunday, 17 February 2008


The year just goes on getting more and more exciting. Not only did the private banker's favourite secret - the res non-dom - become part of the Daily Mail's lexicon last week, but now we have a new country in Europe, all the budding flowers in my ecological island have been wiped out by frost, and a British bank is to be run by Alistair Darling. How they have ended up nationalising the Rock after all these months of twittering... But there are plenty of others to commentate on that story this evening. I'm rather more fascinated by what is going on in Germany.

In case you haven't heard, the CEO of Deutsche Post, the exceedingly rich and delightfully named Mr Klaus Zumwinkel, has just resigned after allegations/confessions of tax evasion on a monumental scale. Somehow he has been channelling millions of euros through undeclared trusts in Lichtenstein. Was it all Mr Zumwinkel's own nefarious work, or should we detect the hand of an artful private banker getting creative on his behalf?

If so, said banker has been busy. Apparently, German prosecutors are building cases against 750 other people who have been up to the same Licht-trickery. I'll say that again: seven hundred and fifty people about to get done for the crime of retaining a private banker just a little too good at his job. Wasn't me, I can assure you, and I'm fairly sure no one in this office has been involved. But we will, no doubt, see.

One almost feels sorry for the Germans, what with the "lust trips" at VW (remember the 30,000 euro prostitute bills?) and the bribery and tax evasion scandals elsewhere. It does rather seem that the malaise cuts right to the heart of the establishment (Zumwinkel is a McKinsey man, after all). I have only a handful of German clients - they tend to stick to their own, and send all their money to Switzerland (or is it Lichtenstein?) - but I dare say we shall all be sharing in the economic fallout from this one.

Monday, 11 February 2008


Has anyone yet witnessed any serious determination, as opposed to idle threat, in a non-dom client to leave the country rather than pay the Chancellor's new tax? None of mine have expressed anything more than mild irritation. I keep waiting for change of address cards, but so far nothing. No one is yet heading off to Bermuda or Monaco or anywhere else.

Yes, it's a very silly tax which is unlikely to raise much and has the potential to backfire, but I've yet to see evidence for my colleagues' panicky assertions that this will cause disaster in the City. Non-doms who have been in the UK less than 7 years aren't affected - most of our younger, professional non-dom clients are in the clear. And the long-term residents are generally too rich to care. They grumble a little, but none of them seriously wants to give up their home, their children's schooling, their place in society and their shooting weekends for the sake of £30K.

I know I should be joining the Lord Mayor et al in proclaiming that the tax is counter-productive, dangerous to the economy, and ruinous for my clients... but I just don't think it's true.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Retailed into Early Retirement

My absolute favourite quote of the year so far: Peter Bennett, the "Deputy City Surveyor" (whatever that is) while proposing a new retail mega-development on Cheapside, said of people crossing the Millenium Bridge to the City, “Instead of turning left to God, they can turn right to Mammon.”

What makes this a particularly delectable quote is the innocent suggestion that there is something new in this. St Paul's may have been there for centuries, but we've never had anything tainted by the reek of money at the other end of Cheapside. Does this deputy not realize what goes on in the City he claims to survey? No, I'm being unfair. It's a lovely soundbite, even without that irony. Good for you, Peter.

That, however, is as far as my enthusiasm goes.

One of the things I've always liked about London is the separation of activities by geography. Entertainment in the West End, shopping in Knightsbridge and Oxford Street, politics in Westminster, art and diplomacy in Mayfair, sex in Soho, dormitories in Fulham, Clapham and the rest. And in the City of London, finance. Well, why ruin it by mixing things up? It's bad enough having to travel to Picadilly to see the private equity lot. Retail in the City? Worse - cheap retail on Cheapside? It's an horrendous idea.

Imagine if the banks suddenly decided to build trading floors on the King's Road, or in Camden Lock, or Covent Garden. The howls of protest that would come from retailers! That's how I will feel seeing Brent Cross materialise beside the Bank of England. Who cares if the City is empty at weekends? This is a holy place for some of us. The last thing we want is cut-price tracksuits and barbie dolls stockpiled within yards of the Stock Market.

Call me a snob - I am, probably, in your terms - but I hate this plan. I cannot for the life of me see the need for MORE mass market retail space in London. All these shopping chains are already duplicated in every corner of the capital. And yes, I will admit, I loathe the idea of new crowds being drawn to the City. The occasional lost tourist is fine; a horde of Stepney and Peckham discount shoppers pouring across the Thames in search of a bargain would drive me to early retirement.

So please, Mr Deputy City Surveyor, take your fine plans south of the river. We like the City the way it is.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008


I've been fascinated by the variety of reactions to last week's turbulence. Some of my colleagues have been stiff-lipped throughout, not displaying any sign of concern or relief whatever the news. Others are visibly nervous about their jobs. Only a handful have remembered to express their anxieties in terms of their clients' welfare rather than their own.

And we have managed to lose some of our clients considerable sums, leaping out of equities in the initial panic and then dithering too long before getting back in. The funds of funds have done rather better, and have lessened the blow in most portfolios. But still, every time my PA announces a client on the line requesting a valuation...

At least most of them are expecting the worst. In general they haven't been too shocked by our incompetence, dwarfed as it is by global market forces. And we haven't even had to manage their expectations - the media have done that for us.

The strangest reaction, though, came from one of our youngest equity analysts who claims he knew all about SocGen, as far back as Monday. A contact in the stricken bank itself, apparently. Now why would he claim a thing like that if it wasn't true? Attention-seeking? Not a smart tactic in these times. Delusion? More likely, I'd say. When asked why he said nothing about it he muttered something about no one believing him - which I suppose would be true. All the same... I don't believe him.

Thursday, 24 January 2008


I've been resisting writing anything during these tumultuous days. When everything is in flux it's difficult to resist making forecasts of one kind or another, even though one knows that the only reliable prediction is that events are bound to make a mockery of one's soothsayer efforts.

My first reaction to the share tumble at the beginning of the week was to think, 'Oh well, here it is at last. Now we can get on with a good market freefall and then pick ourselves up and nurse our bruises as we have done so many times before. Finally, the uncertainty is over.' But it seems that would have been a premature posting. The market has rallied, undaunted even by the astronomically appalling news from SocGen. So where do we go from here? Up? Down? Really, we are no better off in terms of understanding our fate than we were last year.

It's becoming quite frustrating, this hovering.

As for the SocGen rogue trader, the mind boggles. How could it happen? How is it investors seem so relaxed about this extraordinary development? €5 billion, lost by a low-ranking nobody. This modern world. I really am past understanding it.

Supposedly it can all be sorted out with a rights issue, and if not no doubt the French government will intervene a great deal more swiftly and effectively than our own in the case of Northern Rock. Nevertheless, it is staggering to see another major bank so critically wounded. I'm still getting used to the idea that Merrill Lynch and UBS - to private bankers, the great untouchables of our universe - should be forced by their subprime misfortunes to go cap in hand to the sovereign wealth funds. My ilk have tended in recent years to view the Chinese basically as newly-fattened prey, ripe for hunting - the same way we saw the Arabs for decades. The notion that Arab and East Asian governments now have a controlling hand in ivy league western banks is disconcerting to say the least.

