Counting the ways banking careers can end
Investment banking can be a brutal world. Even when banks aren't closing whole business, they get rid of underperformers. It's a natural process. Employees are reviewed; the bottom 10% are sent home.
You might think you can avoid this by being very good at your banking job. Wrong. This won't insulate you from an abrupt “termination” of employment. No matter how much profit you make or how many deals you "print," if a bank makes a strategic decision to shut down a division there's nothing you can do about it. Maybe the entire bank will close down (Lehman Brothers). Maybe two banks will merge. Maybe there will simply be a shift in geographical or business focus. One day you're a rainmaker; and then you're not.
This is why you should never take your banking position for granted, especially if you are senior and therefore expensive. In one of the major U.S. banks I worked for I saw a managing director (MD) in charge of a certain team arrive at work to find a new guy sitting right next to him with the exact same job title and description. They'd hired his replacement; he hadn't been told. In other banks, I've seen heads of teams suddenly being told they're getting a co-head, which is complicated for all those working beneath them (who can be compelled to pick sides) and for clients (who can get different messages from the different heads).
However hard it gets, never take a sabbatical and be wary of taking long periods out for other reasons. At another bank, I saw a female colleague return from maternity leave to be told she would have to share “her” clients with a colleague. The colleague was the guy who took over from her when she left; he had no intention on giving up the clients he'd conquered.
Be wary, too, of the "promotion" overseas. This can be a way of clearing desks and transitioning you out of the business. Brexit is the perfect excuse for this: "Congratulations on your promotion to the head of desk in Frankfurt, where you will be managing...yourself." This just happened to a friend; he accepted a lower ranking job just to stay in London.
There are many ways to die in banking. Some are quick; others take years. They all happen.
Amit Itelmon is the pseudonym of a senior banker in London
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