THINK LIKE A MAN WOMAN

January 2020  – “You know what we have to do, right?” My colleague Jack asked me, pulling his scarf tighter around his neck as a gust of icy wind rushed past us. I knew what was coming and braced for what would probably be a wild statement. “Nah, what’s that?” I asked anyway. “Grow a pair of knockers,” Jack replied. Now Jack was partial to a loose statement here or there but despite his crassness, I didn’t break stride as we walked back to the office in the bitterly cold, January air.

The infamous bonus and promotion week was upon us and the office gossip was rife. What would you get paid? Who was going to run your team? Would you even have a job by the end of the week? Colleagues cut anxious glances over the floor as they mulled over their futures, wondering whether enrolling their third kid in private school was a good idea. Jack was a relatively established middle manager on the floor and someone who I’d grown to like in my time at the firm. We shared a mutually beneficial and transparent relationship, but he wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Jack was old school and many of his ways were set as firmly as the chill in my bones as we took our rapidly cooling lunches back to the desk.

I rolled my eyes and responded, “C’mon Jack. You know it’s not that simple. Plus, that would just look weird with all your facial hair.” He flashed me a wry smirk as we stepped briskly across the pavement. “Look PB, I’ve been in this industry for a while and eventually you realise the difference between stuff that needs to be changed and pure politics. This agenda for women, it’s all politics.” His face twisted in scepticism. “Why do you say that?” I responded. “Because it’s clear they’re favouring Katie over me to run the team and we both know she can barely run a bath.” We crossed the road towards the office and I considered Jack’s tone; he was indignant, but I had to keep it real with him. “You know there’s things she’s exceptionally good at though Jack. You may be an excellent producer, but she can charm and work with clients in a way you can’t. She builds and manages teams better than you do and, no offence, she’s way easier to deal with than you are.” Jack shot me a sharp look as we approached the doors to the building. “So you do think she should get the job!?” I shrugged my shoulders as I embraced the warm, sweetly scented lobby air. “Not necessarily, but it isn’t as black and white as you’re making it out, Jack. She’s not just getting the job because she’s a woman, although it probably is a factor.” “And that’s what I have a problem with PB! It should just be the best person outright, why do I have to be a victim to the agenda? Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro the empowerment and progression of women blah blah blah, but not when they’re just outright not good enough and that goes for anyone.” Jack rounded off his point with the vim of a man who was convinced he was the authority on the subject.

As the lifts opened, Katie came gliding through the doors. The vim drained out of Jack and was quickly replaced by feigned delight to see the colleague he was slagging off not more than thirty seconds ago. “Hey Katie! You should’ve told me you were grabbing lunch; I would’ve joined you!” Katie responded with an equal amount of enthusiasm, keeping eye contact with Jack as she backed out the turnstiles, “Let’s do it tomorrow, Jack!” Jack watched her walk out into the lobby as the lift doors closed and he growled under his breath. “One thing I will give her though, she’s got an incredible set of legs…”

Today  – Men versus women, coochies versus cajonas, city boys versus hot girls, the list rages on to describe what is a fever pitch in the gender debate. Now if you haven’t noticed from my previous posts, I’m a young guy from the testosterone driven environment known as the Ends who now works in a richer testosterone and cocaine driven environment that is Banking. You might think this means I’ve become an arrogant misogynist who only identifies women by archaic and demeaning stereotypes. You’d be right to an extent; the only thing that frustrates me more than a woman with money is a woman who spends her money on a car and cuts across me without indicating only to do half the speed limit. In all seriousness though, women are doing better than ever and all power to them, so this this isn’t a debate on whether they deserve more opportunities in the workplace or life in general, its self-evident they do. However, it is interesting to compare the journey of males and females and see where the current climate of gender tension stems from.

As a child growing up, classical gender roles played a huge part in shaping how I viewed men and women in society. Despite attending an all-boys secondary school, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by women as a kid. I have all sisters and my Mum was ever present. From an early age I could tell the pressure and expectations were different for me and my siblings. Whilst we were all expected to academically achieve, there was infinitely more pressure on them to help with the upkeep of the house, look presentable, be on call when there were guests and as they grew older, prepare themselves to settle down. These pressures became something they had to juggle with their career and life goals and ultimately, they had to be willing to concede certain opportunities. As women strive for greater gender equality, this presents a problem for some men. I’ve often argued that men are becoming increasingly confused with their roles in modern day society. The rise of the third wave of feminism and woman who can “do it all” has meant that some men aren’t really sure what to do at all anymore. The typical roles and ideals that were formerly required by men: to be the leaders in society, to be breadwinners and providers for their families, to go out and be hyper successful amongst other things, are now being facilitated by women. Young men are seeing an increase of women in positions of authority and many men are disillusioned by this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting women shouldn’t get the opportunities they want in life, but it would be naïve not to acknowledge that this will have an impact on young men which needs to be addressed. Many of the ideals that men work towards are fundamentally set by women. In my generation, I knew that if I didn’t have a half decent income and could not protect what was mine, I was redundant as a man. They were simple values really, but I only really cared about them because women did. However, the result of women embodying the same values will ultimately lead to a generation of young men who will feel rejected by their female counterparts unless the ideals by which we measure young men are adjusted, lest we risk a generation of men with an identity crisis.

Here’s the thing that men get wrong as well though. When I started working in banking, I would often notice the resentment of men towards the powers some women held just by virtue of being a woman. It seems that sometimes women can bat their eyelids, wish things into existence and then go on a nine-month maternity leave. I was being genuine when I told Jack that Katie was way more charming than him, she seemed to get people round to her way of thinking in a way I’d never seen a man do in her position. She was eventually promoted to the job and Jack sulked for a month whilst he lambasted “quota filling promotions”. To some extent he had a point. Here was a guy who’d been the top producer in his team that had been run over by a candidate who hadn’t come anywhere near his numbers in her career, but she had managed to convince everyone she was the best person to build a better team and that was the crux of Jack’s problem. As men (especially men from the Ends) we can be too focused on the win, and reluctant to put aside our egos to focus on doing the right thing more broadly for the team or the greater good. It’s actually been a symptomatic issue of many of the biggest corporate and political failures throughout history. Many projects could have been salvaged if men had listened to people often more competent than them or taken less needless risks. However, the cost of appearing wrong or a weak leader is too distasteful for many of us to embrace. I’m not a fan of quota filling exercises but as is the case with all minority issues, if a seat can be filled with someone who owns a different set of ideas from the incumbent and can help drive new avenues of growth by focusing on other qualities aside from individual brilliance, then that’s something I can live with, even if they are less gifted on the surface.

Now back to feminism versus other social agendas. I generally feel that women’s rights fall under the broader spectrum of minority issues. I read ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg before writing this and many of the challenges she experienced as a woman in the workplace and life were very similar to mine. Imposter syndrome, selling yourself short and generally being profiled on stereotype (my case being a racial stereotype). The logic suggests that all these social issues be approached with a similar amount of energy to rectify them. The challenge here though, is that modern feminism feels quite different to me than other social justice causes. Women’s rights from the 1920’s all the way through to the 70’s were about fundamental human rights. Early stages of feminism were dominated by rich white women and mostly concerned the right to vote, own property and generally operate freely without the permission of a man. This morphed into a much broader movement (but still mostly excluded non-white and working-class women) ensuring increased social acceptance for women, like the rights to education, employment and independence, especially sexually. Now whilst the most recent wave of feminism has become more inclusive, the actual goal has become less clear. Most of the issues are more social and cultural than they are legal with less tangible measures of success. By what measure can you fix toxic masculinity? How do you solve the gender pay gap? These amongst other issues are complex, and often come with culturally ingrained matters so have no simple solutions. This in addition to the general anti-men rhetoric that comes from some corners of the feminist movement means that feminism in general has become the most fatigued of all social causes. Whilst there’s still a lot of work to do and injustices to address, most of the general population can only assimilate 2-3 big agendas at a time. The longer drawn out and more complex the agendas become, the less interest there is to address it.

To conclude, I want to bring it back to my community. I have never seen a more toxic environment amongst young men and women than I see today. The level of competition between young people in general is pretty damaging however, and the depth to how cynical men and women have become towards each other is just sad. Being a savage is celebrated, vulnerability is shunned, and softer qualities are discarded for fear of being taken advantage of. Men and women take petty shots at each other from the barriers they’ve built to protect their fragile egos and overwhelmed emotions. Yet turn on social media and you’ll find many people celebrating this new normal of painfully forced ideals masked as liberty.

The Poor Banker

WHAT’S FOR LUNCH FAM?