So, no predictions. I for one have no idea what's going on. All I can truthfully say is it is indeed an interesting time to be a banker.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Resolution no. 010108

New Year's Resolutions.

I'm in favour, actually, and have even kept a few down the ages. I've made three this year, two of which are still goers. The association with Jan 1 is arguably rather childish, but they're useful arbitrary kicks to one's own backside.

I'm less enthusiastic about being subjected to other people's resolutions. So far this week I have received 23 group emails from colleagues informing me of their 2008 pledges. Someone started it with a trite missive about his new teetotalism (were we being invited to applaud or commiserate?), and this started a rash of follow-up emails, office-wide, documenting the abstentions, enforcements or reinstigations that have been sworn to this week.

Most sensible: "Never again trust the FSA"

Most optimistic: "Achieve double-digit growth for my clients' portfolios"

Most pessimistic: "Hold onto job until birthday (date unspecified)"

Most snide: "Remember to sense check analysis eminating (sic) from the equities team"

Most political: "Make more effort to share information with colleagues and look for opportunities to assist them when they are struggling"

Most bizarre: "Be more red than blue"

Most laughable: "Be kind, selfless, sensitive and soulful" (this is a private banker we're talking about)

And mine? Surely you don't care? I wouldn't.

Since you insist, they concern foie gras, treasury bonds, and being nice to my wife. The first two are yet to be tested.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Sign Off

A merry Christmas to all.

I'm off now, and with luck I won't be switching on a computer again until January. That is, assuming I have no urgent client demands from Dubai.

It's been a funny old year. I've enjoyed some of it. More, perhaps, than I would have expected at the beginning. And I've survived a little longer in this twitchy industry. Will there be a melt-down? Probably not, now. So I dare say I shall be at this game a few more years to come.

A few more office Christmas parties, that means. God. This year's was a particularly desperate one. Christmas, in my book, is a time for gentle merry-making with good friends and family - not ritual humiliation in the workplace. The sight of my younger colleagues drumming their bare chests and... But no, time to turn our thoughts to pleasanter things: crackling fires, good food, carols from King's.

Warm wishes to you all.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Last Resort

I don't know about you, but I can't help feeling slightly disappointed to see the ECB and Bank of England step in to rescue us all from our own stupidity. Same with the new guarantees for Northern Rock.

Obviously, it's good news for the markets, for clients, for those vanishing bonuses - I wouldn't have it any other way.

But one feels rather as a boy might on a school orienteering trip if, on getting lost, he was quickly recovered by a teacher who had been covertly trailing him against just such an eventuality. Yes, it is lovely to be warm and drinking cocoa again, but it does make one feel very small. Having problems? Here's 170 billion euros to sort it out.

Not very good for our collective backbone, that kind of fairy godmother intercession, is it?

Now lets all cross our fingers and ask Father Christmas to make those billions of cheap pounds and euros count.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Straw Poll

A good day. But will it last? Does anyone out there know what's going on?

Sometimes I'm tempted to move all of my clients' money into cash. Euros, probably. I think I may be too old for another prolonged teetering on the brink. Just too weary, too bored, too strained.

On the other hand, I had a drink this evening with a fund manager friend who is convinced this current uncertainty is going to make a lot of careers. Just choose the right way to jump when the cards tumble and you'll be lionised for years. Doesn't matter if all your subsequent decisions are mediocre. Your reputation will be made.

Which way to jump? Ah well, indeed. But perhaps it doesn't very much matter, so long as you jump with confidence and conviction - cleanly, and very visibly. If you get it wrong, well, lots of people will be in the same position. You lick your wounds, crawl around in humble pie for a while, and get on with it. But on the other hand, if you get it right! What glories await!

Strangely, I find that prospect less tempting than my fund manager friend. It grieves me that the appetite for glory has faded, but I fear it's undeniable. Is there a place for anyone in the City who doesn't have at least a hooded eye on the victor's laurel?

What do you think? Comments or emails please...

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

In case you're wondering, no we didn't get the pond lined with clay in time to capture all this wonderful rain.

Sod's law. Before we're ready for it, la deluge.

The pond would be half full by now, damn it.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

The Pond

Today was Pond Day.

Every island should have a pond. Correction, according to my children it should have a waterfall and full river system, but resources, dimensions and gradients only permitted a pond. This, in case you weren't reading over the summer, concerns my ecological "island" - the fields adjoining our house which I am converting into a wildlife sanctuary for migrating birds and anything else that finds the end result convivial.

We have had a digger booked for sometime, a friendly local builder who is busy doing serious things during the week, but kindly offered to come round and make a hole for us on his day off. One might have wished for better weather than the grey, wet gloom we've had today, but no matter. We only needed to shift earth, not lay concrete.

Of course it wasn't that easy. Access was the first problem. We thought we'd solved this by negotiating access through the neighbouring fields, but when the new metropolitan owner of the farm saw the machine we intended to drive over his delicate thistles and dandelions, he had a change of heart. He is most definitely not in my good books now. Luckily an alternative (if not entirely legal or direct) route was possible through a woodland, and so a full-blown eruption of tears was avoided in my littlest.

Then the machine got bogged down.

For some naive reason, I've always imagined diggers couldn't get bogged down. I don't know why I thought they weren't susceptible to the same terrain difficulties other vehicles experience, but now I have learnt my lesson. It took a good hour to wrestle it free, using every rock and branch we could find to give it some traction. Lunch was postponed. The extra hot tank was switched on in readiness for all the extra baths our exertions made necessary. But eventually the digger dug and the pond came into being, minus the water.

My youngest has never been muddier. Or, possibly, happier.

It's about fifteen feet across and six feet deep. Quite a hole. The next stage is to line it with clay and then let the autumn weather do its stuff. I can't say it looks very attractive at the moment, although my daughter apparently sees it as the very best kind of adventure playground. Still, I can easily imagine it filled with reeds, a couple of coots and a heron making good use of its nesting/hunting potential. I might even find a punt for it - something I can lie back in and listen to the cricket without interruption.

A pleasant dream for a wet November afternoon.

And now, finally, for lunch.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Volatile Times

It hasn't been a very pleasant couple of weeks in the City. Too much uncertainty, too much worry about credit and interest rates and where the next slap of volatility is going to come from. What this means for the private banker is endless telephone conversations with nervous clients who want to know if now is the time to be buying gold (no!), or getting out of dollar-denominated funds entirely (possibly), and by the way what is going on with Northern Rock?

We factor in a certain amount of stroking time to this job, but the past fortnight has allowed me little chance to do anything else. It's hard enough keeping up oneself with what is going on in China, or the US credit market, without having to relate it to others the next minute in a smoothly-glossed patina of reassuring professional expertise.

The trouble is, of course, none of us really know what's going on. Perhaps a couple of geniuses out there know whether the FT-SE 100 is settling into a gentle downward slide that will continue for the rest of the year, or can predict which will be the next bank to announce a £1.3 billion write-off. But most of us are just blindly stumbling from day to day trying to do the best we can with the deeply questionable information we receive.

Brighter clients have always known this; they accept it and stick with us for want of any better alternative. The danger in times like these is that the less bright clients will start to wise up to our fumbling, and in panic withdraw their portfolios and bury their heads in nice safe gold.

