Christine Lagarde, the new head of the European Central Bank, has some advice that bankers would do well to heed. It’s not to do with negative rates or QE, but on the art of pretending to drink wine at official functions.
Last week, Lagarde provided a masterclass in deceptive drinking, by raising the glass to her lips then pretending to swallow. Such was her cunning and self-control it’s no wonder the former head of the IMF has enjoyed such an impressive career and is often referred to as the most powerful woman in the world. With the party season approaching, it’s a great tip that bankers would do well to copy.
Getting the alcohol balance right is a tricky challenge for bankers, especially when clients demand a certain type of entertainment. One banker recalls meeting a former colleague at the airport a day after a lively night: "I was on my way to Frankfurt while he was failing to coral his children. I vowed ‘never again.’" Nowadays he says he lets his juniors do the heavy alcholic lifting.
Another banker recalls paying £1k ($1.3k) for a duvet in a charity auction, as alcohol and a desire to impress clients got the better of him. “Nowadays, I make sure I’m never far from a bottle of water wherever I’m sitting,” he says.
As various recent cases attest, however, drinking anywhere near the job (or even in the evenings after the job in the presence of work colleagues) is increasingly risky. These days, where everyone has a camera on their smartphone, bad behaviour is recorded and can seriously curtail your career prospects. Banks now insist on a code of conduct in the wake of exposes on drink-induced harassment cases and generally unacceptable behaviour.
The London Metal Exchange handed out copies of its code of conduct to thousands of delegates at its annual symposium this weekto avoid a repeat of last year’s controversy over an event at the Playboy Club.
Meanwhile, millennials are less interested in getting drunk and the rise of so-called ‘sober curious’ or ‘mindful drinkers’ has encouraged drinks companies to develop low and non-alcoholic brands. The days of the Flaming Ferraris are a thing of the past.
But how do you avoid the worst excesses of client entertainment, especially when the client expects it? Food is always a good option, as it the ability to keep moving. By working the room you can keep a single drink going for longer by telling the next person you speak to that you’ve just topped up. Then there’s a trick deployed by one banker drinking coke from a wine glass – in dim bar lighting, it looks like Rioja. Mocktails are always a good bed because it’s impossible to tell what’s in them.
Nonetheless, some clients still value old-fashioned schmoozing, particularly in Hong Kong where drinking culture survives at local firms. Plus alcohol has its merits as a way of lubricating conversation, but remember moderation is key. The poet William Blake said the path of excess leads to the tower of wisdom, but nowadays it’s more likely to lead to a 9am disciplinary.
If you must drink, you could follow the advice of high-society magazine Tatler: “Never order drinks that have to be poured into your mouth by strangers while other strangers do a slow clap. Leave this behaviour to those shrieking types with daddy-issues on MTV reality shows.”
Perhaps the best way to stay sober yet relaxed is to have the odd glass, stock up on the canapés then after a couple of drinks, ‘do a Lagarde’ for the rest of the evening. It seems to have worked for her.
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