Gradually the trees became fewer, smaller and less important. By the time the last fruit-bearing adult palm tree was cut, palms had long since ceased to be of economic significance — this was the end of Easter Island as explained by Jared Diamond, the scientist and author while highlighting a creeping normalcy in the region. The palm trees were essential to the island’s economy but they were ignorantly debased by the island’s people. Mark Twain once pointed out, history does not repeat itself but it does rhyme, and today the rhythm can be felt on a much bigger island kingdom with trees that scrape the skies.
So do you know what an investment bank really does? Many have preconceived and mostly misguided notions about the role of an investment bank in the society. Let me demystify this a little. Investment banks are central to the survival of a capitalist democratic sovereign state. Investment banks bring the money to where it is most needed, without which nothing can be done. Investment banks and other institutions with market access support industries that provide employment to tens of millions, and indirectly provide employment to millions.
They support projects that boost the economy and bolster the livelihood of almost every single human being on this blessed island. If you were an employee at HMV, like a friend of mine was, you’d be a direct beneficiary of the work we do. Some bankers burn the midnight oil almost everyday working on deals that raise enough capital or debt to fund rescue missions. Talk about a meaningful life! Intentions and motivations might not always be consistent, but the results we strive to achieve are always for a better future for all.
Let’s talk fruits. The financial services industry contributes almost 14 per cent of the national GDP, which roughly extends to 32 per cent if you include related and dependant businesses (UKTI). It generates roughly 200 billion GBP, directly or indirectly, for the UK economy. What about the taxpayer, you ask? The harvest from this concrete forest is a cool 63 billion GBP (PwC, 2012) in tax receipts not including income tax from the employees. This is roughly 12 per cent of the total tax receipts of the United Kingdom – which makes the 39 banks and funds used in the study, the single largest taxpayer entity in the United Kingdom. The top 14 per cent of the country contributes 60 per cent of the tax paid yearly to the UK coffers. More than half of the 14 per cent is from London or nearby, and almost the same number work for the financial services. Simply said, Financial Services sector is the largest individual contributor to the UK government finances. So who exactly is the taxpayer again?
Debt Capital Markets is somewhat of a savior of sunken ships. Everyone from various institutions across the globe go head to head in an intense soul-sucking battle for limited resources. It is a tough game and admittedly it gets a lot tougher in a bad economic climate. Working here will harden even the poet amongst us. We vehemently seek investors for our client, and if we can’t find one, we come up with innovative solutions like, say, a consortium. This has helped several high street companies or even saved them from going bust. But just when you start getting used to the company of your fellow soldiers in this bloody battle of minds and grit, someone gets terminated. My colleagues are being let go constantly due to pressures from the government and the burden on the company budget due to overregulation and a widespread pessimism in and about the industry. I feel lonely now, and less motivated than ever.
Apart from a thick-headed management to deal with on a day-to-day basis, we’ve now got some daft half-witted politicians and other public personalities to contend with as well. The banks have become a political scapegoat. This “big brother government” makes me feel like I work in Russia. The whiplashes we receive everyday from the press and some self-important know-it-alls (for example, the Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King, or the shoddy loud man at the local pub) are ill-founded and hurt the industry. The “scandals” you hear about aren’t really scandals — you cannot make up laws and punish people retrospectively.
Sometimes I wish we were more like the US with a smaller government. These “cuts” have left our bank bleeding. It has become more about votes than value. They have kicked off a trend of hatred and envy — a poison administered so slowly that it is invisible to the naked eye. Ideally, a capitalist fabric rewards hard work. Bankers earn a lot because they work incredibly hard in a critical industry.
Let me dispel some myths: Banking is open to all and is not exclusive. Most bankers are down to earth and have families they love just like you. My team is some of the nicest people you would ever meet. Our chief executive rides a Boris bike to work. We do not have a car park in our building, so all of us have to take public transport. Our jobs take a toll on our personal lives, but this is a choice we’ve made. We pay half of our earnings, maybe more, as tax for the benefit of the country. We constantly donate to charities. We are obligated by contract to volunteer in some of the poorest parts of the country for at least 3 workings days a year. I (the Joe Bloggs of Banking) have myself whitewashed a wall and helped built a playground in Newham. I had also helped raise 45,000 GBP for disabled children (some of which my own company had donated) and helped organise a dance concert for them. We have very simple and stable lives and struggle with daily inconveniences like everyone else.
If you feel banking is unjust or if you sympathise with the Occupy Wall Street protesters (who by the way know nothing about Investment Banking), I implore you to reconsider. I feel proud to be a part of Financial Services, but we are in bad shape. The insidious cousins across the pond are waiting to pounce on our cash cow and we don’t seem to care. Please give the banks the approval they deserve, for without people’s approval, nothing can survive. It makes me wonder if this has to do with the human flaw that makes us bite the hand that feeds, or if it’s just good ol’ blighty being ignorantly petulant?
This is a country that justifies rewarding the likes of Simon Cowell, with no complaints, while lambasting the hard-working professional. Seeing modern erections adjacent to pompous historic constructions across London feels symbolic of what Britain has become today — a conflicted country so full of potential, but unable to convince itself that the best days for the Empire haven’t passed but are yet to come. Please break the rhythm — water your trees and indulge in the fruits. Let your trees grow — they need your support to end this blasphemy. Maybe even appreciate our sleepless nights, if you are willing.
Prozac, as he’s known around these parts, is a long-time Gizmodo commenter, but also finds the time to work in investment banking; eat bacon, and spin pens on his fingers. The opinions expressed in this column do not reflect those of his employer’s.
Spiels From “Them Below” is our new series of columns written by “them below”; the thousands of readers who comment tirelessly, or tirelessly read, Gizmodo UK. Have you got something to lament? Extol? Ponder? Get in touch at kat.hannaford[at]futurenet.com, after reading the details here. Disclaimer: Spiels From “Them Below” doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinions of Gizmodo UK or its editors.