PB - The differences and impact of diet in different cultures

Sometime in the last five years“Is that a hot dog, PB? Christ, it’s only a Monday… A bit strong isn’t it?” I turned around to my manager whilst taking another huge bite of my lunch, gherkins spilling onto the desk, a tomato tinged, satisfied grin creeping across my chomping face. “I still don’t get this idea of a salad for lunch John.” I confessed, turning the tasty chunks of hot dog and onion in my mouth. They melted together in a fusion of orgasmic flavour and the smug look on my face grew wider. I looked at the wilted leaves hanging off the end of John’s fork before pressing. “Where’s the meat, where’s the excitement, the value for money? You’re still going to be hungry after that salad and I’m going to approach the rest of the day with the energy of a man who’s eating right.” John rolled his eyes as he poked at some baby tomatoes and spinach. I pressed further, “I got this hot dog and fries for less than that salad and fancy orange juice you bought, and I look way more satisfied than you do, no offence.” John looked like he was waiting for me to finish but I sensed the rebuttal coming and pre-empted it. “Before you say its unhealthy, I know that. Of course it is, BUT, where’s the fun in being healthy all the time? I exercise, I eat salad sometimes, it just has to be accompanied with actual food and not cost me £10,” I ploughed on. “Plus, I don’t get this hysteria about eating healthily on a Monday anyway.” John looked at me with the same exasperated look he had whenever he thought I was pushing a farfetched idea to clients. “PB, when you get to my age, you’ll realise your health and time are the only things you wish you could buy more of.” I looked at him and stopped chewing, noticing the seriousness in his tone and facial expression. “You’re talented, but if you really want to do well in this industry and in life you need to have more stamina then everyone else.” He took another mouthful of veggie goodness, his conviction stopping my chewing in its tracks. “You won’t get there lifting hot dogs and burgers just because you can.” Suddenly my lunch seemed less interesting, the orgasm of flavour subsiding as quickly as the smile characterising my youthful ignorance.

TodayI grew up on a hood diet. That means my lunches were chicken and chip boxes I paid for by hustling donuts in the school playground. This was normally washed down with a carton of Sunpride Tropical juice that we’d somehow managed to make fit into our blazer pockets. I didn’t even know what an avocado looked or tasted like until I started working and even then, my first thought was, “Why is this shit so expensive? I can buy a wings meal and an extra strip burger for the price of spreading this on toast.” To this day I still measure the price of a meal by what it can buy me at Morleys or PFC. I dealt with a lot of sideways comments from people in the office when I rocked up on a casual Tuesday with a burger and fries for no reason other than it was what I felt like eating. The contrast between my diet and others in the office are a testament to the differences in environments we grew up in. Here’s a small explanation of what I mean.

For most people in the office, the formula for their lunch for a week is simple. Start on Monday with a healthy lunch to undo the damage they’ve normally done over the weekend due to exuberant eating and drinking. Typically, this can mean a salad from Pret, Birley’s or some other establishment that charge between £6-10 for a decent salad with a drink. This continues until Wednesday, by which time I would’ve had a burger or two and possibly Deliveroo’d some KFC if I’m feeling kinky. The health freaks on the floor won’t even have a pasta by midweek and its only on Thursday and Friday where they MIGHT join me in the promised land for some artery clogging goodness. This behaviour is in addition to the increasing number of people on the floor who are vegetarian, vegan or on some designer diet that means they can only eat proper food whenever there’s a full moon or because they need to schmooze a client for some business. I can’t lie, when I first started working on the trading floor, I didn’t get it. I had genuinely never known salad to be anything but a supplementary piece on the side of an actual meal. To justify it as a full meal was a foreign concept to me. In fact, meals without meat seemed weird to me in general. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve been open to different dietary patterns and realised how destructive this can actually be.

Now you may think, “Well of course your diet is unhealthy, PB. Wtf?” It’s a fair point and this leads me to something I grapple with. Why do the ends as a community tend to have unhealthier diets than those from more privileged backgrounds? Why do we cook with so much oil? Why is the food so heavy? Black people specifically – our diets surely contribute to our increased risk of health issues. The NHS says that we are three times more likely to get Type 2 Diabetes than people of white European origin in the UK. Is it time for black people to start rethinking the way we eat and drink? This is one of those arguments that for some people is going to come across as, “Ahh PB, so you work with the white man now and you think you know better!” That narrative serves you well and good until cholesterol has you in a headlock and you’re struggling to go past one round with your girl. Seriously though, I’m not against celebrating food as part of cultural heritage, I enjoy it as much as anyone else who likes their food seasoned with more than a pinch of salt and pepper. But I do think we should try and make efforts in adopting healthier diets.

A wise man once said: “Black people go to the funerals of their relatives and celebrate their life by eating the same food that killed them.” What I noticed about white people at work was that they generally had a more selective palette than I did. So a salmon avocado on toast with some chili flakes was pretty expensive, but not something they’d blink twice about paying for because it’s quality food. Heaven forbid they be introduced to the £3 – £5 meals with special sauce at Peckham’s PFC chicken shop, they’d shun it regardless of how cheap it is. Again, this points to the differences in our upbringings. A lot of the people at work likely had a far better quality of food to pick and dine from whilst growing up. The differences between the quality at Ocado and Netto’s supermarket in developing tastes have an impact on the quality of food you are ready to accept, and so my colleagues are naturally happy to continue paying for that standard regardless of price. The other big difference is how we approach junk and fast food. When I was a young kid, KFC and McDonalds were birthday treats. It wasn’t a regular occurrence for me to get a bargain bucket and this was mostly due to the, “We have rice at home,” approach that a lot of black households adopt. The thing is, I liked that shit. It was tasty as fuck, as were the chicken boxes I used to get for lunch in secondary school and then the kebabs in uni after that. I said to myself that when I finally made money, I would buy it every day if I could, because the limitation for me was money, and once I start working and get the money, I could have whatever I wanted, right? I’ve had to do a lot of work to undo that mentality because not only is it destructive, it encourages the dangerous belief that unhealthy habits are fine to have as long as you can afford them. The dichotomy in what food appealed to myself and my colleagues and what we were willing to pay for this food continues to be fascinating.

Now for the disclaimer. I still easily have the worst diet amongst the people on my team, maybe even the floor. My discipline in terms of snacking and eating healthily for lunch are woeful. That’s not to say things aren’t improving. I’ve recently taken to packing my own lunches for the day (this is also after concluding I’m not going back to paying £10 a day for lunch after lockdown), and I’ve cut down a lot on junk food. But some old habits die hard and there are reasons for that. Firstly, its mainly due to the spaces I still occupy. If you chill in ends or with people from that community, the default food to eat is generally unhealthy, even the home cooked meals. That’s not to say I blame my Mum for instance, her generation came and cooked what they could afford and what they knew. But then I think of the food establishments in the ends ranging from a chicken or kebab shop to Subway – the choice of establishments that offer relatively healthy takeaway food are slim. It won’t be until the ends change their eating habits and demand better and healthier food that the supply of healthy and affordable food can be realised. Secondly, there’s a theme which runs through a lot of my articles of dealing with the ‘selling out’ stigma, and unfortunately it applies here too. Food is very personal to people especially minorities, it’s an expression of their identity in many ways and a piece of culture that the majority of people hold on to when they move to the UK. To suggest changing or moving on from that can be blasphemy in many circles, regardless of the intention behind it. This is something that will have to be addressed by my generation; there is nothing wrong with relevant change for the betterment of our community.

This is still an ongoing journey for me. I have at least two decades worth of eating habits to break and that won’t happen overnight. As I grow and become responsible for more people, concern for my long-term wellbeing and quality of life will begin to have a more profound impact on my eating choices. I can only hope the same change happens in my community and we can start to shed the pattern of detrimental dietary lifestyles.

The Poor Banker

DOES MONEY CHANGE YOUR POLITICS?

PB - The Politics of the urban vs corporate world

November 2019 – On the trading floor: “If Corbyn wins, I’m moving to my beach house in Spain. There’s no way I’m living here under his Labour Government. How is he going to pay for all these measures he wants to put in? I mean Jesus, who signed up for Communism…”

Also November 2019 – In the Barber Shop: “Nah man, mi cyan vote for Boris, Conservatives been killin’ us for years. Look pon Grenfell, look pon the disrespect of Windrush. As long as mi live mi ah go vote fi Labour…”

TodayThe narrative for this article is based on a simple question: “Do your politics change with your wealth?” The premise is straightforward; if you start life relatively poor yet manage to transcend your circumstances to become relatively wealthy, do your politics change? Do you suddenly become a staunch supporter of capitalism and fierce fiscal prudence once you understand how the economy works? Or does your newfound privilege oblige you to support politics that work more on uplifting the less fortunate. Growing up in relative poverty, everyone I knew was a Labour supporter. The ends voted Labour, regardless of who was running the party – the constituency I live in have voted Labour since I was born. Working in banking however, I’ve realised that the majority of the people I share the office with vote Conservative and regardless of how many times their leadership make perceived blunders, they’ll keep voting Tory lest they move to their beach houses in Spain. For someone who’s gone through the journey of both worlds, I often ask myself if my politics has changed, or more importantly, if my journey has changed me?