There's an interesting thing you learn about private banking after you've been doing it for a while. Really, it doesn't matter all that much how good your investment performance is, so long as you can persuade your client that it is better than the general market. This can be done even in contradiction of the hardest of facts. It is the skill that defines the good "farmer". It combines good expectation management with a certain amount of technically-impressive bullshit.

I suspect I shall be getting a lot of practice over the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

18th - Part 2

Another recollection from the weekend.

There came a point, around 1am, when all the young were in a state of some disarray dancing in the morning room (the only room the National Trust would allow to be used as a disco – and even then I bet there was a fair amount of tooth-sucking in NTHQ). At that point T and I and a few other oldies retired with glasses of brandy (good stuff, though I forgot to ask what it was) to the library. Our number included a couple of godfathers, T’s golfing partner, Sarah’s two favourite teachers, and a man called Suds (I believe) whose provenance was never clear to me.

Suds was rich. This much became quickly apparent. He made no allowance for the fact that the teachers were most likely on the breadline, instead launching – as soon as he discovered my profession – into a rambling monologue about the trials of great wealth. MiFID, the new financial services directive that has just come into force, was of particular concern to him. He spoke at great length about it, placing the rest of us in an awkward position: the teachers and godfathers, because they were alienated and bored by the subject; me, because it rapidly became clear that Suds had completely failed to understand the point of MiFID, and anything I said would only draw attention to his ignorance.

Inevitably, we reached the point where Suds leaned across to me, all confiding, and said, ‘Go on then, tell us. Where should we really be putting our money?’

I gave the usual non-committal spiel about spreading risk and bewaring property, but that wasn’t enough for Suds. ‘Just give us a stock,’ he demanded. ‘Something you have the inside track on.’

T embarked on a polite attempt to distract Suds, but he wasn’t to be drawn. ‘We deal mostly in funds, these days,’ I said. ‘Or funds of funds. I could give you the names of a couple of good managers, if you like.’

But Suds had written me off. ‘Bloody City lot. Always the same. Won’t let the rest of us near the golden eggs, eh?’

An unfortunate metaphor to use, given what happened to the goose, but there we are.

Later, as I was retiring to my (rather fine) room overlooking the herb garden, T accompanied me up that marvellous staircase and said, ‘Bloody Spud, always drinks too much.’

‘I thought his name was Suds,’ I said.

‘Is it? Oh, maybe it is,’ said T, leaving me rather puzzled.

Sarah, her hair flying wild, came scampering across the hall at that moment, pursued by a handsome young rogue with flapping bowtie and scarlet cummerbund. Luckily she didn’t notice us halfway up the stairs, so whatever spark of romantic thrill the moment held for her wasn’t spoilt by her daddy witnessing it. The amorous couple disappeared into what I believe was the billiard room. A number of ball-and-cue-related innuendoes came to mind but I managed to resist voicing them.

‘She’s had a good night, hasn’t she?’ said T.

‘Oh yes,’ said I, loyally. ‘The best.’

‘It makes it all worthwhile, you know.’

‘Yes,’ I said, thinking of my own. It really does.

Monday, 5 November 2007


I've been pondering a certain passage in my young friend's recent email with an uneasy heart: "PWM basically consists of babysitting rich, pampered individuals". He doesn't quite say it, but the implication is that we generally dislike, even loathe, our clients.

Is that true? It's been bothering me. Perhaps, in general, it is. Perhaps our dislike is all the stronger because we understand that we depend on them for our bread and butter. Albeit very good quality, handmade ciabatta bread and organic Belgian butter.

All the same, it can't be universally true or it wouldn't bother me.

I've spent the weekend as the guest of a client. He's no one special, not even particularly rich. A light industry entrepreneur who sold out too early and hasn't found anything else to make money in since. Somewhere around the £4m investable assets mark. Ah, you'll say, but he must have a big house as well, and in this market... Actually, no. He doesn't even own a house. So, yes, he's a wealthy man, but as HNWIs go my client T is a pretty small fish.

I consider T a real friend.

He's a curious fellow, though. For the fourteen years that he has been my client, T has had just one enduring ambition: to give his only daughter an 18th birthday to be proud of, in a house to leave her friends speechless. His ambition has never quite been matched by his wealth, yet nine years ago T came up with an ingenious plan.

He discovered that the National Trust is occasionally prepared to rent certain of its properties to individuals of good character. I found this rather surprising, and I imagine you will too. Nevertheless, he applied to rent a particular house in the west country - a fine pile with a magnificent marble staircase - and was granted a twenty-year lease. He and his family sold their four-bedroom rhododendron-infested Barratt home in Surrey and took up their new position as lord-and-family of the manor.

His explanation to me, when I first went to visit him: "Look at that staircase. When Sarah is 18 (she was 9 at the time), all her friends will be here to celebrate her birthday and she's going to come down that staircase in the most beautiful dress money can buy, and everyone is going to be swept away by her."

So you see, it was all about the staircase.

This weekend was Sarah's 18th birthday. I was honoured to be invited - one of the few oldies. But then as I say, T and I are good friends.

It transpired exactly as T had always planned. Sarah is not particularly beautiful (please let T never read this!), but on Saturday night, as she stood sweetly hesitant at the top of that marble flight of stairs, I swear my old heart leapt in concert with all the young bowtied blades around me as we gazed up in respectful adoration of the birthday girl.

She did look so very lovely.

Was that moment worth twenty years' National Trust rent and the prospect of no house at the end of it? Perhaps it was. I find it so difficult to judge the value of things these days. Real things, I mean. All I can say is, it was a very special fragment of my time on this earth.

And it was a hundred times' that for Sarah and her tearfully proud father.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Wise Young Advice

Thank you to everyone who has written to me at the hushmail account. I'm glad people are still reading with enjoyment.

I particularly liked this email, quoted here with the permission of the sender:

I just wanted to say "thank you" for writing your blog. I only discovered it recently but have been reading voraciously ever since. I like the way you write: it's a charming mix of wittiness, honesty, pith, and is at times very insightful.

Reading your blog has been quite an edifying experience for me, in a way. I'm at that age when you're supposed to go do an internship at a bank (quite a weight of expectation from friends and family) and I always assumed that I wouldn't actually mind this sort of career. I'd done those Easter mini internships at several of the big banks and consultancies and everything seemed rosy enough - I rather fancied giving PWM a go.

Reading your blog, however, it would seem to me that a career in PWM basically consists of babysitting rich, pampered individuals and attending to their every need. Furthermore, and I hope you don't mind me saying this, it seems that to be successful in this area, you not only need to be a rampant sychophant (at least outwardly) but that you are effectively a parasite, feeding off someone else's wealth, which is something that doesn't appeal to me.

I'm only 21 and have no real life experience on which to draw so I apologise for the naivity inherent in what I'm about to say, however, I can at least claim to be looking at the situation completely objectively - not having met you and not standing to benefit/lose from whatever you choose to do. I think you should quit your job.

