Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The sad death of the all-night banker

Many people have sought to make our flesh creep about the potentially disastrous consequences of extending the European working time directive. There will be no retained firefighters to extinguish the blaze if your house catches fire, and no properly trained surgeons to attend to your injuries if you leap from a window to escape the flames.

Hospital waiting lists will allegedly soar and – gasp – university marking may be seriously affected. But there is one bright spot; it will presumably also put paid to the City dealmakers’ practice of working through the night to complete transactions. Anyone who has ever been involved in a flotation, bid or deal will know that, for some strange reason, it is technically impossible to conclude it without paying for teams of bankers, lawyers and accountants to work until dawn finalising the documentation.

In the days when I was tangentially involved in these things, it was the younger members of staff who always drew the short straws. Senior bankers would indicate that they were there in spirit by leaving a jacket strategically draped over a chair while they quaffed champagne in restaurants with their mistresses, having assured their wives that they would yet again be working very late.

Those expensively lined coats (in the City, only potatoes wear jackets) probably earned more in a year than the average worker in a lifetime, as they continued to rack up charges to the client at the top bankers’ stratospheric hourly rates. My tailor knew immediately that I was in a relatively humble calling when I ordered a spare pair of trousers with my suits, rather than a couple of extra fee-earning coats.

I used to feel rather sorry for those bleary-eyed juniors as they staggered about the next morning, columns of figures still swimming before their eyes. Until I reflected that, at the end of their apprenticeships, they would be fully-fledged Masters of the Universe capable of buying a modest country estate with their annual bonus.

And now, tragically, it could all be doomed, presumably along with the tendency to keep Prime Ministerial speechwriters up all night refining major speeches for party conferences, G20 summits and other set piece occasions. Which makes two bright spots from an EU initiative. Surely this must be a record?

Keith Hann is a financial PR consultant and enthusiast for going home.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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