Growing up, I had a general indifference toward politics. I was raised in a Labour supporting, working class household and adopted the same attitude the ends had, which is that politicians generally don’t care about the ends and if they do, they’re in the Labour party. They’re the reason we had free school meals, a roof over our head and the opportunity to even be in the country earning money. Anything else meant you were a sell-out and that you supported people who didn’t want you around and considered you a stain on British purity. For a long time it meant I overlooked the reasons for hardship in my life; stuff like being robbed at knife point, being homeless, and losing peers to the graveyard or jail cell were things that happened in my world. A world separate from politics, one that couldn’t exist if politicians genuinely cared about running a country that accommodated for everyone. Because of this, I never really took the time to understand it. It was rarely discussed in school and to be frank, there was no immediate incentive especially when your main prerogative was to try and survive. The reality is, politics has everything to do with it. When I talk to people in my field about my background, you can see the visible discomfort it creates. No one really wants to believe these disparities live on their doorstep. This points to the ignorance of insidious bias that’s been established over centuries in the UK, which is shaped by politics in a big way.

Since I’ve started working in banking, politics has been part of my job. I follow it because I have to as political decisions can have vast implications on global markets. It has genuinely been enlightening to balance my newfound economic prowess with the circus that is politics. However, it more importantly means that I am able to discern between realistic economic policy and fallacy. This position has allowed me to realise that what on the surface might seem like a great deal to the general public will actually be more punitive in the long term rather than beneficial. Political campaigns are awash with sensationalist pledges and the problem is the majority of people (even those in finance) can’t work out whether they’re getting a good deal or not. If income tax is cut but VAT goes up, what’s my net benefit? If corporation tax goes down but duty on fuel goes up, does my small business still make money? Will the NHS really get another £350 million a week? No one genuinely knows anymore, yet politicians continue to use economic soundbites as the catalysts to push their campaigns. The problem is, a lot of it is just rhetoric and alienates as well as patronises the electorate. Labour of recent, though seeming to have the most decent humans of the main political parties, have been naïve on economic policy. The Tories, despite having been known to be prudent fiscal operators, have resorted to false claims on issues like Brexit. The lack of understanding the electorate generally has on public finances is a big reason voters are pushed into the safety of parties they feel more comfortable with.

Going back to my first point, I mentioned the narrative for this was going to be simple, “Do your politics change with your wealth?” Originally, I wanted to use this article to highlight examples of blind commitment to political groups. Some demographics, like the hood, or the privileged banker are married to their political parties, for better or worse. This is a problem, as a lazy politician will know that they do not need to work hard for your vote. The hood is at a bigger disadvantage here for the reasons I’ve stated; we’re politically uneducated so are less able to decipher what a feasible economic pledge is and so fall into holes of distrust for politics. I do exercise caution when claiming that most of the hood blindly give away their vote to Labour however, because the reality is, if another political party came along and told the top 1% in the country that they could preserve more of their wealth, bankers would lead the exodus of the Tory vote without flinching. Their political allegiances only run as deep as it makes their pockets. I was going to suggest that the hood should become more open to voting outside of the Labour party once they understand more intimately how the economy works and how what seems like a great deal today on paper, may not be in 5-10 years’ time. In theory as you grow in wealth and class you should aim to practice in politics that helps both sides of the wealth and class fence. However, after the events that have transpired this year and seeing three general elections in my working career, I’ve realised that I’d be a hypocrite to suggest any of the above. I still don’t vote, and I still don’t really understand how politics can work. The political system is too archaic, and as I’ve grown in life I understand more about the economy and how the world works as you naturally should. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe working class people should be supported or the social system should be scaled back though. I’m liberal on some views like drug use and prison reform but conservative on others like school and business. What party should I vote for? The Lib Dems went down with Clegg and independent MP’s are doomed from the start. Through the recent crisis, the Tories have shown the same disdain to minorities and public safety as they have since slavery and despite Labour’s continued supporting of the working-class demographic, I can’t just give them my vote by process of elimination. This leaves me in an even more confused position as a working man than it did when I was poor. Though my understanding of politics and the economy has improved, I become ever more disappointed by the whole thing despite my paradoxical efforts to boost political and economic awareness amongst my community.

I wish I could say there’s some redemption in this article but unfortunately there isn’t on this occasion! My apathy toward the political process doesn’t mean I don’t care about the country I live in or that I don’t care to shape my future or my community’s. It just means I don’t necessarily think it can be done effectively through the current political construct. Until such time that politics becomes less of a dick measuring popularity contest and more of a genuine exercise in transparency and inclusion, I won’t be participating.

The Poor Banker

POSTCODE WARS

PB - Gentrification

May 2008 – “Yo! What ends you man from!?” It was the question that had youths sweating like they just ran the marathon. It was a May afternoon and the stirrings of a ruckus betrayed the warm and pleasant air. I was at the religiously attended afterschool congregation for year tens – on the high street, kicking boisterously out of chicken shops and off-licences. Our shirts and laces untucked, and undone, and though our ties were carelessly knotted and sat loosely around our necks, they still managed to choke all rational judgement out of us. Giggs’ ‘Ard Bodied’ Mixtape blasted out of Sony Ericsson Walkman phones and aggressive chat made up the backdrop, as juice cartons and chicken bones were thrown nonchalantly to the kerb. We hurled thoughtless chat-up lines getting at the local schoolgirls and dismayed passers-by as they squeezed awkwardly through our groups blocking the pavements on their way home. It was the poisonous combination of adolescent bravado, smothered hopes and an uncaring recklessness unleashed on an undeserving public. That focus shifted however, when we heard the question.

I was stood at the door of the chicken shop, savouring my six wings meal lathered in burger sauce when I heard it. A vaguely familiar guy and a large group of boys were striding across the road to us with hostile intent. All of us tightened up, stopped what we were doing and looked over. Our smirks faded as Andy shouted back: “Ay, who are you cuz?! Man ain’t seen you round these sides before!” His arms outstretched, inviting the entire group for a confrontation. My senses tingled as Steven came out the corner shop next door. “What’s going on?” he asked. “Dunno, these man are on a hype, where’s Samuel?” I responded. “Still in the shop,” Steven replied absentmindedly, watching the scene unfold. My chances of enjoying my chicken and getting home unscathed were quickly fading. The group continued their approach across the road when the sheer number of them became clear. There were at least thirty hooded youths, fists balled, and faces twisted in anger. My boys dropped their bags and took their jackets off. It was clear that this was going one way, and I had to adhere to rule number one of all hood beef: Don’t Run.

I dropped my chicken box and made my way to the group with Steven. “Don’t worry about who we are, cuz. You’ll find out you can’t step to our block though!” Mr Vaguely Familiar exploded, reaching the pavement and approaching Andy. I suddenly recognised him; it was Mario. A few weeks ago, Steven and Samuel had ironed him out at our bus stop. Mario was from the block nearer the river and had taken a similar trajectory to most of my year group. Violently representing his hood, and carrying his postcode on his back like it would somehow protect him from the harsh realities he faced. Young men like Samuel, Steven and Andy lived and died by their ends. Now Mario was back to prove the same. Steven had recognised him as well, his face melting into repulsed fury. He stormed toward Mario, pushing through the group and past Andy, bellowing, “What you on then fam! You really wanna do this, yeah?!” But we never found out what Mario really wanted to do, for just as he turned to Steven, I heard a whistle by my ear. A blur flew perilously close to my head, and glass suddenly exploded on Mario. Samuel burst past me, set to throw yet another Supermalt bottle right before the pandemonium broke out. Blows were being thrown wildly, glass blasted off the floor, boys were flung to the pavement and into the road, and the sound of a bus shelter shattering echoed as a body slammed into it. The pedestrians close by desperately fled the chaos. Steven and Samuel were in the thick of it, swinging at anything in reach, eyes bulging as they roared at all on comers. Amidst the madness, a call broke through the battle like a foghorn, “AY, FEDS!” Police descended onto the scene with frightening speed and everyone began to scatter. Vans pulled onto the curb and officers flooded out, tackling youths to the ground as they rushed to evade the mayhem. Through the shouts of officers and youngers alike, Samuel called out to Steven: “Ay Steven! Take PB yard! Don’t stop for no one!” Steven grabbed my shoulder as we flew past lunging arms and down a backstreet toward my block. Fire tore through my lungs as we wound through the alleys and over fences but after a few minutes we had lost the officer on our tail.

“That was a madness,” I panted as we rounded the corner of my block and looked across the road to the new housing development. “Don’t worry about them man. Mario’s a wasteman, he could never violate the ends,” Steven responded typically. I nodded in agreement watching the last of the labourers file out of the construction site. The ghost of the recently flattened council block lingered and watched us as we approached my front door. “I still can’t believe they’re ripping down your block though… where they gonna move you?” I asked. The question seemed to pull him out of his rage and hit him harder than anyone did that afternoon. “I don’t even know still; it is what it is man… Can’t really do anything about it.” For the first time that afternoon, Steven looked defeated, his shoulders hunched, and chest deflated, carrying the weight of his postcode and the world on his young, unwary shoulders.

