These Millennials SMH… They’ve Got No Class!

What Class Am I_ 1400x1400

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

Black People Don’t Ski Bruv!

August 2013

August 2013– “Which one of us do you think they’ll give the job to?” The question caught me off guard. It was 8PM and I was on the trading floor midway through my summer internship. Most of the floor was empty apart from a few quants still furiously coding and cleaners changing bins for the next day. Some interns were still floating around as well, despite the warm glow of August sun outside. Interns chewing pens figuring out math problems, squinting at screens finishing presentations; interns committing trade ideas to memory, mouthing silently with their eyes closed. I was sat at my desk, legs perched on the table catching up with the only other black intern on the programme. I looked up at him as he stood with his arms crossed. “What do you mean, which one of us?” I asked. “C’mon bro” he responded, “you know there’s only so many of us they can accept on to these graduate schemes”, he stated, pointing up toward his face and then mine. His tone was blunt, as if stating a certainty. I shrugged, “I ain’t even looking at it like that fam, I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t give us both jobs.” “How do you even know that?” He asked. “How do you?” I retorted. “You don’t think there’s a limit for how many bruddas they take on?” a tone of helplessness creeping into his voice. “I have nothing in common with these guys! Some girl asked me today where my favourite place to go skiing is, black people don’t ski bruv!” he spurted incredulously. I laughed, but knew exactly what he meant. Just the previous week at one of the programme dinners, I was wondering why I had so many different sized knives and forks. I was as close to embarrassing myself as I was to striding out and buying myself a KFC bucket. “Minor though man” I reassured him anyway. “That’s got nothing to do with how good you are at the job. They could accept both of us based on just that”. “Yh but do I even want it bro? Like a job here?” He answered. “I can’t even be myself. They don’t want guys like us here, how many black people do you see around? Do you even see any black managing directors on this floor? I gotta rethink this whole thing for real” …

Today- I get asked by friends and colleagues for my opinion on why minorities aren’t more readily accepted into banking. Why there aren’t more black and brown CEO’s, managing directors and heads of business. Why haven’t we had a Prime Minister from a minority background, will we ever get one? I’m sure the Poor Lawyer, Poor Editor and the Poor Politician get asked the same questions. The short answer is simple. The fabric of society has white privilege so tightly woven into it, we’d need to unravel the whole tapestry before we realise we left all the other colours in the sewing box. Some of you rolled your eyes at that statement. Don’t lie I saw you. “Pulling the racism card PB, in 2019? Give me a break! Not everyone’s a racist, why do you keep bringing that up!?” Trust me, I hear you. Some non-coloured folk must wonder what the fuss is all about. Black Lives Matter, The Rooney Rule, “positive discrimination”, they must all make some decent, law abiding non-coloured folk think “wtf, so where does this leave me? I’m not a racist, don’t I deserve to go far?” Of course you do, but not at the systemic disadvantage of the rest of society. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an “us vs them” rant, you won’t find me marching up and down Piccadilly denouncing all white people as the devil, but it’s something that still needs addressing unfortunately.

Now for the slightly longer answer to the above question. There’s a great book called Staying Power by Peter Fryer which outlines the history of black people in the UK. In it, he explains the subtle differences between racial prejudice and racism. Racial prejudice is your everyday fringe bigot. You know the one, the drunk hurling racist abuse at a bouncer after not being let into a club. The lady on the bus laying into a woman wearing a headscarf, telling her to go back to her own country etc. Fryer describes racial prejudice as relatively scrappy and self-contradictory, transmitted largely by word of mouth (including keyboard ninjas on social media). Their behaviour is fostered by a culture of ignorance, fear and a need to rationalise cultural and physical differences. Racism, on the other hand, is systematic and acquires a pseudo-scientific rhetoric that glosses over its deeply flawed logic. It’s far more insidious than racial prejudice and has shaped many of the systems in place today. As Fryer aptly puts: “The primary functions of racial prejudice are cultural and psychological. The primary functions of racism are economic and political.” Racism, is far more destructive than racial prejudice and is the reason we’re at this juncture today. It was ultimately the means to justify the slave trade all those years ago. The opportunity to fuel Britain’s new found love of sugar and other foreign consumables was too lucrative to pass up. It was justified by a narrative that insisted: “blacks in every mental and moral way were inferior to whites”, a rhetoric which carried long lasting implications for the prospects of minorities. Now we’ve come a long way from slavery in the UK and there’s no way such rhetoric would be tolerated today, but the legacy of institutional racism still very much exists. Just ask The Poor Lawyer, Poor Editor and The Poor Politician again. Black and ethnic minorities aren’t prominent members in these industries because we’re subject to barriers in social and career progression that were forged centuries ago. Don’t get me wrong, minorities are a part of these industries, it’s probably never been easier to find a job and having a differentiated background can often be a plus to get in. However, these can often feel quota driven, be in a limited capacity and typically come with less room for progression versus their peers. Until these industries start broadening not just their palette in the search for talent, but for more diverse and non-traditional backgrounds in general, they’ll remain exactly as they are.

