Sunday, 24 April 2011
More dash than cash in the City of London - Part IV
(Above photo - old Roman walls in the City. As taken out of the window of the City of London Museum at the Barbican.)
I've previously written about my life in the City of London:
(also on the sidebar under "Tales of the Unexpected". You may like to catch up with those before reading on.)
I had hoped to write up each "tranche" (a special banking word for parts/sections of lending facilities) with all the different characters and flesh them out. Sadly I ain't got the time! As usual I am trying to do one billion things and I must press on. I'd also promised "The Other Side of Paris" that I would finish my City of London accounts...I like to try and keep my promises!
OK...so where was I? I think I'd left the story when I was undertaking my first 6 month stint in branch banking in Cheapside branch in domestic banking (with varying results). I managed to get through that experience then I was transferred over the road to the lending section for another six months.
This is going to be a whirlwind tour of the City so to speed things up....
In that lending stint/initiation two episodes stand out...
1. I was "interrogated" by the bank's internal police/audit section. "It wasn't me guv!" I almost exclaimed. (It's amazing when you get hauled in front of authority...you end up feeling guilty for something which you invariably didn't do.) Someone had stolen some money from the bank. From the inside. I'll talk about it generally so as to protect identities etc. They'd taken advantage of some flaws in the system to pay themselves a lot of money. This had been picked up by the bank's anti fraud systems. (Thinking about it...we were all obliged to take at least two consecutive weeks' holiday per annum as an anti-fraud measure.) The heavy sqaud moved in and took over the branch. Hence the interrogation. Obviously I came away with a clean bill of health. "They" - the guilty party - got banged up...got a custodial sentence. Ah well.........
2. We were also being taught to look at certain types of lending (for a variety of reasons). I was "on duty" on a lunch hour and less people were around to advise on me what to do. A certain gentleman came to the branch and wanted to withdraw some money. I asked the staff to send him over so I could ask a few questions of him. And I learned a valuable lesson that day...the importance of good manners. That gentleman was patient, answered all my questions and was extremely courteous. I had probably messed up his lunchtime but he showed no signs of wanting to throw his weight around. He realised I was a rookie and helped me with my learning task. It turned out (very quickly) that he owned half of Westminster! No credit issues after all. It turns out.
Right...I'll whisk you from Cheapside to the West End. Much bigger branch. Very busy...good mix of staff. Lots of shops to pop into. Also a risk of bombs as the IRA were still operating. Luckily none blew up near me. Not a great deal to tell you except we used to peer over the balcony at various "celebs" coming into the bank. One American with a very distinctive accent (TV personality) banked there. We gawped.
Next port of call: Great Tower St. in the City again. I started a six month stint in international banking...learning all about how to do business with other banks...I went to visit the Trade Finance Dept. (facilitating trade all over the world), Syndicated Finance (where huge chunks of money are lent out to big corporates and institutions), sterling clearing (the bank offered sterling clearing accounts to other banks - it has a branch of its own), international clearing (e.g. we go and spend travellers' cheques abroad...they have to come back and be processed and the funds credited to the bank abroad) and so on. I even managed to locate some extra debt (which the bank had overlooked) for an extremely indebted third world country. At the time I felt terribly proud of myself but looking back on it...I should have overlooked the dockets myself and saved some misery for the inhabitants of that country. Hopefully it all got written off in the end.
Where to next? Six months in the marketing dept. in another part of the City. The marketing bunch were very trendy. They analysed various things about the financial and institutional section of the bank. They were very funny and I enjoyed working with them. Their working hours were a bit mad though. Many was the time that I'd get back home at some ridiculous hour. Their jokes made up for it. Thankfully.
Where to next? I went back into the international banking section as I liked using my languages (Spanish, Italian and French). I was intrigued about all these banks abroad (which all had branches in the City of London). I was captivated by them. Soon I had my first real proper job where I was assigned to work alongside a Glaswegian manager who couldn't abide me. That feeling was mutual. The reason for this - is that I was about 30 years younger than him and he'd got used to working with a much older lady. Och! The stories I could tell. He used to drive me round the bend. He deserves a blog post all of his own. We used to cover Benelux, Southern Europe (France, Italy, Spain, Ireland (!), Greece, Portugal) and we used to travel to visit other banks abroad quite often.
I have to say that we travelled in relative luxury and stayed in some fantastic places. The Hotel Amigo in Brussels still sticks in my mind as does the Son Vida Hotel (v.good for golf) in Mallorca. The staff at other banks - our counterparts - was/were charming. We were showered with gifts, ate fabulous meals and saw some fabulous sights. Being taken to see the whole of Siena from the top of the reputedly oldest bank in the world of Monte Paschi di Siena was a particular highlight.
Rather stupidly I let the Glaswegian Manager get to me. Within a year or two I put in for a transfer back to my beloved marketing department. Within that time period the whole of the Corporate and Institutional Banking Division (CIBD) had been moved to some flash open plan office space in Holborn. We had moved to London's legal area. Aah! Dickens' country! I was in my element.
I worked in CIBD Marketing for a year analysing the CIBD sector. I travelled the UK interviewing corporate relationship managers (at least for a little while) before feeding their info back into an enormous top secret database. That was interesting.
I decided that I missed international banking (Correspondent Banking) so I moved to a French Bank, Credit Lyonnais, in London beside Liverpool St. Station. There were great personnel there. I travelled seeing banks again (selling sterling clearing accounts which was a bit bizarre as the bank was not flush in cash at all) in third class style (so be it) and I made a point of visiting nearly every foreign based bank in the City of London (and there were hundreds). I had to. I was dying of boredom. Getting out of the office was my salvation...I enjoyed walking around the City and learning more about its history...just by looking. Admittedly that three year posting was when I should have written my best selling novel...but my boss...did sit a metre or so away from me thus there was no hiding place.
After my three years were up I moved back to an offshoot of the Scottish bank. I decided that I had missed them. I now became a relationship manager (again), but this time, for sterling custody products to be sold to other banks. Custody products are all based on stocks and shares. London (as with most things financial) was expert (hmmm!) in settling stocks and shares. At that time it still had a Dickensian theme to it all...bits of paper flying around. It slowly became computerised. Sometimes there would be disputes about who owned which stocks and at what time. It ironed itself out. Ultimately.
That job was based in the heart of the City in Lombard Street in the bank's "old" head office building. I liked being there. I did not like my major client who was an overseas bank which had a huge office in London. My contact there was someone who liked to get things done by sending me e-mails every minute of the day IN CAPITAL LETTERS WHICH FELT LIKE HE WAS SHOUTING AT ME ALL THE TIME!!!! (In the end I learned to ignore him................) After six months with this offshoot (the Scottish bank one) it merged with an American Bank. We were merged with our counterparts (sotospeak) on the floor below the top one in Canary Wharf tower. Despite doing some further foreign travelling, for me the UK side of things represented polished floors, steel, expensive sandwich bars, copious wine bars and the like (at least 49 floors down below). It, very definitely,was not me. I missed being in the heart of the City (where all the history was...I adored wandering around the small squares, churches, Roman Walls et cetera) and I'd never meant to stay in banking longer than a couple of years. (My big plan had been to teach English in Spain.) Luckily I did not stay long enough to admire the views or the fire drill (apparently it took a couple of hours to walk down from the top)....I left the American bank in the Autumn of 2000 a full ten years after I had originally started my banking odyssey.
In those ten years I gained a wealth of experiences if not a wealth of money. I'd also gained an extra degree in Financial Services.
The Year 2000. A new millennium. I thought about it. I did not dither. I decided. Time for a change.....my new life in scuba diving in Egypt now beckoned!