TodayThere is a huge piece of irony in this story, one that’s bothered me ever since my realisation of it that day. Young people, who will happily brawl in the street and risk their lives for the postcode they live in, won’t commit the same energy to preventing or limiting the negative impacts of gentrification. All this vim to rob someone that looks like you from a nearby postcode but nothing when the council are relocating you three zones away? Some young people take Postcode Wars to heart so much that it both saddens and baffles me that the same amount of enthusiasm isn’t put into lobbying local councils on allocating more resource into existing community schemes or helping build more local business. Maybe I’m naive and expect too much from young people who are perhaps ill equipped to tackle such broad challenges. However, having grown up on a now gentrified estate and currently work with the predominant consumers of gentrification in banking, it’s important to highlight that whilst youngers in the ends are cutting each other down over rep, developers and councils are profiting off displacing them. I’m not arguing that areas shouldn’t be redeveloped, but it can be done far more responsibly than how it is currently implemented.

Now young people in our communities, I’m not here to attack or lecture you, I’m genuinely just wondering why we can’t rep the ends like we should. The most common pushback we have when gentrification comes around is to hold steadfast in our homes and refuse to vacate, which often just delays the process as opposed to preventing it. Prevention needs to start way before that. Those from our communities that have managed to do well have a responsibility to give back to the areas and people they were raised by. “When I make it, I’m moving out the ends.” I get it, it’s not the greatest place to be and you want to do better, but how is that furthering your ends? What example are you setting for future generations? I believe repatriating wealth away from our community is more detrimental than an angry man with a knife in his hand. If you build a business and staff it with people from that community, they remain self-sufficient and become role models to younger people. It keeps the people in the community economically relevant and better able to thrive. They can afford to send their kids to better schools if they lack it in the immediate area and the cycle of education and wealth creation starts again. All this will mean that as opposed to growing up and wanting to be like their local drug dealer, young people will aspire to be like their local business owner who owns a few shops, or the pharmacist who’s friends with their parents and drives a nice car, or even the GP whose kids they’re friends with got the new Yeezy’s for their birthday.

I have lived in the same area in South London since I was born, the same kilometre radius for 28 years. I started off in a high-rise council block where the pissy lifts were always broken, then to an estate down the road when they knocked down the council block, and just recently I bought a new build flat across the road from my Mum’s place. There are now meat and wine boutiques on the same high road where you can still step out of a chicken shop and get fleeced for all your belongings. You can walk from my flat, where people are drinking champagne on the balcony, to my Mum’s estate where the bins are overflowing, and within thirty seconds you’ll find used condoms on the floor. It’s a succinct microcosm of the extreme distribution of wealth in London. So, the common question people at work ask me when we discuss gentrification is: “Would you rather your area remain a shithole forever?” Now of course I would prefer people had sex in their houses and not in the block hallways, but how much is it going to cost to ‘un-shithole’ my area, and who will suffer the most? The attitude from the corporate class with regards to displacing people is so blasé, it’s painful to listen to: “It’s no Clapham, still a bit ropey, but it’ll have to do on my budget.” Now whilst I realise there’s no personal responsibility for outsiders to develop struggling areas, it highlights the difference in reality between two groups of people who sometimes live within a one-minute walk from each other. The obligation of ensuring responsible redevelopment of an area sits with local authority and developers. For instance, there needs to be more done to ensure social housing quotas are met (which they aren’t), making sure local business continue to have cheap access to funding and continual improvement of communal facilities, giving the same access to facilities for kids living in social housing as provided to those in private housing.

All in all, like many topics at the intersection of corporate and social interest, there is no black or white answer to whether gentrification is a good or bad thing. It has meant that I can buy a house and live near my family – and to be honest, it always gets a nice reaction out of ladies when they come to visit. On the other hand, it has meant that people like Steven had to live with the uncertainty of whether he and his mum were going to make it in a situation where their livelihood was being flipped against their will. The price of redeveloping areas cannot be one which ultimately costs us another generation.

The Poor Banker

 

How are you…Really, How’s it Going??

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March 2020 – “I’m done bro, I’m spent,” a close friend from work said to me. “I hear you man; I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever been this tired or overworked…well, ever really.” The world had gone into shutdown and investment banks were kicked into overdrive. Global markets were collapsing, and clients desperately tried to get their portfolios in shape making work busier than ever. The atmosphere was thick with uncertainty and fatigue. Colleagues wore anxiety on their face like war paint and carried heavy set bags under their eyes after long gruelling days. Whispers of redundancies were floating around the building like fairy dust and hushed conversations over coffee in the kitchen corners spread unfounded rumours like a school playground.

It was the end of the day and we were taking the sombre stroll to the tube station having a familiar conversation of the corporate struggle and wondering if it was all worth it. “I don’t know if I can keep doing this man, I’m spent.” I muttered as I looked up at my mate. “Yo, should we go for a walk?” He proposed. “I need to grab some food anyway – might as well just catch up for a bit.” We took a detour from the tube station and just caught up. We spoke about work, home, life and our worries. We advised on each other’s problems and made suggestions on what we’d do differently, offering solutions and plans of action. We laughed as we recalled stories of lofty managers blowing their lids and pumped each other up by reminding ourselves of our wins of the week.

As we wrapped up our conversation and walked our separate ways, oblivious to the fact that we’d spent an hour shooting the shit, there was a renewed bounce in my step. I had a lighter feeling on my shoulders and the puff was put back in my chest. The conversation had somehow reconfirmed things were okay and re-instilled the sense I used to have; the sense that I could take on anything. I smiled as I pushed my earphones in and strolled into the evening, telling myself, “I’ve got this…”

Today – Being overworked, mentally drained and generally knackered is a toxic combination. It can cloud rational thought and cause you to doubt everything you’re doing whilst you mourn everything you’re not doing at the same time. Yet, that combination is the exact intersection of how I feel sometimes. Nothing hits harder or makes you more frustrated and anxious than the realisation that you’re exhausted from working five 13-hour days in a row and haven’t worked on your side hustle in a week. You tell yourself you’ll work on it through the weekend but you’re just as likely to wake up in the middle of a Saturday to texts from mates asking you ‘what the motive is’ that evening. And if the motive goes ahead, you’ll end up spending Sunday recovering. Sometimes, you’ll write the weekend off in its entirety, doing nothing apart from staying in bed and actively avoiding everyone. I have this conversation with countless people, where we’ll talk about how we get past these feelings, and how we manage to get everything done without burning out. I often wonder whether being born and raised in London pushed me to be hyper productive, not by choice but because there’s no alternative. You MUST do well here, or you’ll struggle. Other times I wonder (without being ungrateful) if being a Londoner is a curse. The city can consume and push you to dark places. It can turn people inward, hurried and ugly. Go anywhere north of the M25 and you’ll find people are different, friendlier, more welcoming, and less burdened by the exuberant traps of the big city. There isn’t any one answer, but if left unchecked, these feelings can fall into a dangerous spiral of overthinking and self-doubt causing physical and mental issues. I’ve found that there are two main things I can do that can both help deal with and put these feelings into perspective.

The first and most real thing I can push is to tell your employer (whether that be through someone or doing it yourself) if you feel overburdened or burnt out. I used to and still struggle with this, mainly because of my insecurities as a young, black man. It may sound irresponsible, but as a male in general, do you ever want to be the guy that didn’t have enough stamina to do the job? Do you really want to be the guy other people have to step up for because you’re at home chilling? Aside from that, being in the minority at the office or having something that you feel conscious about can magnify this in a big way. Whether it’s being black, or a woman, being pregnant or having a physical or mental condition; you’re already self-conscious about being in the building, and now you’re conscious about having to be out of it. Despite those being difficult feelings to deal with, it’s important to overcome them and prioritise your well-being before work. Now you may feel like that’s hollow advice and that you genuinely can’t take time off for fear of losing your job. If so, figure out a plan to sort it out by first addressing your manager and if needed, finding a more accommodating job / industry for you. Your long-term health and wellbeing shouldn’t be compromised for a pay cheque.

Before going into the second point there’s an important point to note. Growing up I had a typically narrow and toxic view about the struggle of people who had a different background to myself. “Ah, it’s not that deep,” I would say. “Them lot have got money though. Those guys are just soft.” I naively equated money to mental stability because I was broke and unstable. I made the struggle exclusive to myself and like most working-class people, tried my best to bury my frustrations where no one could find them. I didn’t understand that the challenge of keeping mentally strong can apply to the privileged, non-privileged and everyone in between. I work with and have friends who have money and have come from money, and some of them are fucked. Their ability to process stress and adversity at times seems non-existent, and as a result, they end up going through hell for what from the outside, seem like routine life issues. Despite their privilege, I sympathise with them as much as anyone else. Now in an ideal world, the stigma of mental health issues wouldn’t disproportionately affect the working class as it does the privileged. However, like the point of this blog, the idea is to begin to demystify untruths across different types of people to try and get on the same page of how to solve our issues.

That brings me nicely on to my second point and summary here. Communication. The simple act of talking to someone else about what you’re going through is priceless. Now I wouldn’t recommend you just spill your life story to the first person you meet at the bus stop, but friends, trusted colleagues and therapists can all provide really effective outlets to vent. For someone who’s fairly private (I run an anonymous blog!) who grew up harbouring a natural distrust of people, I can’t tell you how different my life has become as I’ve grown my network and shared frustrations with individuals of different backgrounds. You’ll be surprised how much you have in common with people, and fascinated by their different approaches and perspectives when dealing with things. I’ve learnt to never underestimate the sense of catharsis I feel when just talking to someone at the end of a long day, week, or on the odd occasion, when things are getting too much. Give it a try, you might find it helps more than you imagined.