My father was until recently Finance Director at ***- a well-paid, prestigious job. He hated it. He ended up having a nervous breakdown and - although he didn't feel he could afford to - he retired early. It was easily the best decision he's ever made. He's a lot happier now and in fact he's back working, doing something related, but you wouldn't believe the difference it's made to him, his health, and the enthusiasm with which he now goes through life.

Reading your posts, what immediately jumps out is how much you enjoy being with your family and kids. You seem like a very reasonable chap, who has got his priorities right. Money certainly isn't everything and I'm sure you could find something else to keep bread on the table. I hate using such a cliched expression but life is short - why waste time doing something you clearly don't enjoy when you have other options available to you?

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks again - please do continue writing - and best of luck in the future.

I will feel a little guilty if my young correspondent strikes private banking off his list of possible careers because of this blog - but only a little. Besides, two other young men have written to me to say I have inspired them to take up private banking, so I suppose there is some kind of grand cosmic balance at work.

Needless to say, I will think about quitting, as I do most days, but I expect I shall come to the usual gutless conclusion. Spots are jolly hard to change at my age.

Nevertheless, I appreciate the concern.

Friday, 19 October 2007

James the Hunter -- part two

My short time with James is over. I have given him the rest of the afternoon off.

To celebrate.

Somehow (and I'm not at all sure what strange Harrovian voodoo he employed), James has overnight acquired three clients of the first order. Two are investment bankers, young but already collecting exorbitant bonuses. The third is some kind of Lebanese social aristocrat with a passion for speedboat racing and polo, both of which it seems he can afford with enviable ease.

James has been coy about exactly what transpired in exactly which club last night. He has already acquired the private banker's taste for pantomime exaggerations of secrecy where his clients are concerned. "His clients"! I still can't get used to the idea. But it is true. He has contacted all three this morning, and after a certain amount of embarrassed but conspiratorial laughter about various (unrevealed) shared recollections he has ended up with faxed letters of agreement from all three.

I've actually found myself playing the role of his secretary for part of the morning. It has taken all my willpower not to ask exactly what form of words he used to ensnare his gold-plated prey. Undoubtedly they were clumsy and ingenuous: not words an older, established banker could make use of in his own hunting. But still - I am dying to know.

Perhaps it is just beginner's luck. Most probably it is. But who can say James isn't a demonically gifted hunter? Who can say he won't sustain it through a magnificent private banking career? I wish him all the luck in living up to his tremendous start.

And the best thing is he's extraordinarily grateful to me for suggesting last night's plan of action. He hasn't an inkling I meant it as a rather cruel joke.

A useful ally for my dotage, let's hope!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

James the Hunter

James has turned out to be more ambitious than I realised.

He has found a hundred different ways of asking me how to find new clients. How to be a hunter. I have, in my own small way, something of a hunter's reputation within the bank and James is keen to learn. He has already confessed, charmingly and blushingly, a certain scorn for the farmers amongst my colleagues. Ironic, given his choice of tertiary education, but when I alluded to this James rather determinedly missed the point. He does not want to be known as a farmer. He wants to go out and hunt. End of story.

I think I have already been a disappointment to him. He probably imagined I would be spending our days together leafing through Debrett's, or the Rich List, or perhaps the Monaco phone directory, and then pouncing with debonair telephonic eloquence on unsuspecting heiresses. Instead he has had to assist with an impossibly tedious client satisfaction survey (tedious to the clients that is; mortifying to me) and listen to endless phone calls I've needed to make to track down a payment that had gone astray.

This afternoon, he said, "I suppose, in your day one could just, like, go and have lunch with people, but there are so many private bankers now. No one with any serious wealth will even take my call once they find out I've only just started. I wouldn't take my call. I honestly can see myself actually with no clients, even in, like, a year's time."

Mildly irritated by the "in your day", I told him to stop moaning and go out and hunt if that's what he really wanted to do. "Go to Pangaea or Boujis, or wherever it is Prince Harry hangs out these days, and start signing up clients. Now. Tonight. Go right away."

It was a bit of a cruel thing to do. He went all bright-eyed and inspired on me. I nearly told him to forget it, but then I decided he probably needed a good night out, even if it does end in humiliation and banishment from a couple of fashionable nightspots. So off went little James to play with the Princes, his pinstripe suit laden with business cards. I can't help thinking of one of those fairy story children who goes off to fight giants armed only with a wooden spoon.

I shall start to feel guilty only if he doesn't turn up to work in the morning.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007


I am to be shadowed all week by a new boy. He is perfectly pleasant, if rather too chubby to be any credible shadow of mine. He doesn't quite roll over the arms of his chair, but he definitely gives the lift mechanism pause for thought whenever he chooses to activate it -- which he does, perhaps out of nerves, rather too regularly.

James (that is his real name, but then there are plenty of Jameses in private banking) is undoubtedly going to be successful in his chosen career. He has everything going for him. His mother is in some vague way aristocratic. His father has money. He himself was educated at Harrow -- something which he may be called upon to conceal, but only infrequently -- and then at Cirencester, where he didn't quite complete some kind of farming diploma. He is difficult to draw on the subject, and I suspect he may have harmlessly misled our recruitment team at some stage in the last few months. No matter. As I said, he is perfect for this job. He has the look of a man intelligent enough to add up but not so smart he might skim off your portfolio. His eyes are bright blue, his lips girlishly full, his voice a hesitant and friendly drawl.

He's going to be a nuisance to me, but less so than most of his City-bound peer group would be. There is no piercing intellect or naked ambition to trouble me in gentle James.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Friday Chatter

Overheard in the office kitchenette -

Back Office Girl 1: "Have you ever been to a strip club?"

Back Office Girl 2: "God, no. Have you?"

BOG 1: "Promise you won't tell anyone? Can you believe it, I had a private dance!"

BOG 2: "When? When??"

BOG 1: "Last night. Danny had a bunch of mates in town and I..." (breaks off abruptly as presence of your unworldly reporter noted)

AC: "Hello."

BOGs: "Hello..."

(AC leaves with cup of tea)

BOG 1: "Oh my God, how embarrassing....!"

Thursday, 27 September 2007

M's Prospective Girlfriend

M chose a restaurant in Islington. A good one.

As cover I took my PA, who found the whole escapade great fun. It's a terrible thing to say, but I realised I hadn't ever spoken to her in depth before. Over duck terrine and salmon risotto, she revealed all kinds of interesting things about herself and her aspirations, and I was thoroughly enjoying the conversation - to the extent that I forgot briefly why we were there. It turns out she has an ambition to become a concert pianist. Unlike to happen at this stage in life, I fear, but it's nice to think of that talent lying just beneath the surface.

Then M arrived, and my goodness, his girlfriend-to-be was an attractive young lady. They were led more or less straight past us, and M had to feign great interest in some colourful prints on the wall to avoid seeing me so early on in the proceedings. He wanted time for her to get settled before judgement commenced.

In due course he "noticed" me and came galloping over, red-faced, to act out his delight. I rose, introduced him to my PA, then in turn was introduced to the gf-to-be.

'How do you know M?' she immediately asked, and although we'd rehearsed this one I still found it remarkably difficult to reel off the line about family friends. I'm a terrible liar/actor. It didn't help that M was growing redder by the second.