As much as these social constructs’ exist, we as minorities however, need to try and push past what we sub-consciously feel is “good enough” for us. For example, remember my fellow black intern at the top of the article? He unfortunately didn’t get a job at the end of the internship. Not because he wasn’t capable, in fact, in terms of raw ability, he was sharper than a lot of us on the programme. It was the inherent feeling he didn’t deserve to be at the bank, despite the fact that he was desperate for a job that would’ve changed his life. This was self-evident in his performance and ultimately cost him the offer. Make no mistake though, just because I got the job, I’m not devoid of this feeling. I still have instances where I laugh at the gap in lifestyle between myself and peers I joined the graduate programme with, sometimes I do feel like an imposter. It’s a feeling I see a lot of young people from working class backgrounds struggle with. However, for the most part, I don’t feel this way. I feel proud in having gotten where I am based on merit and being just as good as anyone else. On the internship much of my confidence came from the fact that I had gone well beyond what I know my peers had done in terms of preparation. In general though, whilst the arrogance and thick skin I acquired through growing up on a council block has helped, most of my drive comes from the pure hunger to change my situation in life and change the status quo. I often try to communicate this to people who I speak to on the topic. Regardless of background, anyone can show a desire to win and that variety of background is in fact a powerful gift.

To wrap up here its important to note: the allure of high profile jobs in the corporate, political and business arenas are far less appealing as of late. Young people are much more likely to pursue jobs and careers that more accurately reflect their changing priorities in life. However, diversity has now been highlighted by corporates as not only important for social clout but key in developing a competitive edge. It’ll take a long time to undo centuries of damage, but as these trends start to become more widespread and natural, it’ll only be a matter of time before the environment and attitude at these corporates become one which is far more inclusive, lest they risk social and competitive irrelevance.

The Poor Banker

Remember, Remember the 5th of November


December 2005– “Could you all quieten down please!” But it was no use, as another projectile whistled past his head, he realised his class had broken out into full anarchy. A cocktail of restlessness, end of term excitement and unfiltered Year 9 testosterone had tipped them into chaos. The meek substitute music teacher was no match for it. It had only been a week since his predecessor had left, not able to make it through the first term after realising she’d rather be jobless than trying to prevent a weekly Royal Rumble.

The class was carnage, keyboards ringing off rock samples, students playing penny games in the corner, boys instinctively ducking as objects came whizzing overhead. The main event however, had just broken out as two boys began wrestling near the middle of the room. There was a mad rush of student and teacher to the scene, with the latter getting nowhere near. A scrum of twenty boys had gotten to the action before him. I stood on a table to get a better view, hurling whatever I could get my hands on into the centre of the student colosseum, rattling the animals further. “Ay bang him! Don’t have it!” chants from the crowd as the boys tussled to get the upper hand, swinging one way then the next, blazers ripping at the seams. Realising the futility of his efforts, the teacher finally gave up trying to reach the lions pit and rushed out the door for reinforcements. As I watched him sprint out, the fight had taken a turn, blazers had now been ripped off and blows were being swung wildly, with both boys wanting to land the prize hit. The bigger of the pair launched an almighty haymaker, it’s ferocity matched only by its spectacular failure as he swung and stumbled over his own feet. His opponent capitalized. Taking a step back, he landed with a crack to the jaw, rocking the larger boy and prompting a huge roar from the spectators. “This is what school is all about!” I thought, punching my hands wildly in the air celebrating the underdogs victory, his opponent now out for the count.

Just then, fists still raised in jubilation, I noticed a boy on the outskirts of the group, a sneer curled on his face, sparks flying from his hands. Time slowed down as we locked eyes, the smile slowly fading from my face as I realised what was about to happen. “FIREWORK!” I bellowed. The class wheeled round in unison toward the door. We maybe had a few seconds before the fizzing stick of lightning would be lobbed into the crowd, where it would crack to next was anyone’s guess. Boys were scrambling over the strew of bags, music equipment and their own laces to escape the room. I jumped off the table and was promptly bundled over, my face slamming hard into the floor. Nose throbbing, I quickly got to my knees and glanced to my right. A second too long. BANG!

Today– Whilst I’m sure you’re eager to find out if this episode left me horribly disfigured and explains why I’m talking to you through a cartoon, soz but not soz. I luckily managed to scrape through the debacle with nothing more than a bloody nose and a migraine. Jokes aside though, if you went to a public school (or any half decent school for that matter) then a live re-enactment of Anthony Joshua vs Dillian Whyte followed by The Gunpowder Plot in a Year 9 Music class seems pretty outrageous. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a standalone incident and scenes like these were pretty standard where I went to school. Mind you this was only the tip of the iceberg.