The Poor Banker

DESIGNER POVERTY GANG

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October 2014– “Fam, you might as well just cop it, you’re on some joke ting.” “Bro, one sec man… I’m tryna figure out if this even makes sense.” I was looking at a finance agreement for the first time. A few months into my first job at an investment bank and I was ready to blow half my pay check on a car fresh off the show room floor. I was whole heartedly embracing my street ni**a dream of pulling up to every motive in the new plate whip and stealing someone’s girl. But even then, I still had the feeling I was making the wrong decision…

“What do you mean ‘make sense’ bro? The whip is mad, cuz! Did you not feel that test drive? This car is moving! Plus, you got the all leather interior and the colour is sick – you need to cop it still.” It was the finest sales pitch South London could offer. I felt the stares of both my overexcited bredrin and the actual sales manager, as I leafed through the document. I liked the car a lot, which was the main issue. I was on a crash course to spending a lot of money on it and I knew it… “All right”, I nodded to the sales manager. “I’ll take it, just let me know the final amount I have to pay per month.” “I’ll be right back!” The manager scuttled away with a grin, knowing the two youths who’d come to the show room had let their ego and hood dreams get the better of them. “Ay, do you think they’ll let you drive it away today? There’s a motive later we could pull up at.” My friend and I debated for a bit whilst the sales manager got the paperwork together.

As the sales guy walked back to the desk, his facial expression was not one I had anticipated. “I’m afraid the credit check didn’t come back as expected.” My boy and I looked at each other in shock before looking back at the manager. “So, what, I can’t buy it anymore?” I asked, my dream slipping away from me. “Absolutely you can,” the sales manager hastily replied. “It just means you’ll need to stretch your budget a bit more. We have alternative lenders that will happily take you on, but it does come at an extra cost though. I’ve already printed an updated quote here, have a look.” I grabbed the agreement and looked at the ‘updated’ numbers. My boy must have seen the look on my face because he leant in and had a look for himself. “What? An extra £90 a month, that’s light! You got that my guy.” I had a think before finally realising, that none of it made sense any longer; the numbers didn’t add up and I could barely justify it to begin with…

One Week Later– “Thanks again PB! We really appreciate you choosing us for your new car.” The sales manager looked through the open car window at me with a grin bigger than my bill. As he walked back inside the showroom, I started the car and set off, primarily ready to steal someone’s girl, but with the niggling thought that I was the one that had just been taken for a spin around the block…

Today– It took me three and a half years of paying off a car deal I knew I got shafted on to realise that I had to make some changes in my life. Now I’ve already used this platform to talk about financial security, so this is going to be a little different. This is going to be about an epidemic that’s sweeping through our communities. A condition that seizes the hearts and minds of millennials everywhere and threatens their very sanity. It’s called Designer Poverty. Now as a recovering individual of the condition, I’ll run you through the symptoms and how to spot victims of this affliction.

The first and major symptom is the victim’s willingness to subscribe to the mantra “image gang over everything”. Image gang are a select group of people who prioritise how they look and come across to the rest of the world over everything else. Image for some young people is more important than eating food; it’s more important than drinking water. Image gang is the essence of many young people’s lives and the thought of them getting anything less than 500 likes for an Instagram post preys on them endlessly. The problem with image gang is inherent in the name. The motivation of the movement is surface level, superficial and often expensive to fund. This has two main consequences. The first is that they perpetuate poor ideas about what it means to do well, be successful and live a happy life by suggesting: “If you don’t look and come across a certain way, you’re done out here.” The second is that it means that young people make poor financial decisions trying to chase the next trend, piece of clothing, car or piece of jewellery, and because fads are ever changing, young people continue making the same bad decisions. It ruins personal credit and produces a real headwind against building wealth.

Another symptom of Designer Poverty is how stubbornly resistant it is to basic, common sense. This is recognisable in the pattern of behaviour I described in my story. Everything pointed toward the purchase of the car being a bad decision. I knew I could live without it, and I knew I needed to save for my own place; I also knew that it was too expensive, but by some miracle, I managed to cook up an argument against all of that. What’s probably more frustrating is that this resistance to common sense is now justified by many young people as “living your best life”, “yolo”, and “fuck it bro”. It’s now a celebrated cocktail of short-termism, a lack of regard for consequences and an aggressive pursuit of recognition. This pattern of behaviour is key in being able to rationalise a Designer Poverty lifestyle to one’s self when fundamentally it makes little sense.

One last big issue with Designer Poverty is how it often feels like it specifically targets the black community. It feels a shame to say it, but urban culture, despite its huge contemporary success can at times be quite toxic. The level of competition between young, black people (specifically males) is something I have never witnessed with any other race. The willingness to outdo your peers at seemingly whatever cost has surely contributed to some of the crime we see in urban communities. Designer Poverty feeds into this struggle, young men buying jewels as big as their fists to take back to their mum’s council flats. I see black youths spending a third of their income on clothes just to wear their new clothes to the shops. This partly comes from the fact that the majority of the public figures and role models for young, black people are in sports and entertainment, which are inherently flashy, image driven and all about the shine.

Now we all know prevention is better than remediation and being a recovering sufferer myself, I feel I’m well placed to advise on how I eventually found myself in a better place. Whilst finance certainly has its considerable share of big, ostentatious bankers who are all about the image and up to their eyeballs in the facade, it’s the place I learnt about how money and life works. I realised quickly that if I really wanted a comfortable life, I needed to adopt better money management. The second thing I had to do was stop trying to please myself and everyone else in the present in order to get my life right for the future. I deleted most of my social media accounts, withdrew into myself a bit and took a long, retrospective look at what I was prioritising. I realised that many of my decisions had been based on wanting immediate gratification based on mostly external factors as opposed to my spending habits being a healthy mix of stuff I was both genuinely into and able to afford. There was also a huge sense of freedom I got from not chasing trends; I was able to take life at my own pace and be my own genuine person without feeling I had to catch up to others or look like the next rich, black guy – I attained some semblance of peace by living a low key life.

On the whole, going through my Designer Poverty phase was necessary for me to realise that whilst external validation feels nice in the moment, self-validation and taking life at my own pace is far more enjoyable in the long run.

The Poor Banker

These Millennials SMH… They’ve Got No Class!

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August 2019 – “Come on bro, just pick some trousers. We’ve been shopping for time and I’m starving.” It was a sweltering summer’s afternoon in London and I was out with my mate Andy who was looking for some new work attire. However, in the seven years I’d known the guy, he’d never so much as picked up a pair of socks without turning it into a bargain hunt. “Fam, should I suck (steal) this handkerchief?” The guy had picked up a fine, royal blue pocket square patterned with white polka dots, he ran it through his fingers, looking up at me. I paused before responding in an exasperated tone. “Fam, you’re a big man to be stealing pocket squares… We’re not at uni anymore.” I thought I’d shamed him out of it as he placed it back on the rack before I heard him mumble, “Mans coming back for that you know…”

We continued to roam around the men’s section before an attentive assistant came over, probably noticing what looked like two clueless youths. “Can I help you gents with anything?” Andy launched into his usual ramble about how his weird proportions and tight budget meant that he wasn’t much impressed by what was on offer. I wandered around idly as the familiar and inevitable remarks of “I’m afraid those are the only sizes we have,” and, “TM Lewin do these thirty quid cheaper though,” floated over to me. I wandered back around to the pair as they were mid-debate. Andy was holding a pair of trousers, seemingly not happy about the length. “Don’t you have any shorter than these?” he complained. “I’ll check again in the back but I’m sure that we don’t sir.” Before Andy could respond, I interjected. “Why don’t you just buy these and get them hemmed?” There was a pause before a confused Andy replied, “Get them what? What’s that fam?” “Hemmed bro,” I said. “Take them to the tailor or dry cleaners and get them cut.” Andy looked at me with a combination of confusion and annoyance. “Fam, what’s all this hem talk… You’re fully middle class now. I ain’t got pees (money) for that shit.” I laughed before suddenly getting defensive, “Fam, who’s middle class. It’s only an extra thirty or so quid and you haven’t found what you’re looking for anyway.” He replied, “Yeah, I ain’t got an extra thirty quid still… lets bounce.” Andy gave up on his quest and we left the sales assistant bewildered.

As we made our way out of the store, Andy’s comment about me being middle class played on my mind. I turned to him and asked, “Fam, do you actually think I’m middle class?” We had come by the pocket squares again as he nodded back to me, “Yeah, definitely man.” He reached back for the pocket square from earlier and deftly slipped it into his jacket. “Man said hem you know, you’ve fully left the hood my bro.”