We talked about this and that - the weather mostly, I fear, and a Gorky play at the National. Gf-to-be revealed very little, but did it charmingly and with buckets of respect for my advanced age. Her teeth were her great asset, glowing magnificently when she smiled. Which she did most of the time.

Somewhat blinded, I made my excuses and got back to dessert and tales of piano recitals in the suburbs. The bill, when it came, bore the grand total of NIL.

Three hours later, M rang me.

'Nothing to worry about,' I assured him. 'She's absolutely lovely.'

'She is, isn't she?' he said, gratitude flooding the line.

'She really is,' I affirmed.

And that's why there's no point telling him she's going to take him for a small fortune.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Saturday morning. The day looks like being overcast but pleasant. My youngest has demolished two bowls of weetabix and is alight with excitement at spending the morning "with Daddy on the island".

My wife is having a well-deserved lie-in. Mind you, if she is wise she will be bracing herself for whatever wildlife trophy is to be rushed into the bedroom in about an hour's time. Family bliss.

LL has donated all the fivers to Oxfam, including - and he made a point of saying this - the one he thinks was his. He spent most of yesterday, once he'd got over the initial embarrassment of his windfall, pretending he thought the matter had been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. 'I think I've made my point,' I overheard him say. Poor fellow.

He will recover in time, I'm sure. And now, enough thoughts of the office for this weekend. I'm going naturing.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Decorated Desk

LL isn't in yet, and he really should be because his desk is quite a sight.

After the stern reprimand on office humour yesterday, LL must have felt even more of an ass because he sent out another memo: I like a joke too, as you all know, but not when clients can hear. Lets try to be professional. The five pounds has still not been returned, so I hope whoever took it will have it back on my desk by tomorrow morning. It's between you and your conscience.

Well, it seems a lot of consciences have been pricked, because LL's desk is this morning covered in five-pound notes. I count 18, bluetacked to his monitor, his framed yacht photo, his intray, his mouse, even the little ball he kneads when stressed.

Needless to say, the entire office is on tenterhooks for his reaction.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Much mirth has been had at LL's expense, over the five-pound note business, and I regret to say he has not taken it well.

The last straw was the freshman colleague who, passing LL's desk, asked, 'Has that stolen cash turned up yet?' An innocent question you might think, even if the look of concern was somewhat insincere. LL did not take it as such. He happened to be on the phone to a client at the time, and considers the possibility that said client heard the quip too awful for words.

LL has now taken the case to senior management. The following memo has been issued: Jokes about theft in this bank will not be tolerated. This is a highly serious matter.

Of course it is.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

LL in the lift, a look of saintly suffering on his face.

'Going to lunch?' I said. You have to pretend you like your colleagues at least.

'Too busy,' he said grandly. 'Just grabbing a sandwich.'

I couldn't resist it. 'Need to borrow a fiver?'

'That's neither funny nor original,' he snapped.

Oh dear.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Breaking news!

My sweet, trust-fund-laden boy-client, M, wants me to meet his new woman. He thinks, for some reason, that I will be able to determine whether or not she's trustworthy.

An extraordinary assignment, but I'm to get a free lunch out of it, and that is always welcome. It's to be rather cloak-and-dagger so that she doesn't realize she's being inspected. "By chance" we shall happen to choose the same restaurant some time next week, and M will introduce her to me without revealing our professional relationship. A little small talk, and then I shall return to my dessert, opinion to be forwarded to M later in the day.

It adds spice to life, does it not?

Bank Theft

Here's a Monday morning nonsense to take your mind off Northern Rock.

LL has put out a memo demanding the immediate return of the five-pound note that (I quote) "was illegitimately removed by persons unknown over the weekend" from his desk.

Quite apart from the fact that LL earns well over 300K and should be a good few miles above this kind of schoolroom communique, does he honestly think the demand is going to have any effect? Suppose some light-fingered lad in the Middle Office actually did purloin his fiver - and I struggle to believe it - the last thing he's going to do on receipt of this stern bulletin is rush to expiate his grievous sin. Like the rest of the office, he'll be too busy laughing. This is a bank, for goodness sake! You can't go around accusing people of theft in a bank. That is, I mean to say, not on such a risible scale at least.

There is no love lost between LL and I, but I do feel sorry for him that he has made such an ass of himself so early on in the week.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

In to Lunch

I'm not a great one for standing on ceremony, but I do find the habit of eating lunch at one's desk quite repellant. It's not that I think everyone should be patronizing a reputable restaurant every day of the week. I choose to do so on a regular basis, but I'm also happy to procure a salad or a sandwich (if freshly made) and eat it in one of the lovely little enclosed gardens the City keeps hidden for its own. In rain or cold, there are plenty of indoor options for fast, cheap food. Yet still, so many of my beloved colleagues insist on dribbling crumbs into their keyboards and smearing mayonnaise over their mousepads.

It is barely past midday, and already one of my younger colleagues has set to on a carton of teriyaki, or laksa, or perhaps it is Thai red curry - some delight of the East anyway, emitting altogether far too many rampant odours. Fish sauce and lemongrass are fine in their place - but not this close to breakfast or, for that matter, to my desk.

It's all about face time I suppose. Bankers seem to believe the longer they are seen in the office, the higher their bonuses will be. Twenty minutes lost at lunchtime, to them, is wanton in the extreme. Never mind that they'll be doing nothing more useful than surfing the internet or completing a sudoku. Being seen is all that matters.

I'm going to lunch. I may be some time.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007


One of my more paranoid clients came by for a chat this morning.

Normally client paranoia concerns what business partners might be up to, or feckless children, or even what we bankers might be doing with all that hard-earned/inherited cash. This chap, unusually, was losing sleep over his love life.

M is a sweet boy - into jazz, golf and croquet. Has never done anything useful in life, but then has never done anything destructive either. A straightforward example of the British inheriting class.

And he's met a woman.

'That's great,' I said, wondering what he really wanted to talk about. Poor portfolio performance, presumably.

There was a pause.

'I hope so,' he said guardedly. 'I don't know. I'm not very experienced. Only had two... g-girlfriends before.'

He's 26, and perfectly good looking. Not particularly shy. The only reason he hasn't let himself go more freely with the fairer sex is paranoia. He's terrified of losing his inheritance to some fly-by-night Jezabel.

'What if she's just after child support?' he blurts out after I've failed to find an appropriate answer. 'Some girls are, aren't they? They do their research and find some rich idiot, then - bam!'

'But I thought you said she was a nice girl.'

'Oh, I really don't know anything about women.'

'Well...' I tried to think of a delicate way to put it. 'If you take it slowly... And make sure you use a condom...'

'There are ways round that,' he said, dismissively. 'You know what happened to Boris Becker.' (I didn't, but I looked it up later - how devilish) 'She might prick the condom with a needle. Or slit it with her nails... Or get me in such a... froth I say to hell with it and...'

M was very red-faced by this stage. It was painful to watch. Mind you, a mischievous part of my brain was wishing my secretary would walk in. Would have been priceless.

'I'm very fertile,' M added uncertainly. I didn't ask how he knew.

'Have you talked to your family about her?'

'No, of course not. I couldn't talk about this with them. Anyway, they want me to marry Elizabeth.'

'What exactly do you want from me?' I asked.