Now, whilst I’m sure you feel an incredible amount of sympathy for poor me, do you know who the real victim is here? The teacher. Yes, poor Mr. Garcia and his fruitless attempts to teach my sorry bunch the dulcet tones of C Major. His struggles were symptomatic of those faced by several other teachers of mine and many teachers today. Run ragged, teachers face a relentless battle of growing classes, thinner funding and a student population with an ever varied set of problems. The Department of Education’s School Workforce in England census released in June 2018 outlined that the trend for the teacher-student ratio in the country has been on the increase since 2011, rising from 14.9 to 16 for state funded secondary schools. Also, despite a bump in the average wage of classroom teachers of £300 from 2016 to 2017 the average increase in annual income from 2010 is less than 1%, meaning the gap to their peers in other developed nations is widening. Teachers have less time, effort, resource and frankly incentive to make each individual students time in school a success. This unfortunately comes with dire consequences. People often wonder what the root causes of today’s knife crime are. I’ll save the broader conversation for another post, but it’s been shown there’s a direct link between rate’s of expulsion and later rates of imprisonment for young people in the UK.

The important question is where does the fix come from. Most people would agree every young person should be able to pursue their dreams and aspirations with an unbound framework of support. However, if the school system is giving less, who makes up the difference? Some kids like myself are relatively lucky. Good parenting and friends who looked out for me, both meant that I managed to scrape through school with only a few near misses and good grades to boot. However, for those not as fortunate, their journey was a lot bleaker. Convicted felons, first generation immigrants, students from broken homes and volatile families. I knew peers at 15 who’d been through more in life than some grown adults. Boys and girls who were trying to convince themselves that they were more than just hood rats. Where does the responsibility of school start and stop for boys and girls living in a world of instability? Youth clubs? After school schemes? These are crucial bases that must remain open and well-funded lest we continue a downward spiral of marginalisation of some young people.

Many of the kids I went to school with have grown up and gone on to do great things. They’ve become business owners, media creatives, music artists and footballers alike. The evidence suggests supporting young people who live in and come from tough environments have huge benefits in cultivating unique and exciting talent, it’s important that we find a way to do it systematically or risk the sparkle of the next generation fizzle out.

 The Poor Banker

New Blog, Who Dis??

Poor Banker_concept - FINAL ART 8-01It’s 2005. I vaulted the fence breathlessly as my pursuers maintained the foot chase. “Ay come back here bruv!”, but I knew that no good would come from stopping for the two youts who had been robbing anything of worth from students all week. My bag swung and jerked on my shoulders; I held it steady and hopped the low wall but as I took the next left I could hear them getting closer. “There’s a short cut out this estate”, I thought. If I could just make it to the high fence past the football cages, I could squeeze through the gaps. “You’re making it worse for yourself!” one of them barked as I dodged an old woman carrying her shopping, only to hear him clatter into her “argh get out the way!”. I stole the quickest look over my bobbing bag as her shopping went flying and she was sent reeling. “Stop man, what have I done to you!”, my voice cracked as the words came out…

It’s 2009. It’s cold, I’m in the local park at 9PM, I knew it was 9PM because the park keeper was ushering the last few people out of the gate before turning to me. “Are you sure you’re okay mate?” I guess I did look a bit lost. “I’m fine thanks, my mum should be here soon to pick me up”. In reality, I had no home for that night with only a half charged phone and text books to my name…

It’s 2012. I’m in an interview room trying to figure out what a balance sheet is, before having to decipher Amazon’s annual statement and pitch it for the biggest internship of my life.  “This woman is going to crucify me”, I thought, as she entered the room eyeing me shrewdly. “So you’ve had some time to asses it, what do you think of the stock?”. I paused, wondering how I should best phrase this. “From what I’ve looked at, I don’t see a reason why you’re not buying the hell out of these shares” sounding as matter of factly as a seasoned stock broker. “Really! You sound pretty convinced?” Surprise replacing her previously pursed features.  “Well you see…” I retorted without hesitation “I’ve done a bit of work going through the numbers and I think it’s a no brainer…”

It’s August 2013. I’m exhausted, but it’s the end of the summer internship. I’m as exhilarated as I am clueless. Do they like me? What if I don’t get in?  Do I even want to work in a bank? There were so many good interns… Fuck it, nothing I can do about it now. I’m just happy to go back to uni, back to a normal sleeping pattern again, back my usual fried chicken and not the rabbit food I’d been on for the last 8 weeks. It was an awesome experience whatever happened, I can genuinely be proud of what I’ve achieved regardless of the outcome. It would be sick if they wanted me though…

It’s September 2013. Shock, bewilderment. I’m trying to process what I’ve just been told. “You want to offer me the job?” I asked for the second time. “That’s right. I mean by all means take some time to think about it but we really think you’re the best fit”. I almost chewed her arm off the receiver, “I’ll take it” trying to keep some level of composure whilst slowing dawning on the fact that my life had changed for good…

Today. This is The Poor Banker or PB for short, a blog by a millennial from a council estate who stumbled through the back door into the big, bad banking world. If the story seems like a bad reboot of a Will Smith movie, then it kind of is. Except I’m from the concrete jungle that is South London (and thankfully never slept in a public bog). Now I’m living in a world where I’m occupying two bubbles, council estate kid and corporate climber. So I’m sharing it, and hopefully it connects people, through some cracking stories, a bit of social commentary and bits of financial advice that actually makes sense to the average bloke and blokette, The Poor Banker is here for it all.

The Poor Banker