What type of banker are you?

Some years after the crisis of 2008, Dutch journalist and anthropologist Joris Luyendijk set out to learn more about the people in the financial industry. Through a series of interviews with bankers, he was able to paint an impression of what it’s like to work in London’s banks.

Luyendijk’s articles were bundled into the book Swimming with sharks (another edition of the same book is titled Among the bankers).

Unlike most books on banking, Swimming with sharks is not about chief executives or traders. Instead, Luyendijk talked to the ‘invisible’ bankers. Employees in the back office or in the human resources department, for example.

I highly recommend Swimming with sharks to prospective bankers. You should read it to learn about the diversity of jobs within banks.

However, be aware that the banking culture on the European mainland is nothing like that in the City. Luyendijk emphasizes that the bankers he interviewed could be fired at any moment. Nobody’s certain if they’ll have a job at the end of the day.

In Europe, that’s not the case at all. I’m not going to repeat what a former colleague once told me you’d have to do to get fired, but it involved the mother of the boss…

So with the exception of gross misconduct or a major downsizing, bankers only leave when they choose to quit themselves.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Basically, there are two types of bankers. Let’s call them lifers and professionals.

The lifer stays in the same bank his whole career. Note that being a lifer does not imply a lack of ambition, professionalism, or career advancement. Some lifers become CEO! You can find lifers across the bank, from IT departments to expats to middle managers. They adapt to the requirements of their organization.

The professional does not tie his fate to that of his employer. When his skills are in demand elsewhere, he leaves for greener pastures. Usually, that means another financial institution. However, some professionals go to regulators, (financial) consulting companies, or more ‘exotic’ places like the public sector or tech firms.

Based on my experiences, I’d guess that the ratio of lifers to professionals is about 50/50 in Belgian banks.

What type of banker are you? A lifer or a professional? Did you plan that career path when you started working?

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