Today – I spent a lot of time wondering how I felt about Andy’s statement about me being middle class. It caught me off guard because honestly, I hadn’t thought much of my social class for years. It was always apparent to me that I was a working-class guy that came from a working-class background. However, as I started to talk to more people about the subject it became clear that somewhere in the last few years, I had indeed begun to transition away from my working-class roots, and into spheres I was previously unfamiliar with. The lines for what denote class are extremely blurry though: income, race, background, education, current hobbies and social circles all contribute to your social class and a sudden change in one, if possible, does not guarantee social mobility. After having a think about it I decided my thoughts were as follows.

First, I’ve accepted that I’m no longer a poor, working-class lad off the block. I’m not down to my last pack of Indomie, living off Tesco’s meals deals or filling up my car tank with £3 worth of petrol. I, by most standards, live a fairly comfortable life. I’m a London home owner with a good salary, healthy savings and an investment portfolio to boot (for inspirational purposes only). It would be disrespectful to those genuinely struggling to claim I’m still struggling. Plus, it would completely discredit the effort I’ve put in to change my circumstances in life. After all, I’m proud to say I’ve done okay in life so far. Having said this, for there to be a more permanent shift in social standing, the wealth I create in my lifetime would have to continue down through any kids that I have. In many cases, the wealth that is attained in one generation can often be mismanaged by the next. The creation of a legacy that is fiscally comfortable as well as financially literate is paramount in furthering consequent social mobility.

Secondly, aside from doing well financially, “climbing the social ladder” often means furthering and developing your taste of what you do in your spare time in addition to the company you keep. The two are inherently linked, as you typically keep company with people who share similar interests to you, but it’s interesting to see how that does or doesn’t change as your income increases. If you grew up working-class like I did, there normally comes a juncture where as your income increases and you subsequently meet new people, you have to decide whether you actually enjoy or want to take part in some of the new shit you’re being introduced to. For example, I’ve had several people who I work with suggest we take part in activities I’ve never experienced before, like the opera, skiing, playing golf and doing cocaine. Now it’s not that I’m against trying new things, but most of the time I can tell you when something is not for me. This is the aspect of social mobility I struggle with the most because the truth is, I couldn’t be less concerned with it. For me personally, barring a few special cases at uni, I’ve managed to keep pretty much the same set of friends since I was a kid and although we’ve all done well for ourselves, we still mostly spend our time eating a disproportionate amount of fried chicken and playing FIFA. I don’t particularly have the urge to play golf or croquet with colleagues from work, nor do I want to spend excessive amounts of money skiing or at the opera. Yes, it dents my chances at easier social mobility and yes it probably hurts my chances with things like promotions but I’d be lying if I said I felt otherwise. The important part for me however, is at least identifying why I feel this way.

This brings me on to my third point and the core of this whole discussion. I (and many others like myself) still grapple with the idea that I have moved on from being working-class. Growing up in a council estate in South London, you often become rooted in your status as the underdog and find both a salvation and great power in it. Let’s face it, if you’re already stuck in a shit hole it can’t get much worse, right? There’s no greater motivation than having nothing to lose. Any progression becomes your own enemy as you climb a steeper hill with a bigger fall back into the trenches you just clawed your way out of. This fear of acknowledging any progression along with a highly misplaced sense of bogus loyalty to the ‘endz’ means that whilst those who grew up in a council estate may physically be able to leave its boundaries, many may find it hard to mentally accept they’ve outgrown it. Being labelled a sell out or as Andy put it, “leaving the endz”, often comes with negative connotations and can be a sensitive topic for young men from the ‘hood’. I’ve often had cases where people I grew up with have claimed, “ah, you changed”, “we don’t see you anymore”, “ah, you’re acting white”. It can make you question who you are and who you’re becoming. I’ve found myself being able to shrug these comments off easier as the progress in my life starts to become more visible and serves to inspire more than intimidate. It’s easier to laugh off a man saying you’ve changed when you’ve just booked your mum her third holiday of the year.

All in all, I’ve learned to accept becoming middle class. Despite most of it being new territory, I’ve learned to embrace it as part of my journey. Social mobility has taught me a lot of things and introduced me to people that have changed my life for the better. Just don’t expect me to being doing cocaine in a toilet in the Opera any time soon…

The Poor Banker

Is Uni worth the Debt??

October 2013

October 2013– It was lunch time at Uni and a friend and I were sat in the campus canteen. The final year had come around and we were basking in our usual student finance riches that arrived at the start of term. It meant that we could enjoy actual canteen food rather than the usual meal deals from the campus shop. There was just one problem though: the dreaded, final year dissertation.

“Levels, this disso is long… You think I’ve got a clue how to do this?” I wrapped stir fry and beef around my fork as my friend chuckled. “You know our literature review is due in a week, right?” he asked me. The pit of my stomach rumbled with anxiety. The truth was, I didn’t know where to start. I had been handed a dissertation at random after being rejected for most of the ones I applied for. I was to work on a dissertation with material I’d never covered before, had no idea how to tackle and with a supervisor who told me in our first meeting: “I don’t typically deal with undergrads, I don’t have much time to spend on you.” I boiled again with indignation. “These lecturers are pricks anyway,” I said. “Most of them had no interest in me after they found out I’d interned at a bank. They know I’m not going into their field now so they aren’t bothering with me.” “Speaking of lecturers,” replied my friend. “There’s one of them there.” He nodded over my shoulder as I scooped more noodles into my mouth. “Isn’t she the one who turned you down from the topic you actually wanted?” He smirked as he said it, clearly recalling my full on rant after I got her email turning me down. I craned my neck to see her striding in our direction. She looked every bit the university lecturer. Tall, thinning stature and a weathered look. Greying hair with wispy, rogue strands falling over her forehead, and a bookish look completed by a dark satchel slung over her shoulder. “I hope she doesn’t come over here,” I thought to myself, but my plea to the universe fell on deaf ears…

“Hello boys!” she exclaimed, smiling curtly as she looked down at us. “Hi Miss, how are you?” I asked. “Good!” she responded. “How are you both getting on? It’s the final year, no time for slacking!” “Yes miss,” my friend and I both chimed together. It felt like we were in school again. “Oh, and I hope there’s no hard feelings about not getting my project,” she placed a consoling hand on my shoulder. “It really is a competitive group and I just felt that there were students with more relevant experience.” “No worries Miss. It happens, no big d –” but she had already cut me off. “Then again, it sounds like you don’t need much more help now do you! With your banking job all lined up!” She let out a rapturous laugh and I chuckled nervously. “Well I still need to get a 2:1 Miss, so I’m not in the clear ye –” but she cut me off again. I took to twisting my fork in my remaining noodles to occupy myself as she continued. “Yes, well the final exams are even more difficult this year, especially my two modules. Students always tend to underestimate them!” I smiled and nodded absentmindedly whilst prodding at a morsel of beef. She gestured passionately. “Plus, there’s all the new material this year on professional practices, which I’m sure will catch people out!” I slowly lifted the fork to my mouth, trying to blank her out. “Well in any case,” she continued. “I suspect even if you do get a 2:1, you’ll probably be out of a job in the first couple of years!” My fork stopped in mid-air, noodles swinging as I tried to process what my lecturer had just said. “Err, I guess?” I responded. Looking thoroughly pleased with herself, she shouldered her satchel, “Well boys, have to run! Good luck with the term!” She squeezed past our table and ambled her way out, my fork still hovering at my mouth. As I watched her disappear through the door, my friend turned around to me, “Did she just tell you’ll get sacked within two years?” I lowered my fork and scratched my head. “I think she did…” We both looked at each other for a second as it sunk in. We burst into laughter, banging on the table and clapping until people started looking at us. “Yeah, she took the piss out of me! Minor though, even if I do get sacked early, what will I really lose?” And with that comforting thought, I polished off the last of my stir fry.

Today – Education, education, education. It was the mantra that got Tony Blair into power in 1997 when I was but a young lad getting kicked out of my primary school classes. Now school for me was a blast, being a carefree and young man, I really felt no pressure and everything felt easy. However, when I got into college and university, I found it was a completely different story. Uni can be confusing, demanding and just an overall overwhelming experience, even if you feel prepared for it. The above story is a funny one to tell but personality clashes with lecturers amongst other challenges can be tricky hurdles for students to navigate as they take their first, feeble steps into adult life. So, coming from someone who’s been there and done that, here are a few tips for those thinking about, currently attending or applying to university.

The first thing you learn once you’ve started your degree is that unfortunately, your degree is often irrelevant. If you’re going to be a doctor, then yes, you’ll need to demonstrate that you know the difference between a common cold and an STD. Likewise, if you want to build bridges, you’ll need to know some basic engineering principles. However, for the vast majority of careers, most of the time your degree is either irrelevant or very poorly equips you for the working world. Finance certainly accommodates candidates from a broad range of degree disciplines, with most of the roles very much teachable. The most important thing you’ll need to do is network, the old saying – “It’s not what you know, but who you know” – holds pretty firm across most industries. Work placements, shadowing, careers fair and the like are all key.

