Sunday, 28 June 2009

Bussing the Bankers

Every decent high-school movie has to have a scene in a school bus.

The protagonist gets on the bus and he knows everyone. The cute girls are ogling at him whilst he walks past the usual selection of stereotypical schoolmates, the jock, the nerd, the wallflower etc etc.

Getting on the bus to work I recently felt like straight out of that movie. I have been getting on the same bus for a while and finally you realize, you have seen all of them before.

You know who is getting on where, who is leaving at which stop, who is going to work and who is dropping off their kids at school.

You also realize that some people are already at work when they get on the bus. They have their Blackberry out and type furiously, others approach the morning commute more leisurely.

Time passing is symbolized by kids who have been not reading recently are suddenly being quizzed by their mom over the spelling of "amazing". Occasionally, a woman starts showing a baby bump, others reappear from being gone on maternity leave.

The one thing that is different from all the high school movies, their is no chatting. It if like Ferris Bueller's Day off with the sound turned off. Because everybody provides their own soundtrack on their shiny MP3 players.

Which means everybody is in their own movie.

Let's hope everybody is enjoying it.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Smart Phone - Dumb User

Apparently, as I read recently in the press, this is the summer of smartphones.

So that's what it has come to. Our parents had the luck of living through summers of love in the 60s. On the flipside, they also had winters of discontent in the 70s, but at least it involved some kind of emotion.

Our generation, however, has summers of smartphones.

Don't get me wrong, I love my iPhone. It's fun to have a cool little computer in your pocket and I find myself surfing the web on it at home, despite the proximity of a proper computer that I could use to display webpages on a 17' screen rather than 3.5'.

Does it make my summer however? Surely not. In fact, I could well do without it. My old dumbphone the size of a brick was able to do phone calls just as well, and whilst I was recharging my batteries on holiday, it rarely ever needed to. My smartphone however, needs even more recharging than I do.

Admittedly, surfing the web on the go is a lovely thing. A confessed news-addict, I enjoy staying updated wherever I am. But there is a slight difference between information and knowledge. Being able to google something everywhere doesn't make me cleverer, it makes me better informed.

Whilst waiting to pick the family up at the airport the other week, I found myself stuck in a crowded Costa Coffee with just my phone and TheLondonPaper I had picked up on the way. After the usual Facebook shenanigans and a round of Trism and Scrabble each, I found myself reading the (rather-trashy-but-not-as-bad-as-London-Lite) paper and solving crossword puzzles.

The whole world is at my fingertips, and all I worry about is "verse-type, 6 letters, ending with T".

Maybe it's just me who isn't smart enough. I am afraid that once my phone finds out, it will leave me for somebody smarter.

After my contract runs out that is.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

When in June...

I'd be tempted to say "Shoot for the moon" but that would be dumb.

And cheap, for reasons to difficult to explain to most people, in particular those without a Bloomberg account.

But as a random observation, I realised that there is a clear seasonal cycle of blogging activity which seems to be peaking in June.

Which is right now. Maybe it's the long days resulting from a combination of, ahem, long days (summer solstice and all that) and early morning wake-up calls from the little man.

But if history will tell us anything, this will come to an end very quickly, so maybe:
When in July, let the ink run dry?

28 Gazillions Later

Since a career in banking is no longer guaranteed to make for glamourous living, it is time to branch out into entertainment. Here is my pitch for a movie project...
The movie starts with a pre-credit sequence showing a few well-groomed men in a high-rise office building in London. They stand in front of a Bloomberg terminal, applauding the launch of a new type of asset, one that is not shown to the audience.

Our unnamed hero is introduced as a successful, mid-level banker who has just been discharged from the Priory where he spent an unspecified period of time after suffering from burn-out.

Upon his return to work, he finds the City of London completely deserted, although it is rush hour. He manages to find local coffee vendor, Mr Frothy, who is hiding. Mr Frothy viciously attacks him until our protagonist manages to convince him that he does not pose a threat.

Frothy then reveals what has happened during his absence: Bankers created toxic assets which spread like wildfire across the financial markets. Once unleashed, anyone who came in contact with those assets directly - or with those who had been exposed to them - underwent a rapid transformation and became a mindless, raging lunatic. The first sign of infection was lack of consumer spending - to the extent those infected started bringing packed lunches to work. This was quickly followed by a descent into general man-slaughtering madness.

The Government reacted by quarantining the infected at Canary Wharf, turning it into a high-security area they labelled 'The Bad Bank'. But despite their efforts, there were more infected citizens still on the loose.

Our hero persuades Frothy to join him on a mission to Canary Wharf to get a better picture of the catastrophe that has befallen London.

