White collar boxing is passé, real bankers wear lycra
Call it a sign of the times, but in the late-1990s to early 2000s, financial professionals fancied themselves as amateur pugilists. White collar boxing, either the intense training schedule or the glitzy bouts, were all the rage in Wall Street and the City of London.
But what was once appealing to hedge fund managers and investment bankers is now the preserve of sales staff, recruitment consultants and account managers. Its popularity in the US and UK has waned, but smaller financial centres like Dubai and Singapore have just caught on. In the City and Wall Street, though, a decidedly less combative sport has become de rigeur - cycling.
We're not talking about a gentle ride in the countryside at the weekend, or a wobbly commute to work on a Boris or Citi bike (although cyclists now account for 24% of London's vehicles). Blame it on last year's Olympics or Bradley Wiggin's swaggering success in the Tour de France, but there's something about the pain and endurance of road-racing, as well as the potential to spend thousands on the right kit, that appeals to those in the financial sector.
"Financial services firms are providing great facilities for cyclists - showers and secure bike parking - and increasingly corporate cycle events are a good opportunity for networking," said 55-year-old Clive O'Connell, partner at lawyers Goldberg Segalla and a member of the Lloyd's Cycling Club, aimed at those around the Lloyd's of London market. "It's much cheaper, and less competitive, than golf days and you also get a chance to speak to everyone, so it's a much more effective networking tool."
Mamils (middle-aged men in lycra) are no longer solitary animals, but can instead be seen in huge packs around the City of London, either commuting to work or taking part in lunchtime training sessions.They are also signing up to events on a more regular basis, such as Exodus, an eight-day break which shadows the Tour de France route in the Pyrenees or Cyclotour du Leman around Lake Geneva.
Piers Johnson, a 45-year-old investment banker in London, commutes 29 miles from Hampshire to work at least once a week, leaving the house at 5.15am for a two and a half hour commute.
"It's not terribly practical, but it's a great way to keep fit. I also try to get away for at least a week a year for a Cylosportive in the Alps," he said. "Cycling is incredibly gruelling and tough, which for me is part of the satisfaction."
All the gear
There's also another factor that appeals to affluent bankers looking for a project to spend their cash on - the potential to shell out on expensive kit.
"There's a whole world of cycle porn out there," said O'Connell. "The bikes themselves can cost as much as a small car, but this is less of a mid-life crisis than buying an expensive sports car. Then there's the potential for GPS equipment to track your progress, custom-made outfits and paying for support vehicles for your own private club races."
O'Connell says that he owns a bike the puts those on the Tour de France to shame. "It's custom built, made from titanium and will last for ever, and allows me to cycle for thousands of miles without the risk of injury - something quite important at my age."
"I shudder to think how much I've spent on cycling kit over the years," added Johnson. "I have four expensive bikes and spend a few thousand a year on technology, trips and other kit."
Serious cyclists can shell out around £1,500 on off-the-shelf bikes from major manufacturers like Trek, Bianchi or Specialized, but the bankers in the City are more likely to saunter up to Bespoke on Farringdon Road - run by former investment banker Barry Scott - or Cyclefit in Covent Garden, which offer brands like Pinarello or Cervélo for upwards of £7,500. The more discerning cyclist can spend even more customising their bike.
Even cycling jerseys from expensive brands like Rapha can cost up to £175 each.
While it's tempting to paint bankers as cyclists with all the gear and no idea, many take the whole thing incredibly seriously and can occasionally make it to an elite level. An extreme example is Evelyn Stevens, who left Lehman Brothers after the financial crisis of 2008 and graduated on to becoming a professional cyclist who represented the United States at the 2012 London Olympics.
Making it as a professional is still a pipe dream for most people in the financial sector, but it's more than a casual hobby for some. Aaron Saturley, talent acquisition region lead, Europe at insurer XL Services, said has been cycling seriously for three years and recently made the step up to Category Three - one and two are national-level cyclists - after competing in numerous events across Europe such as the IG London Nocturne.
"I ride for a club in Dulwich, which is great way to network as well as improve your cycling," he said. "I've become a lot more focused than simply having it as a hobby - I take part in circuit races and long distant events, in the UK and am flying to Europe this weekend for an event in the Alps. It takes a lot of commitment, but I'm lucky that I have a girlfriend who shares the same passion."
Saturley at least has a background in cycling - during his youth he was ranked 5th in Britain and competed in Europe for BMX racing. While he takes road-racing seriously, he doesn't harbour dreams of turning professional: "At 34, I'm pretty sure that ship has sailed."
Another advantage of getting financial professionals into cycling events is that they have the resources to raise large sums for charity. 40 members of The Lloyds Cycle Club raised over £100k for Action for A-T through its London to Paris bike ride, while a team of Investec wealth managers are aiming to bring in £200k for its 2013 Ashes Cycle Challenge on 13 July.
Tragically, two Aberdeen Asset Management staff were killed this week during a charity bike ride after being struck by a lorry on a Land's End to John O'Groats event. Andrew McMenigall, a senior investment manager in Aberdeen's Edinburgh office and Toby Wallace, a senior relationship manager in its Philadelphia office were riding in aid of the Kirsten Scott Memorial Trust, set up in memory of a colleague who died from cancer in 2011.