On dating an investment banker

 

UPFRONT:I ONCE DATED an investment banker. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all Carrie Bradshaw on you, so if you’re worried this will turn into a paean to past paramours, fear not. This column is not about sex: it’s about banking. And you don’t get much less sexy than that.

See, the way things have gone for bankers of late, I feel a bit like I stepped out with Satan. Which admittedly adds a little frisson to the whole affair, but let’s not run away with ourselves. A banker is a banker is a banker. And even the most high-flying, cash-raking multi-squillionaire banker can’t quite shake off the profession’s prosaic connotations.

This is part of what makes it so bizarre when bankers become the villains in our national consciousness: er, bankers? You’re telling me that those suit-dressing, briefcase-toting number pushers and money counters have brought about the destruction of life on the planet as we know it?

Apparently so. Who knew? Yet within the banking catch-all, there are grades of evil too, and though bankers are bad and currently the popular choice as The Ones That Got Us Into This Mess, investment bankers are truly the devil incarnate.

And how do we know this? As Deep Throat would say, follow the money. And this lot were raking it in. The designer suits! The Dom Perignon! The cocktails and clubs, and zipping about overpriced, blinging restaurants in expensive world capitals! The luxurious face products! (Note: this may not be common to all investment bankers, but this particular IB stocked some kick-ass moisturiser in his otherwise empty apartment. You know, the kind that’s hand-crushed from virgin sea algae and is valued at about €50 a squirt? Don’t get me started on the hair conditioner.) The point is, if money is the root of all evil, bankers were its boom-time shoots.

But boy did they ever pay for it. Take the aforementioned IB. His job, or more accurately his life, went thus: Wake up. Start Work. Don’t go to sleep again. Ever. I’m hardly even exaggerating here. Show me an investment banker and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t slept more than four hours in a row since he/she signed the first contract. And forget planning any kind of fun. The IB was forever forking out for pricey tickets to concerts, sporting events, even holidays, that were scuppered by work at the last minute. Though he may have been master of the universe, his life was at the whim of market forces, over which he lacked any semblance of control.

His eternal absence took its toll – I took it as a warning signal when I began to count his secretary among my closest correspondents – and we parted ways most amicably, if over the phone (I couldn’t pin him down to a face-to-face, what with the markets how they were). Free fancy face products can only go so far, after all, and I decided to call it a day. In my defence, I did so before the bottom fell out of the banking system and bankers the world over were suddenly out of favour, and long before the services of Dating A Banker Anonymous, a purported support group recently set up online for girlfriends of bankers coping with the downsizing of their bling-ed lives post-economic crash, were required.

But the truth is, the IB and his ilk were paid a stomach-curdling fortune to while away the best years of their lives at the beck and call of Mammon. Then they lost it all spectacularly, overnight, and ended up on Wanted posters all across town.

Last week I dined with a friend in a similarly high-stakes, big-bucks line of work, who told me he’d finally seen the light. It wasn’t the addiction to sleeping pills or the series of failed relationships that set the alarm bells ringing. Turns out what really made him wise up was the fact that his firm had a suicide task force, to identify anyone deemed to be on the brink and pluck him or her off important projects before disaster struck. As he pointed out, if your company feels there is a demand for a suicide task force, you have to wonder if you’re in the right line of work.

It’s a whole other world, this big money business, not just in terms of remuneration, but in terms of stress levels, working hours, red-eye flights across the world and high level, high stakes meetings strung out on nervous tension and copious cups of coffee. Is it any wonder the whole thing went belly up?

I’m well (OK, vaguely) aware of the difference between an investment banker, a bank clerk and the AIB chief executive, and I know that this column is kind of conflating the lot in an attempt to justify having bedded Beelzebub. And I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to get my hand on some of those spondulicks (and all of their face products). I’m just finding it hard to believe that bankers are the black-and-white bad guys. The dumb ones, maybe, for following the money in the first place, for selling sleep and youth for cash-in-hand and expensive face products designed to make it look like you didn’t. But getting your priorities wrong doesn’t necessarily make you the devil incarnate. So now we all hate the bankers, and rail at them for their greed and focus on money. Ahem, but isn’t it these traits in ourselves that has us all riled up about them in the first place? fionamccann@irishtimes.com