The second thing you’ll learn about Uni is that your lecturers may be as useful to you as a dead smart phone, fairly expensive, not very reactive. Some lecturers can be a nightmare to deal with, whether it be following up on a lecture, asking a simple question, and of course, dealing with them for the dreaded dissertation. Most of the time the issue is that lecturers are researchers or professionals first and lecturers second, so it never really feels like they’re invested in you like your early education teachers were. This is your problem to tackle though. Uni life is about being responsible for making sure you do well. If your lecturer is unresponsive, go and see them. If their time is limited, ask them to be clear of what’s expected of you so you don’t need to see them often. I saw my dissertation supervisor twice in my entire year and ended up scoring near 90%. The formula was simple, I asked at the beginning of the year exactly what was expected of me, emailed periodically to make sure I was on track and pretty much confirmed what I’d be getting before the results even came out. Always get clarity of what’s expected of you.

Friends and social circles are a huge part of going to university too. Campus accommodation, societies, lecturers and seminars mean that you have a vast range of people to deal with daily, and for many students, this is a new experience. It sounds simple but having good friends is so important. Dealing with the pressures of university, getting good grades, staying on top of money, and relationships; these can all add up and it’s often your friends that support you, so a strong group can be lifesaving. Check on your friends, join societies, be open to meeting people – it all helps with building your network and mental health.

I guess I wouldn’t be The Poor Banker if I didn’t have any money advice. The truth is, if you’re a student, money is going to be tight and so you should remember to: Live within your means. If your course accommodates for it, get a part time job. There are several student filled roles on campus that you can apply to as well as local towns that will accommodate. If you can’t, it’s not the end of the world. There are several facilities at a student’s disposal to ensure that money isn’t an issue. Aside from maintenance loans and grants, there are often thrift groups that will swap and exchange services for goods where possible. If you apply and get summer or yearlong internships, be sure to save some money for when you go back to Uni. There’s nothing better than knowing you’re financially comfortable in your final, most challenging year at Uni.

To conclude, there’s many young people that have begun to question the relevance of university with the rise of many other valid career routes like apprenticeships for example. Uni does come with its downsides; however, the combined experience of not just academic achievement but building confidence, building networks and becoming responsible is the ideal segue into adult life.

The Poor Banker

Order, Order on the Floor!

2 Feb 2015

September 2017 – “Come in. Close the door behind you.” The head of the team beckoned me into the glass office that overlooked the trading floor. Both him and my line manager sat with the same relaxed posture, leaning back in their chairs though I knew their ease was merely pretence. Both pairs of eyes followed me to my seat as they smiled, the same practiced smile I had become familiar with in the corporate world that normally pre-empted some bad news. “Thanks,” I said, settling in the seat opposite them. The office was bare, with nothing more than the bare necessities, exacerbating it’s cold feeling. The air was thick with tension as I sat down. I was three years into my role at the bank and I’d only ever known this office as one for sensitive conversations. This was a sensitive conversation…

“Thanks for your time,” my manager nodded to me. “Anytime. Thanks for sitting down with me,” I replied. “I want to get straight down to it PB… We’ve noticed a drop in your energy levels on the desk recently. You’ve been missing our morning meetings, leaving the office earlier and questioning responsibilities you’ve picked up. Given the people we’ve had to let go, it’s seriously making us question your dedication to our effort here. We need to know that you’re someone who’s in this for the long run. Now we know it’s been tough with so many changes in personnel and other juniors leaving but we need to know that you’re not someone who gives up when times get tough.” I was raging inside. The last few months had been nothing short of hell. The toxic environment had caused numerous members of the team to leave. Meetings had become dick measuring exercises and I had no appetite for office facetime. However, I had stuck it out regardless and now my commitment was being questioned? Despite, my resentment, now was not the time for arguments. I needed to pick my next words carefully and end the conversation quickly. Agree with my manager’s sentiment and it would amount to an admission of guilt and potentially start the clock on looking for my replacement. Outright disagree and I’d start a needless argument that wouldn’t benefit anyone. I’d have to keep it measured. “Whilst I can see where you’re coming from, I’d be genuinely disappointed if you thought that was the case.” I gestured expressively, impressed at my own bullshit. “Despite the difficult time recently, I’ve always strived to be a pro-active and resourceful member of the team.” I was doing quite well I thought, so I decided to throw in some self-deprecation to make the whole thing believable. “Now can I understand your sentiment somewhat? Absolutely. However, I don’t want the perception to be that I’m someone who can’t dig their heels in when times get tough.” (“Damn, I’m good!” I thought to myself. “Where’s Meryl Streep with my Oscar?”) The indignation in my tone was measured just right, straddling the line of sounding annoyed, but still respectful. I looked for any flicker of kickback or rebuttal from either of the two before me, still trying to keep my composure. It seemed to take ages for anyone to say anything, both managers watching me intensely, but I held my nerve and refrained from spewing anything into the hanging silence. My words seemed to have done the job though, as the head of the team broke. “We’re happy to hear that PB and you’re right, a lot of this job is about perception. We need you to understand the position you’re in. There’s thousands of young people who’d kill to be in your seat. There’s nothing out there that you can’t get from being here on this desk. Think about where you’ve come from… Think about what you’re earning versus your friends you grew up with. Why would you put that at risk?” I let the familiar speech wash over me. As much as I had been pragmatic in my approach, I was disappointed that I hadn’t been more forthright with my managers. I chuckled inside my head, as their monologue continued, “These guys wouldn’t get it anyway…”

Today – Welcome to the game that is office politics, where the top prize is the privilege of keeping your job and losers can forgo their career progression, dignity and sometimes sanity. Competency isn’t a pre-requisite, logic is absent and honesty is an immediate forfeit of the game. Be prepared to get your hands (and nose) dirty. Also, don’t listen to the rumours calling office politics a team sport… this is definitely a single player game. Before entering the working world, I had often envisaged success in the workplace as an extension of academic success. If I did well at school and Uni as a result of hard work and intelligence, surely the same would apply in the working world? How naïve of me. I soon realised that some of the most important turning points in my career would come as a result of instances such as the outlined, where messages would have to be measured, egos would have to be stroked and pride would have to be dropped. Politics at work is as old as work itself. It rewards the crafty and charismatic and is – something I’ve begrudgingly learnt – one of the most important tools to unlocking your future at work. Despite this, I still struggle a lot with the concept of office politics. Does it apply to everyone? Is it something I’ll have to put up with forever? Why should I? Can office politics fix the dodgy canteen menu? Can it solve world hunger? Can it fix my below average love life? For so many young people entering the working world, this will all be brand new. So, I’ve decided to draw up a list of a few cheat codes to get you on your way to winning at work.

Firstly, you should realise that if you’re in anything that look or smells like a job, you will come across some semblance of politics, so identifying it is an important initial step. The interesting part is that for such a big part of working life, it normally manifests itself in a pattern of unwritten rules. “I know you’ve finished for the day but we can’t leave whilst the boss is still here.” “Oh, those two have never gotten along so we normally avoid working with them.” “Ah, yes he normally sends that email at 7PM after he’s come back from the gym so that everyone thinks he’s still in.” At first, these unspoken truths will irritate you (they certainly annoyed me), but after a while you’ll notice the pattern and feel awash with one overwhelming thought: “I’m not remotely surprised by anything that happens here anymore”. Once you’ve gotten to that stage, congratulations, you’ve successfully identified the rules of your workplace politics game. The next step is figuring out whether you want to be a player or not.

To figure out whether you fancy yourself as an office schemer you’ll need to answer yourself one thing. How much does your job mean to you? Is it a part time gig? Or are you looking to build a career at this place? This is important because it’ll dictate to what extent you’ll take part in the politics game on a day to day basis. If you’re not interested in staying in a job long term, then it doesn’t make sense to try and scheme your way through the ranks. Conversely, if you’re looking to work your way up the ladder in a role then don’t think just doing your day job is going to get you anywhere fast. Networking with people outside your daily role, having colleagues who’ll vouch for you and visibility of all the great things you’re doing makes a difference. If you’re anything like me, this will be difficult. I tend to have a hard time verbalising anything good that I do, not because I don’t think I’m doing a good job (I haven’t been fired yet, after all) but because I just do my job and expect to be recognised for having done it well. Unfortunately, self-promotion and confidence is important in getting ahead at work these days. There’ll be exceptions as with everything, but in this tech heavy era, instant validation and an infinite number of quantifiable performance measures means the ability to be able to demonstrate and communicate your value to the workplace is paramount.

Now at this stage it’s worth pointing out the most important piece of advice. For all the fun and games in office diplomacy, draw a line at where you call it a day. What I mean by that is, for the most part, you’ll get used to some of the peculiarities of your workplace, even if they’re irksome. However, every once in a while, something will happen… You’ll be asked to do something questionable, get passed on for recognition or a promotion or find yourself taking home toxic work baggage where it no longer becomes worth it. Knowing and naming your limit on what you’ll have to do to excel helps put things in perspective. Understanding the value of your dignity and health will help you approach things with absolute commitment, knowing full well that any situation that doesn’t work for you ends on your terms. Contrary to the popular ageist theory, this does not suggest you’re weak or “some spoilt millennial”. In an age where increasing mental health issues and undue amounts of pressure is ever present in the workplace, identifying boundaries is infinitely more mature than perpetuating self-destructive behaviour. Trust me, if you take one thing away from this article, it’s that toxic games aren’t worth losing yourself over.