'Do you think I should trust her?'


'Oh God,' he moaned, pressing his face into his hands. I've never seen anyone look so miserable.

Perhaps he's gay and this is all semi-conscious evasion.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

A happy Sunday

My youngest has today conquered her fear of spiders.

Somehow this seems more important than anything just now. I'm sitting back with a gin and tonic, and the banking can go to hell. Summer is nearly over, we've barely seen any of it, but at least my little girl has broken the back of her phobia.

She has spent the day with me cataloguing the surprisingly plentiful wildlife in our little ecological island. There can be no greater joy than pottering with your offspring. She is going back to school tomorrow; I must face an angry Mancunian client in the aftermath of a back office cock-up. But both of us felt glorious all day long, gloomy weather and all.

She said to me, "Daddy, I've decided I'm going to pick up a spider today."

It was as simple as that. After years of bolting in fear at every 8-legged alien in bathtub or cupboard, she calmly went off in search of her nemesis and did the deed. God knows what courage it took. But her hand, when she presented the creature to me for inspection, was perfectly steady.

Brave, brilliant girl.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Private Banking for All

I have just been contacted by a young employee of a certain high street bank.

'Do you earn over £100,000 pounds?' was how this fresh-voiced child began.

'None of your business,' I said.

'Right, uh, yes, well, do you have £50,000 to invest?'

I like to be consistent in my responses, with a slight variation of tone to indicate a growing irritation.

'Oh, OK,' he said breathlessly. 'It's just that if you do, you may qualify for our Private Banking service. We provide an exclusive service to High Network (sic) Individuals such as your-' He broke off from his script, remembering I hadn't confirmed my membership of such a giddily wealthy community. 'Um, well, it's an exclusive service,' he tailed off.

'£50,000? That's your threshold?'

'Yes,' he said eagerly. 'Or something close to that, anyway.'

Now I'm well aware that not everyone has £50,000 savings. But millions do, in this country alone. Exclusive? What the hell do these high street banks think they're playing at?

Thursday, 23 August 2007

City Breeding

The City, as I’ve already observed, belongs to the young. It is also increasingly the preserve of the Etonian. I suppose this is just a return to the good old days, but it is striking how the barrow boys of the eighties and the classless nerds of the nineties are being replaced in the sandwich queues by the kind of children you would expect to see tumbling out of a King’s Road nightclub in the company of a girl named Allegra. The accents are getting podgier, the haircuts floppier. Why it is that the investment banks are turning once more to the upper classes, I don’t know, but as someone who has grown up more or less on the cusp of public schooldom I find it mildly distressing.

Mind you, their fathers probably own half the Home Counties. I should really strike up conversation with a few of them over roast beef & trimmings in Fuzzy’s Grub. A little sucking up to the younger generation never did a private banker any harm.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Everyone's in a foul mood in the office today. There is a general suspicion that someone on high isn't telling us something.

A band of foot-and-mouth now lies between here and home.

None of the clients I need to speak to are answering the phone. On holiday, of course. Abroad. Of course.

Dreadful bloody weather.

I am feeling distinctly subprime.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Mrs X on the Rampage

An extraordinary evening.

By chance, I worked late yesterday and so happened to be in the office at nine o'clock when my phone rang and a policeman asked to speak to me. He had been given my number by Mrs X.

It turned out that Mrs X had been celebrating her last evening in London with an old school friend, a celebration that involved several stiff drinks in Covent Garden. At some point, the school friend took her leave, and it was only after she had gone that Mrs X discovered she had lost her handbag. Whether it had been stolen, as she believed, or merely misplaced in a moment of tipsiness, couldn't be established. But the end result was not pretty.

It seems Mrs X has, when in her cups, a wild side of which I have thus far been entirely ignorant. The good lady is in her 70s, yet managed to launch a robust attack on the establishment in which she had passed the greater part of evening. When they dared to point out that a sizeable bill remained unpaid, she became positively Visigothian. The authorities were summoned, and I was named as her champion.

Needless to say, I hurried over to the establishment in question, to find Mrs X swaying contentedly in the corner, assuring the police officers that the bill need not be cause for concern. 'I have a fortune tucked away in Singapore, you know,' she was earnestly telling them when I arrived.

I was effusively greeted as "my precious bank manager". Then she was back on that Singapore fortune.

It took all of my considerable social dexterity to shut her up. I paid the bill, expressed our joint appreciation to the police and the various serving staff, and then hurried her out of there.

Dear Mrs X, sozzled as she was, couldn't remember at which hotel she was staying. I tried ringing a few likely candidates, but none of them recognized her name. Eventually, there was nothing for it but to check her in somewhere else. By the time we had cancelled her credit cards and found an express supermarket that could provide her with toothbrush, face cream and a couple of other items I won't mention, it was getting on for 11 o'clock.

I escorted her back to the hotel and bade her goodnight. 'What about a nightcap?' she cheerfully suggested.

I explained about last trains and hurried away, hoping the staff would be good enough to make sure she found her room.

This morning I was back there, first thing. Mrs X was having breakfast in the dining room, bolt upright, bright as anything. 'I don't know why you brought me here,' she chided gently. 'I'm staying at ---.'

Her handbag, I'm glad to say, turned up inside one of the shopping bags her schoolfriend carried off last night.

I suspect I shall have to charge the hotel and bar bills to our expense account. So it seems, despite her generosity in taking me to lunch, Mrs X. has done rather well out of the bank this week.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Cornish guilt

I have just been out to lunch with Mrs X, my Cornish widow. I should be more precise: I have just been taken out to lunch by Mrs X. This is not a normal state of affairs, as I tried to explain to her. It is for the banker to entertain the client. But Mrs X was having none of it. 'I'm the one with all the money, aren't I?' she said. I submitted that my bank - and its expense account - might be the wealthier party, but she dismissed that argument out of hand. 'I'd like to treat you!' she said.

This London visit had an air of the Grand Tour about it for Mrs X. She rarely comes to the capital, and she has planned a splendid programme of arts and cultural betterment. Lunching with her banker was an elemental part of the Grand Tour. I got the impression she would have wanted to do it even if there was nothing to discuss, simply for the joy of an old-fashioned formula.

In fact, there was something to discuss. 'I've been feeling guilty,' she confessed, 'about Singapore.' Mrs X, I might remind you, has a good deal of "undeclared" money in Singapore. 'It didn't feel so naughty when it was in Switzerland. I mean that's traditional, isn't it? Quite respectable. But Singapore feels almost illegal.'

I liked the "almost".

It is not a banker's place to spell out what he has already intimated - that holding undeclared offshore funds does not fall, by any interpretration, within the sphere of law-abiding behaviour for residents of the United Kingdom. So I passed over that gloriously naive concern and paid deserved compliments to the chef's work. Mrs X had chosen an extremely fashionable restaurant in the West End, against whose unconventional decor she looked quite lost at first, but which produced a marvellous St Emilion, and a pretty good steak tartare.

'I mean, I ought really to be paying tax, oughtn't I? For hospitals, and what-not.'

It pained me to see her persist in this destructive line, one which I could only pretend not to hear for so long. 'I assure you, you're in very good company,' I tried. 'Plenty of our clients have the same arrangement.'

