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Morning Coffee: Fund manager banned from drinking at work events after 'lewd' text allegations. Silicon Valley fortune seekers coming back to Wall Street

No more alcohol at office events

Yet again, the combination of fifty-something finance men, company-sponsored booze and younger female juniors has ended up in the courts.  After a visit to a nightclub in Madrid to celebrate winning a deal for Australian infrastructure and private equity fund manager IFM, Frederic Michel-Verdier decided it would be a good idea to send his colleague Nathalie Abildgaard a text consisting of his hotel room number and a series of smile emojis.  His side of the story is that this was a “bad joke” which “did not intend any wrongdoing”. Mr Michel-Verdier also denies having made some crude propositions to Ms Abildgaard earlier in the evening, including the venerable cliche beginning, “If I was 20 years younger ...”

The company seems to have agreed that this isn’t any way to behave; as a result of the text message and another unspecified incident, they cut Michel-Verdier’s bonus and banned him from drinking at company sponsored events for a year.  But after their internal investigation, they decided that they couldn’t be sure about whether verbal harassment earlier in the evening had occurred, and that they didn’t think the incident was so serious as to warrant paying the junior employee her pro-rata accrued bonus after she’d resigned.

And here we are now; a London employment tribunal will get the job this week of making a final decision.  It sounds like the unpaid bonus is a sum of money big enough to be worth digging in heels over; Natalie Abildgaard has spent £50,000 of her own money on the case, with another £25,000 potentially at risk before the litigation is finished.  For its part, IFM appears to have decided that dragging this episode out in public (which hardly reflects well on its corporate culture even on the best possible interpretation of events) is a better idea than settling out of court at the earliest opportunity.

Ms Abildgaard has suggested that employees are often forced into agreeing to settlements, simply because litigation is so expensive, stressful and time-consuming.  Big financial firms tend to drive up the legal costs and proliferate litigation work, creating what she calls a “David vs Goliath fight”.  When you don’t have the Magic Circle on speed-dial, you quickly get to feel swamped by the tide of paperwork and heavily intimidated by the danger of having to pay both sides’ costs if things go really wrong.

That’s her purpose in launching a new charity called LABD (Legal Aid for Business Diversity), aiming to provide financial support to people suing their employers in cases like this.  The idea is to level the playing field a little.  Of course, if every company which found itself issuing press releases saying “we take allegations of misconduct very seriously” were to start taking things seriously before rather than after predictable disasters occurred, maybe charities like this would be less necessary.

Separately, in the days of the first dot com bust, the joke used to be that for founders of bankrupt tech startups, “B2C” stood for “back to consultancy” and “B2B” stood for “back to banking”. The situation in Silicon Valley is hardly as desperate as it was in 2002, but Facebook, Amazon and Uber no longer look quite such fun and optimistic change-the-world places as they used to, and big banks are nowhere near as reviled as they were in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.  So, with big salaries on offer for the right roles, more and more coders seem to be telling themselves that “banks are basically technology companies these days” and returning to the mothership.

Alex Sion, for example, worked for Citi from 2006 to 2009, then went to California to lead and run an online payments startup called Moven.  Now he’s back at “D10X”, an internal incubator within the Global Consumer Banking business back at Citi.  According to Vanessa Collela at Citi Ventures, there are plenty similar employees who want to “take their learnings from their experiences elsewhere and bring them back into Citi with the aspiration to transform financial services with the support and network of the global bank”, possibly using less blatantly PR-scripted language when they do so.

Recruiters say that banks are now on the leading edge of technologies such as machine learning, and are building genuinely new products across their businesses, while many of the tech giants are now mature and bureaucratic.  When you add a little bit more flexibility on dress codes and office refreshments, Wall Street is, if not exactly cool again, no longer actively distasteful to the top talent.

Meanwhile ...

Related to today’s main story, it isn’t easy being a whistleblower.  It seems that whatever the regulators do to try and prevent direct retaliation, it’s very hard to prevent subtle innuendoes and a general sense that someone’s “Not a team player”.  (FT)

BNP Paribas earned over €1m for converting the latest Euromillions lottery jackpot into sterling for the winners.  They have carried out an internal review of electronic communications after allegations that one of the salesforce boasted inappropriately about how lucrative the trade was (Bloomberg)

ValueAct, the activist investment firm, has concluded a one year “information sharing” deal with Citigroup, in which they don’t get a board seat but get privileged access to internal information, in return for a commitment to support the management for a year (FT)

According to Germany’s finance ministry, Deutsche Bank management had 23 meetings with the government last year, including discussion of “strategic options” (Bloomberg)

Opera Trading, the €2.5bn prop desk of BNP Paribas, is to be shut down and the capital reallocated to client business (Bloomberg)

Chris Concannon, formerly of Virtu and BATS, has crossed the divide between equity and fixed income and is now to be COO of MarketAxxess, the automated bond trading venue (FT)

Typically, Goldman Sachs earnings calls are handled by the CFO rather than the CEO, but given the share price performance and the difficult newsflow, it seems likely that David Solomon will lead from the front for the forthcoming FY18 results (Fox Business)

Top salaries in the Middle East region are down as much as 25% from the peak according to Michael Page (Bloomberg)

And Cathay Pacific are still having problems with selling first-class tickets at economy prices (Bloomberg)

 

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AUTHORDaniel Davies Global Editor
  • An
    Anonymous
    26 January 2019

    These type of situations are almost always best resolved via mediation.

  • An
    Anonymous
    24 January 2019

    Not sure that HR have the authority to ban Michel-Verdier from drinking at work-sponsored events, nor how they plan on enforcing it.

  • An
    Anonymous
    19 January 2019

    Although I don’t think Abdilgaard’s case has merit (bonuses are discretionary and, based on the available information, the circumstances didn’t come close to having to resign), I do agree that she should be entitled to her day in court without having to face huge fees. And she is right that firms have bottomless resources compared to individuals. I think her charity is a good idea.

    On the costs on her case, it is worth pointing out however that its an employment tribunal case, so very unlikely that she will have to pay the other sides costs, even if she loses, and £50,000 to date plus
    potentially another £25,000 seems very steep.

  • An
    Anonymous
    18 January 2019

    Was it a joke or a genuine proposition? If it was a proposition, how was he supposed to know beforehand that it wouldn't be accepted?

  • JB
    JB
    17 January 2019

    Another "news" story that reports too much opinion and not facts. If we wanted opinion, we'd watch "The View"!!

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