There they discover the sinister truth behind the authorities' actions. The military had been trying to design toxic assets for decades, but the resourceful bankers succeeded first. Hence the bankers were being contained to bring the knowledge of those assets into the hand of the state.

Our protagonist is shocked by the plan to nationalise bankers in order to turn them into deadly government weapons, and decides to flee the country. Uninformed because of his recent 'holiday', he believes that the phenomenon is specific to the UK, and considers continental Europe a safe haven.

After being chased through London by hordes of raging bankers, our hero and Frothy make it to St Pancras, and collapse into their seats on the Eurostar.

Frothy, the trustworthy companion who has been serving the banking community for decades, unpacks a sandwich from home, and offers a bite to our hero with a smile on his face.
Published first on Here is the City Life on February 1st, the original can be found here.

Do you still Google?

Or do you already Bing?

Odds are: The former rather than the latter.

First things first: As far as I am concerned, Bing does not seem to lend itself naturally to being used as a verb. Binging the web, maybe? Web-binging? Doesn't roll of the tongue. But then again, when Google was chosen as a company name, being in the Oxford Dictionary was probably not on the top of the list of what the founders where after either.

In any case, the exciting news was the other day, that Bing has made it in at Number 2 in the list of most used search engines. While this is impressive, the small print revealed that in terms of search engine usage, there is Google, and then there is nothing for a VERY long time. Being Number 2 means that you have a market share of about 2%.

Nevertheless, exciting enough to test drive the new Bing on the Block. Rumour has it that its strength is the image search.

I did what every respectable tester would do and googled (sorry, binged) my name as search term. And voila, it came up with a picture of me and my son. Apart from the fact that I didn't like that in terms of privacy, it turned out to be my own fault since it happened to be a Facebook profile picture.

Nevertheless much closer to the truth than a picture of some red chilli peppers that Google came up with. Taken by a photographer who shares my name.

And indeed much better than Cuil which chooses not to know me at all. This very non-representative sample of one explains however why the latter seems to have already joined Altavista on the scrapyard of Search Engines.

Time will tell whether Microsoft has finally scored some points on the web. I guess there's only a factor of 40 in terms of market share to go.

For Rent: London

Yes, all of it.

Ah, those green shoots. People are seeing them everywhere they look. Optimism is on the rise and before we know it, we will all take out 95% LTV interest-only mortgages not worrying about such mundane things like repayments.

There is a saying that the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that the latter is better informed. And in another word of wisdom, a colleague once told me, about 3 or 4 years ago, that a sure-fire indicator of the economy heading for a recession is the number of cranes that are up in the City.

Well, a few years ago that number was very large indeed and last time I checked we were still in a recession, green shoots are not.

Also, since builders have been busy a few years ago there is now a copious amount of office space in the City. Unfortunately, that space becomes available at about the same time as firms in the Financial Sector are clearing the desks in the space that they have already available.

If the demand for hiring is a good proxy for the demand for office space, I would not expect those "For Rent" signs to come down anytime soon.

So maybe if we are optimistically looking for green shots, it is best to cast a blind eye on commercial real estate.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Obituary: The Bonus

It is with great sadness that we report the loss of a beloved friend who has been an inspiration to many of us. It was he who has been the incentive to work hard, and who has lifted us from mediocrity to excellence: the investment-banking bonus.

During his short existence the deceased touched the lives of hundreds of thousands in a remarkable fashion. Born into a world where 'leverage' was not deemed a swear word, he showed early signs of almost messianic leadership skills. When he spoke people listened, and his admirers craved his friendship and wanted to align themselves with him to form long-standing bonds.

Those close to him would not hesitate to testify how enriching his friendship was, and how it had elevated their lives to levels they could never have reached without his acquaintance.

However his life was not without controversy. Often his friendship was flighty. Those who relied too much on his alliance found themselves in a state of despair when they discovered that his favours had changed and that he had moved on to other partners.

Since people were aware of his volatile nature, they sometimes demanded written assurance of his loyalty, a practice which earned him huge criticism, in particular from those who could not secure this type of guarantee.

In the later stages of his life many of his friends were found to be involved in a global network of fraud, dodgy dealings and other misdemeanours. After the extent of these activities came to light, the late bonus was - maybe wrongly - singled out for his negative influence on the key decision makers at the heart of these aberrations.

Finding himself under intense scrutiny from media and politics, he finally succumbed to the pressure when he decided to end his colourful existence.

He is survived by his modest long-term partner, the base salary. He will be sorely missed.

First published on HereIsTheCity Life on the 4th March 2009.