'Oh!' she said. 'Good show.' She really did say that.

But although her sense of guilt had diminished with my intervention, it hadn't entirely disappeared. 'I suppose,' she ventured cautiously, 'all this money you're making for me tax-free... I could give some of it to charity?'

I think I might have flinched at that.

There really is some kind of virus going around.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Is anybody out there?

I do slightly wonder if anyone is reading this anymore. Anonymity is all very well, but one can't help craving a little reaction to one's musings.

Feedback, please, or I shall just continue droning on about island ecology and keep the juicy client stuff to myself.

If you don't want to add a comment, you can contact me at

Monday, 23 July 2007

Island addendum

It occurred to me belatedly that writing about creating "islands" in the UK this weekend might not have been entirely sensitive to our friends in the west country.

My apologies to anyone reading this with their lower limbs submerged in Severn water.

On the positive side, if your butterflies have had to flee in search of dry refuge, they are more than welcome in Sussex.

Island Weekend

Inspired by another piece about threatened butterflies in The Times this weekend, I made a start on the wildlife island sanctuary that will be my mental and moral salvation. My children and I set out bravely and steadfastly into the wilds of those abandoned six acres we intend to transform into Eden. I can't say in all honesty we achieved very much beyond consumption of marmalade sandwiches and other such Enid Blyton delights, but we did manage to survey the plot, and we now have a serviceable map of the fields.

There are fences to remove, ponds to dig, trees to plant and wildflowers to nurture. Lots of work, all of which I expect to be entirely therapeutic, even if the current expectations of my excitable children leave me somewhat exhausted this Monday morning. My youngest wants hedgehogs, my oldest deer. And my son, bless his uninherited genius, wants a fully self-sustaining ecosystem of carnivores, herbivores, parasites, saprophytes, and a dozen other biological components I had never heard of.

Any advice from people who know about this stuff will be most welcome.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Stage Angst

My clients have so many different anxieties about their money, but some are more peculiar than others.

D is an actor, middle-aged and British, who a few years ago went from penury to moderate affluence when he was given a part in a big-budget Hollywood movie. To be honest, I took him on in expectation of further parts with bigger paycheques, but he went around grandly telling people he was a stage actor and wasn't interested in mass market celluloid, and regrettably the studios took him at his word. He soon became one of those awkward clients who simply wasn't rich enough to justify the time I had to give him.

Until last year.

Bizarrely, he was approached, on the basis of his Hollywood role, to star in a rather saucy series of TV advertisements in a certain Latin American country. It seems the film has achieved a kind of cult status there, with his character especially adored. The remuneration was, shall we say, hefty, and his portfolio is now really quite respectable - and lucrative to the bank. Now, of course, he wants to spend a few million on a house and a yacht, perhaps some horses, and here we come to his particular problem.

No one in England knows about the Latin American advertisements.

D is revered, apparently, in the London theatre world. I've been to a couple of his plays, more out of duty than desire, but I couldn't tell you if he's as talented as they say. Nevertheless, he assures me that he will be the laughing stock of Shaftesbury Avenue if his peers learn he has sold out to a foreign clothing company. The Hollywood movie was accepted by all as an ironic gesture (whatever that means). The ads most definitely won't be.

So - how to explain the sudden riches?

D's whole persona is founded on the basis of lofty talent, not wealth. In public, he scorns luxury and makes a point of wearing shabby clothes and eating in substandard restaurants. It's a dreadful bore having to meet him for lunch in some faux-Napolitan dive. But now that he's rich he's suddenly seeing the attraction of the country manor and the roar of a premium marque car. He wants the good life he's never had, and is terrified he will be found out the moment he reaches out and takes it.

The solution, in his opinion, is to reverse engineer a spectacular portfolio, to explain how he's turned his modest Hollywood fee into such splendid riches. Investment genius is acceptable, if not admirable, in the Green Room. So this is how I am having to spend my afternoon: going back through the past few years and picking out the most extraordinary equity performers, the cleverest derivative plays, so that D can sit at his manor dinner table and airily explain to his thespian friends that it was all a matter of inspired investment.

Apparently he is rendered almost entirely naked in the final advertisement. I shall be scouring YouTube one of these days.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

The Philanthropist

Mr N has been pressing me for his philanthropy consultant. My delaying tactics have not worked. As a result, today I had a certain Dr D come in to see me.

Dr D spent an hour talking about sinking wells in Zambia, bringing justice to the oppressed in Uruguay, protecting widows in India from the contempt of their neighbours, and developing a vaccine for malaria. He managed to sound entirely saintly, and make me feel thoroughly unworthy.

I asked him about his fees.

They were outrageous.

Dr D is taking the piss.

I’m going to find some other way to satisfy Mr N's new-found altruistic urges. I’m damned if Dr D and his ilk will see a penny from the assets under my management.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Down with the Rich

We seem to be enjoying a resurgence of millionaire-bashing by the Labour Party, as they change their indistinguishable guard, and the feral media, incensed over this private equity nonsense. Presumably it will pass, as indignation in the face of the rich always seems to pass in this country, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let the opportunity to stick my oar in drift by unsnatched.

Let's be grossly simplistic here:

1. No one should pay more tax than they absolutely have to.

2. The rich are able to afford people like me to ensure they abide by 1, even if less well remunerated people do not.

3. This may seem grotesquely unfair, but it is neither a. illegal or b. immoral according to any intelligible natural order.

4. If you want to make the rich pay more tax, you need only persuade the (Socialist) politicians to change the tax code, a thing they are most unlikely to do given how fluid global capital is these days and how quickly it can vanish from an environment that develops hostile characteristics.

The truth is, objecting to the rich is about as productive an occupation as striking one's head repeatedly against a building one has taken a dislike to. Believe me - I've loathed enough of them in my time. And let us not forget that the richer they become, the more likely they are to hire plumbers to install jacuzzis, beauticians to paint their dogs' toenails, and astrologers to advise their children on the seating plans for their fourth birthday parties. It is a myth, these days at least, that the rich do not spend their money. Much as I would love them all to keep every penny locked away under my management, very few do.

And who knows? Your very own most hated billionaire may be about to donate half his net wealth to your favourite charity. It's happening more and more, it grieves me to say.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Private Equity

The grilling of Buffini et al in Parliament: delightful!

My clients have done very well out of private equity over the years, but one can't help enjoying this circus.

Future generations will look back on the current obsession with a cleaner's tax bill in utter bemusement. Since when did cleaners pay tax anyway? I thought they were all undeclared Somalis and Lithuanians. We should surely be commending the private equity crowd for their principled employment practices.

Monday, 18 June 2007

My Island

I’ve been musing on the question of a project to save my soul from financial corruption. My psychotherapist has berated me twice now for not doing anything positive on this front. Go travelling, she says. Learn Arabic. Anything, so long as it’s unrelated to banking or money.
And this is what I’ve come up with.

