One man's journey from senior Singaporean trader to dire poverty in London

eFC logo

If you happen to watch Britain's Channel Four at 9pm tonight, you'll be exposed to every senior banker's most visceral fear: the senior financial services professional who finds himself locked out of the industry and falls upon very hard times.

Michael Kemp, a former chief dealer in foreign exchange for Credit Suisse First Boston in London and Singapore, features in the Channel Four programme 'How to get a Council House'.  After being ruined financially, Kemp has been living in a one bedroom flat on London's Brick Lane with his wife and two children. Faced with eviction, he's also been trying to get re-housed by the state. However, Kemp lives in Tower Hamlets, one of London's poorest boroughs and there are 22,000 people on the waiting list who also want to be housed.

"I was assistant chief dealer for CSFB in London and then became chief dealer in Singapore in my late 20s," Kemp tells us, surprisingly cheerily. "I retired from trading in 1997 and put the money I’d earned into a housing development in the Philippines, but was then hit by the Asian markets crash."

In Asia, Kemp said he lived lavishly - with maids and a driver. "I'd made enough money so that I wouldn't have to work again. But I had a game plan, and I didn't stick to it," he says.

Kemp's game plan was to keep the money he'd made from trading offshore, whilst developing his properties in the Philippines. Instead, he kept spending from his offshore accounts. "I kept drawing on the money - I didn't get out fast enough, and wanted to stay with my family."

Ultimately, Kemp tried to get back into trading but found it impossible. "I spent some time trying to find a new banking job in Asia in the early 2000s, but I was too senior, too expensive and too specialized. By that time I’d also been out of the market for too long," he says.

Instead, he returned to London with £20 in his pocket and slept in a homeless shelter until he found a job at a recruitment company, an industry he's been working in for the past seven years. However, recruitment isn't as lucrative as it used to be: "In recruitment, my annual salary was equivalent to half my monthly salary as a trader," Kemp says.

Expat bankers coming back to the UK without assets shouldn't expect an easy time, Kemp warns: "The UK has always been a hard place to live – there’s nothing new about that, but it's much easier living in poverty in London than in developing Asia.

"My advice to other people who lose their jobs in banking is that it’s very hard to get back in," he says. "If you ‘re going to do it you’ll need to ask all your contacts to help you – don’t be shy!"

Ultimately, Kemp says redundant bankers who return to the UK (or those who are already here) should spend no more than three months looking for a job in their chosen area: "If you haven’t got a new job offer by then, you probably won’t get one. If you still have some money have a think about what you really enjoy doing and try to make a business out of it. I have a friend who’s set up a website selling vintage guitars – he’s making a good living out of out it.”