To conclude, I have by no means perfected the art of being the workplace finesser. A lot of doing well for me has been being humble, letting people run with their ego’s and staying below the radar. Although it’s hindered me slightly, the compromise is having a good balance of emotional detachment to my role and emotional investment in myself. The key for you will be finding the right balance that keeps you whole enough to keep playing the game.

The Poor Banker

A Day in the Life of an EnTRAPreneur

2 Feb 2013

February 2012– It was a crisp, late-winter evening in February, and me and two friends were arguing whilst briskly walking through campus. Despite the cold, the place was lively. Friends huddled around the union strategising on how to best seize the night, as a misty haze hung over the smokers outside the library. Students slung bags over their shoulders as they head back to their rooms, laughing either in large groups, or as couples cuddled together.

As we walked past the campus shop, all three of us looked up and observed just how busy it was. Customers were cutting in and out before it closed for the evening, loading up on drinks before student night at the local club. We paused our conversation and took note of the activity before heading downstairs, off the main concourse, not breaking stride as we skipped down the steps. I brought us back to our debate. “I’m telling you fam, he’s gonna start asking for more p’s (money),” I said, looking across the other two boys. “Look how active campus is, we can’t keep bumping him – he’s outgrown the wage.” “I hear you, but I’m not sure PB,” Anton replied. “I think we can get away with keeping him on the same money for now, you know. We’ll probably have to pay him more somewhere down the line, but I think we can hold off for a bit. Plus, there’s bare (a lot of) other people on campus who would sell for us.” He had a point to be fair. Between the three of us, we’d managed to grow a sizeable late-night food and drinks delivery business. Stupidly, (or perhaps tactfully the uni thought) the only shop on campus closed at 8PM, when many students were rolling out of bed, sweating out the toxins from the night before and looking to load up on more. Being the spirited, but flat-out broke students we were, myself, Anton and Kingsley decided to take advantage of this. We scraped together whatever money we had and went to the local wholesalers, bought stock and sold it straight to students on campus at night. We sold to everyone, and I mean everyone. Needed to pre-drink before a rave? We were there. Needed a snack during late night revision? We were there. High as fuck and had the munchies at 3 in the morning? We were there. Just broken up with your boyfriend and needed 2 bottles of wine and a box of chocolates? We were always there. The business was growing in a big way and we had a few workers who would take alternating shifts. We were on our way to the top salesman at the time, Sami, to collect some cash. I could sense he wanted a bigger slice of the creamier cake we were baking. Kingsley, who I’m sure was the 2012 incarnate of Peckham’s Del Boy, as always, wanted to squeeze on the money. “Nah fam, fuck all that! If he acts up, we’ll just find other workers. I ain’t taking shit from him, I’ll slap him.” Anton and I laughed. Make that a 2012 mix of Del Boy and DMX…

As we approached Sami’s building Kinglsey rang ahead to get him to open up. He buzzed us in and we strolled straight through to his flat which was on the ground floor, our footsteps echoing around the hallway. As we approached, Sami was at the door ushering us inside, something was hurried about his body language. His room was a mess, not your average few pizza boxes lying around mess. I’m talking police raid in the middle of the night type mess. The three of us were looking around when Sami cut through the silence “Guys, we’ve been robbed.” he murmured. “Ah shit” Kinglsey cursed. “Are you okay?” Anton and I responded in unison. We’d all grown to like Sami and could see he was pretty shaken. “Yh I’m fine, but they took all of it”, his voice was cracking and he was playing with his hands, rubbing and knotting them together like they were filthy. “What did they take, how much of it?” Anton asked. “Well it isn’t really your stuff they took…” Sami mumbled, not looking directly at any of us. The three of us looked round at each other puzzled, wondering what he was on about. “What do you mean?” Kingsley snapped. Sami finally looked up. “Guys, I needed a bit of extra money. It was only supposed to be short term, but I’ve been selling a bit of weed on the side…” I closed my eyes and let out a long groan as Anton reeled off a stream of profanity under his breath. Kingsley simply looked at Sami with sheer incredulity. “Guys you’ve got to help me! I’m in way too deep here. This guy I sell for wants his money back in the next three days!” Real panic stained his words. Sami was right, he was in way over his head. “Sami, I don’t get it… You’re a good yout (youth). Why get involved in this shit. It’s a whole different ball game,” I said. “I know, I know. I just need to sort this and then I’m out I swear,” Sami rushed. “How much and whose was it?” Anton asked. “Just over a grand. You know James, right? He’s on your course Anton,” Sami replied. Kingsley interrupted immediately, “So what, they took James’ food (weed) and nothing else, none of our cash?” The three of us looked at each other knowingly after Sami nodded. “Aight, Sami – sit tight,” gestured Anton. “Yeah, it’ll be fine,” said Kingsley, standing up. “We’ll try and hook you up with extra shifts and up your rate a bit, that should help you get back on your feet. We’ll be back around in the next few days to sort it out.” The situation had even softened our Del Boy a bit.

Whilst leaving the building I decided to say what we were all thinking: “James lined him up. He sent guys to rob his own worker and he’ll double his money when Sami pays him. They didn’t take anything else because they didn’t know he had anything else – James doesn’t know he sells for us.” Anton and Kingsley nodded. “Otherwise he would have taken it all, why turn down free money? In any case, we need to rethink how we do this…”

Today– Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first. Sami got through his madness and ended up graduating uni. He did go through an identity crisis, failed several exams and graduated with a considerably lighter bank account, but which student doesn’t? James wasn’t as fortunate and ended up not finishing uni and getting kicked out before his final year. Me and my two boys ran the business before winding it down ahead of graduating. Now we didn’t ever find out for sure whether James had set up Sami in the end. At the time (and in hindsight) it was the most plausible explanation for what had happened. Sami never found out and it wasn’t like he could just call the police and report it. James didn’t say anything and to be honest, we didn’t ask. He was the type of guy who drank Stella’s outside his building at 10AM, posted proudly next to his Renault Clio parked in the disabled bay, with tinted windows darker than his habits. He was well known on campus as a bit of a loose cannon. I wasn’t trying to get into it with guys like James at uni – it wasn’t worth it.

Whilst there are clear differences between our legitimate campus business and James’ attempt to be the university Top Boy, there were common traits that linked all of us. We were all extremely capable, very driven and highly entrepreneurial. I would argue that James was even more so than myself, Kingsley and Anton. Consider it, James had to operate a profitable business, including sourcing good product in the market, finding a loyal customer base and equally loyal workers but doing it discretely enough to avoid the attention of the university and the authorities. I mean it’s almost like working in an investment bank! The ability to be able to do this successfully should not be taken lightly. Of course, it goes without saying that James should’ve directed his efforts to something vastly more family friendly to make extra money and having ability does not make him exempt of the personal responsibility for his misdeeds. However, consider this argument: if you could make money selling a plant, such that you didn’t have to worry about the rent, or whether you’d be eating pot noodles for three years, or how you’d pay off 40 grand of debt; would you? There’s clearly a market for it. If you’re talented enough to build a business out of it, what’s the big deal? It’s very difficult to readily turn down extremely rewarding sums of money for what seems on the surface pretty harmless. Whilst my darker side is all for taking risks and screaming fuck the law, the fall out from operating a business this way is self-evident. These aren’t victimless operations unfortunately, enforcing trading boundaries, disciplining workers and dealing with competition all require moderate to extreme levels of violence and destructive behaviour. Consequences of such behaviour are life changing and not worth the monetary gain.

I’ve always found it interesting to compare investment banking and the drug industry. Drug barons who’ve been immortalised in film and TV are shown to be business savvy and ruthless, quickly identifying issues and dealing with them with frightening vigour. They’re often idolised as men of the people, supporting local communities and serving as a lightning rod for anti-establishment sentiment. Their story normally ends abruptly when Johnny Law finds them and locks them up or kills them, ultimately dismantling their operation and subsequently ridiculing the notion that these people could’ve ever been true forces for good. The irony here is that if they had chosen a different path in life they indeed could’ve had a much more positive impact. The skillset of a high-flying market trader or banking advisor versus that of an individual running a fully functioning drug enterprise aren’t too dissimilar. Strength with processing numbers, the ability to problem solve for a range of situations and a decisive streak all qualify you for both career paths. Whilst James was nowhere near a baron in his time at university, he built a successful business nonetheless. His real-life experience of what made a lucrative enterprise was worth a lot more than some of his peers who had only studied business theories from a book. He truly had the potential to be something great. The sad part is that all he probably needed was a word in his ear or a more relatable role model to nudge him along the right path. At some stage an inevitable criminal record will probably overwhelm and extinguish any potential that lingered.

To round up, I’m not making the argument that all drug dealers have the potential to be Richard Branson. On the flipside of that, not all squeaky-clean students will go on to achieve greatness. There’s a fine line between taking risks, breaking the rules and being off the rails. Finding the right balance is key.

The Poor Banker