Adjacent to our house is a small patch of farmland, just six acres, which I bought years ago when the local farmer was in need of a new tractor and offered the land to me cheap. I’ve allowed him to continue using it as before and in return he’s kept our household in fresh lamb and eggs. A happy arrangement, which came to an end this year when he sold up and moved to Florida. The new owner of the farm has no interest in farming, and is busy turning his fields into a sterile parkland complete with non-indigenous deer and the most dreadful uplighting under every newly-installed mature oak. We loathe everything the man, a Norfolk property developer, is doing to our environs (although needless to say, I’ve already been round to enquire discreetly whether he is entirely satisfied with his current banking arrangements).

Anyway, the question is what to do with our six abandoned acres.

I read an article some time ago about the depletion of natural habitat for native British wildlife, and it occurred to me that our little scrap of land could prove a useful refuge for all those birds and hedgehogs and butterflies that are apparently finding the south-east of England an increasingly barren domicile. The theory is that if enough people provide “islands” of pesticide-free, undisturbed wilderness, then all those endangered species can survive even as Mr Prescott’s tarmac and concrete despoil what remains of their one-time home.

My younger daughter loves the idea. She’s six years old and adores anything small and cuddly (which she appears to think hedgehogs are). My son, who’s becoming a science freak at the tender age of thirteen, tells me it will help reduce climate change.

I might have to make a go of it.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Salad Days

Today I had a depressing encounter with a young man in the queue for my favourite salad bar.

The structure of the queue was rather chaotic, with people having to press through it to reach the pre-packed salads and the little pots of extra toppings, and it wasn’t always entirely clear who was where. Still, I was reasonably sure that this young man had been behind me in the queue, so when he pushed forward to the counter I told him so.

‘Excuse me?’ he said tersely.

‘I said, I think I was next.’

‘I don’t think so.’

By now one of the salad wallahs was hovering in front of us, waiting for an order.

‘Look, I don’t want to make a big thing about it,’ I said, ‘but you were behind me.’

He had closely cropped hair, thuggish shoulders, and a leather strap around his wrist. I was rather expecting him to swear at me, or in some other way deliver an attack that would allow me to enjoy the moral high ground even as I lost the battle. But instead he sighed and just said, ‘I’m sorry, I’d let you go ahead, but I’m just too busy. I have to get back to work.’

And with that he turned back to the salad wallah and snapped out a brisk, complicated order involving caramelized onions, pine nuts, roasted red peppers and a dozen other exotic ingredients.

What upset me more than the patronizing and withheld offer to give up his rightful place to me was the suggestion, blatant in his words, that he was busier than me. He had looked at this greying, middle-aged man and assumed I must hold some backwater job, entirely removed from the high-octane responsibilities he bore in corporate finance, or bond trading, or whatever. Because no banker of my age who’d really made it in the City would a. still be here b. be queuing for his own lunch, or c. use such feeble language. The worst of it is that he was right. Private banking is still a sleepy beat. Nothing is so urgent that we can’t take a few minutes longer in the salad queue. And that, of course, is why people like me can still hold on to our jobs. Our competence is not dependent on adrenalin.

It’s a disconcerting thing to walk through the City thinking these thoughts. You start to look around more than is good for you. You realize that of all the people around you, perhaps only one in a hundred is anywhere near your age. The streets of the City come to feel like a university town, where all the students have been given good haircuts, expensive clothes and bristling attitudes. And what does that make me? A don? One of those port-stained figures that the students laugh at behind their backs for their quaint old ways and deficient personal hygiene? A dinosaur, allowed to stay on to add colour and eccentricity to the scene until hard times make his dispatch to penurious early retirement unavoidable.

God, this is an unforgiving place.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Good Causes

My client, Mr N, is asking for a philanthropy consultant. He has decided he’s got too much money and wants to give a chunk of it away. This is one of those situations where the human and the banker in me are at severe odds. Of course it’s lovely that Mr N wants to help children in Africa, but every pound he sends them will be a penny less in fees each year. As he’s talking about ridding himself of 25 million quid, that will be 250,000 pounds of annual income lost on my watch. Not great for the bonus.

It’s all the fault of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. When someone goes and donates 37 billion dollars to a good cause, people the world over start wanting to do the same thing. Which isn’t helpful to those of us – parasites that we are – who depend on their fortunes for our living.

The thing that irritates me most is this new industry of “philanthropy consultants”. These are, by and large, former private bankers or management consultants, so we can be fairly sure they’re not out to save the world. They’ve cleverly identified a new market and they’re cashing in fast. But why on earth should Mr N need to pay someone to tell him how to distribute his largesse? What’s wrong with sending a cheque to Oxfam? Mine is the agent’s irrational grief at seeing the boss waste his money on agents.

I’m going to stall him as long as I can. Mr N leads a busy professional life: with any luck he’ll forget about this for a couple of months. And by then, all kinds of scandals may have rocked the charity world. He may yet be dissuaded.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Did I really make merry on the subject of divorce last week? I've just spent the most wonderful bank holiday with my family and am now feeling a twinge of mild remorse. My wife, whom I would never dream of divorcing, came with me for a long walk on Sunday, even though the forecast was horrendous. She fought her way through torrents of rain without the slightest murmur of complaint. By the time we got home, her skin was blue from the cold.

My God, I love that woman.

Thursday, 24 May 2007


I felt a shiver of vicarious pain at the news that the £48m award against John Charman has been upheld by the appeal court - not for the man himself, you understand, but for his banker. Many is the time I have watched assets disappear from my clients' portfolios just because they were foolish enough to be caught with the babysitter or (actually more common) riled by years of nagging into demanding divorce. While my clients would rage at the wickedness of women in general, I would be silently rueing the loss of management fees in particular, as I expect is Charman's banker today. £48 million could be worth over £500,000 a year to a private bank.

But perhaps we're coming at this the wrong way round. Perhaps we private bankers should accept and exploit the reality of the new English status quo - the recent rulings that make England the most "wife-friendly" divorce regime in Europe. After all, for every loser there is a winner, and there are a lot of ex-wives out there who are newly independently wealthy. 160,000 divorces a year: quite a few of those must involve significant lump sum pay-outs. Don't these women (or men in the odd case, I grant you) need the services of a reliable private banker?

It smacks a little of ambulance-chasing, but really we shouldn't be shy of this business. I dare say plenty of bankers have already contacted Heather Mills in hungry anticipation, and we ought to be following their example with less prominent windfall wives.

But then why stop there? How about actively generating new business through this channel? The method would be straightforward: identify those enormously wealthy men who have somehow resisted all advances to take up one's banking services, and invite their wives to a few soirees populated with handsome young gigolos. Sow a little discord in the marital nest, remind the husband that pre-nups hold no water in England and that the courts usually tend towards 50:50 divisions, then invite him to settle the matter amicably over a glass of cognac.

Have I gone too far? I feel the bank holiday looming, and I'm feeling irresponsible...

Thursday, 17 May 2007


My psychotherapist has decided the root of all my evil is money. I thought she was joking, but it seems not. My conscious and subconscious thoughts are apparently too steeped in the financial for me to live a healthy life.

She told me to change my profession.

I said I couldn’t afford to.

She said I had to learn money isn’t important.

I suggested in that case we could dispense with her sizeable invoices.

She told me to find something in life that was completely detached from money. She told me I need a project that will take my mind off pounds and dollars and euros for a few hours each week.

That way, she assures me, lies my salvation.