There’s an old phrase in Texas
‘fool me once shame on you..’ ‘all hat and no cattle’
‘Why do you rob banks? –‘Because that’s where the money is’
I love finance- one of my earliest memories is counting up 5 GBP in shrapnel and safely stowing it in my piggy bank. I felt like the richest man in Babylon. A few years later there was a popular children’s tv show- Matt’s Millions I remember a scene in the opening skit where coins were literally flowing out of his computer. To clarify this was well before, Pets.com, broadband or iPhone would change the world. We didn’t even have a janky dial-up modem at this point.
Fast forward to my 20s and I started reading investing blogs- my favourite is www.theescapeartist.me He’s got pretty popular. So popular that on my last psychiatric admission I discussed his latest blog post with one of the orderly who is about my age. Unfortunately, he was simply reading the likes of Monevator without acting. It’s a bit like going to a BBQ without bringing beer. You really just have to dive in and get started.
How did it come to this?
So then like a tidal wave the 2014-2016 recession hit the oil and gas world. I was left heading for the lifeboats- AKA being sh*tcanned. During the ensuing scramble for jobs, I applied for a position at one of the big banks. I won’t name names but they have just fired tonnes of people in Asia, originally from Hong Kong and got their start in opium- I’ll let you connect the dots.
So long story short I loved reading, talking, and learning about investing. When I am not typing into the computer I’m tuned in to Matt and Andrew at Listen Money Matters. So I figured I’d enjoy working at the world’s local Bank…BIG Mistake.
A brief laundry list of why it sucked:
- Customers are generally in the bank because they are a) stressed about their finances b) need to complete a form c) have locked out their online banking. The last thing they want to be told when turning up at the branch is ‘you know you could do this online at home’
- Paperwork- its no exaggeration to say you have to fill in a form to sneeze.
- Back to school. No way to sugar coat this – the managers treated us like children. During one memorable morning, I headed upstairs. I struggled with low blood sugar crashes –(until I fixed my diet (link) so back in the staff room I reached for my trusty banana only when my irate boss burst in. He explained I couldn’t take a break as everyone one of the rank and file drones in sector 7G would want one. It was a harrowing experience and one I will not forget in a hurry.
- Lunches were scheduled – you had an hour to grab a sandwich and not a minute more. Forget about meeting friends for lunch if it was 11am and you and that was your slot you’d have to go.
- Cold calling- we had this list of customers which was for some reason called ‘the golden basket.’ The process was as you would imagine- outbound calling to ‘check-in’ read – flog products to high net worth individuals. How would you take to being called by your bank?…chances are you would hang up thinking it was a scam.
There were a few highlights. I got to meet one of the founders of Brewdog who turned out to be a very nice chap. Remember it takes risk to start a business and kudos is due James and Martin two seem to have done well by it. (link)
Looking back it was probably a good lesson and a pertinent reminder of why a job with autonomy, mastery and purpose is so important.
To be clear the folks I worked with are good people. It is a challenging job on many levels and I was simply not cut-out to do it. I sometimes wish I had more people to people jobs growing up. Instead I was insulated from waiting tables, pulling pints or serving burgers on match day (well actually did this). Instead, I was off working on web-design for local companies who couldn’t afford a professional! For the record, I still can’t code to save my life even the word MATLAB brings me out in cold sweats.
It was also clear that like the oil industry the future of retail banking ain’t so bright. The falls ‘bout to put a period on the summer, probably. The four horsemen of the apocalypse, Bitcoin, the Cash App, Monzo and Ethereum are all technologies that are now at scale. In the coming years, these could likely knock down brick and mortar banks or entirely remove the sticky finger middlemen from our financial lives. Without putting a finer point on it- when was the last time you went to your branch?
That process will bring its challenges. For now it seems that the only people who still send cheques are my Mum and HMRC. I can confirm you can still cash cheques through Monzo.
What do you think the future of banking will be in 5 years or so?
Let us know in the comments below.