Gert-Jan van der Wel

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Joris Luyendijk amongst bankers

hobby - 16 Dec 2018

No cycling for me this morning as it snowed a bit last night 😞 Instead let me tell you about a a book I just finished, the Dutch book “Dit kan niet waar zijn” by Joris Luyendijk. A few years after the crisis of 2008, Joris was asked by the Guardian to take deep dive into the world of bankers in the financial heart of London (the City) and write a blog about it: Bankers: an anthropological study.

What happens in the City of London affects everyone, but most of us know very little about the people who work there – or what they do all day. The Guardian is launching a new project: an anthropological study of the Square Mile.

In the beginning Joris has a hard time interviewing bankers as there is a strong code of silence amongst them - what happens in the City, stays in the City - but after a while he manages to find his way inside the financial industry. Based on the interviews he is able to discover different kind of bankers, from Neutrals to Masters of the Universe, and in general they are decent people trying to do a good job.

He argues that the problem is not the people, it’s the system, the incentives are wrong. The world of banking is a-moral, you can do whatever you want as long as it’s within the boundaries of the law. There is no job security, so if you can get fired any minute you are much more focussed on short term gains than the long term.

But the biggest problem is that there is no malus (a negative bonus). When things go well bankers earn a nice bonus, but when things go sour they don’t feel the pain themselves for the mess they made. Since most banks are considered to-big-to-fail, the taxpayer ends up paying for their mistakes. This is not capitalism at all!

He ends on a pretty negative note. Yes, some regulation has been added but the core problem hasn’t been addressed. Banks are not cut up into smaller parts which each part being responsible for their own risks. And the politicians that should look out for the tax payer take fancy jobs at the banks after their political career.

Can we expect another financial crisis? Probably. For me peronally I try to pay off my debt (mortgage) as soon as possible to decrease my risk. My company is profitable and growing since 2009 and we like to keep it that way.