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How to behave when you have a dreadful bonus, and other lessons from the deep past

There's a saying in the City of London. - "Working in the City used to be fun, but for not much money. Then the American banks came along and took away all the fun, but replaced it with money. And then they took away the money."

And that's where we are now. Much less money, and much less fun. Most people in banking can't remember what it was like before, but fortunately historians have preserved life in the old City for posterity. - You can find interviews with former market makers (jobbers) and dealers (brokers), before the two worlds were consolidated in 1986 here. And they make for interesting reading.

What to do when you get a bad bonus 

One Marcus Colby received a disappointing bonus in the 1930s. In his interview, Colby said: “When the manager came in with Laurie Milbank, Christmas 1932, he said 'I've come to give you your Christmas bonus' and he handed me two one pound notes.  So I handed them back to him and said 'I think somebody has probably deserved these more than I have' and gave notice to Sir John Laurie.”

On the benefit of friends in the market 

Colby also said: “You dealt with friends all the time, all the way through really; they were personal friends of yours.  Now you lift a phone up and you don't really know who is at the other end of it.  That's the trouble.”

On pre-lunch drinks

“Occasionally I used to go out and have a bottle of champagne with one or two of them, at half past eleven.   There was a chap called Paul Hepworth with Kitchin Baker Mason; he was a great champagne chap.  I used to go with him and have champagne with him.  But you know I had a very friendly time and a very enjoyable time."

On spoofing the market (inadvisable nowadays)

Tony Lewis, who joined the stock market just after the War, spoke about the art of spoofing the gold market. -You learn to run the market, you manipulate the market by bidding and offering openly.  And it became the practice in the gold market.  It happened all the time.  It was all part of the excitement of it - going in and bidding and offering for stock, and sometimes you were bluffing and sometimes you weren't.  That was half the fun of the trading really.  You didn't go in and bid for stock when you had a buying order, you went in and bid for it because you wanted to get it better sometimes and get them up.  You know there was a lot of bluff and counter bluff.  It was a much more devious and subtle market than the equity markets were, which were much more straightforward."

On snobbery and elitism in the days before town halls

In the old City, Brian Winterflood said partners wouldn’t even speak to the employees of the firm.

“Some of the partners, would be on the floor of the House as dealing partners; the main-stay of the business would be upstairs, which was rather hide-bound.  It was a bit off limits to fraternise with the partners - well they wouldn't speak to you, it wasn't a case of fraternising.  They were locked away in their sort of ivory towers and you knocked reverently on the doors if you wanted to see them and things like that.  And I do remember, it wasn't quite Dickensian, but it wasn't far off. “

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AUTHORBruce Packard Insider Comment

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