Daniel Lacalle

Death in the City of London, Demagoguery and Mediocrity

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This article as published in El Mundo.

Surely you have read that a bank intern at the City of London sadly died a couple of weeks ago after allegedly working 72 hours straight. Well, if you have read the chronicle of the press, you will probably be horrified at the description of “inhuman hours’, deaths and suicide in the financial sector. Nothing is further from reality.In the City of London more than 450,000 people work in a very competitive, but free environment. Nobody is here by obligation. In fact, the vast majority of those who would like to join this sector never get the chance. We, in our fund, receive more than 50 job requests for each vacancy, and in some cases, such as large funds or investment banks, the figure is over 500 applications per job.

Life in the City is tough, and employers demand results, as it should be. Imagine for a second that the person who manages your savings or your pension fund was remunerated by any other measure that was not profitability. Would you invest in this fund?. Work can be strenuous, but slavery-type hours and inhuman conditions are a fiction. Yes, the day begins very early, at six or seven o’clock. But anyone who takes the train at Waterloo Station or the tube at Bank or Liverpool Street knows that at five or six pm the vast majority of people are on their way home. What matters is the achievement of results and targets, and the time and hours used to get there depends on each one’s time management. Everyone in the City has had to work long hours and several weekends, but so do entrepreneurs, writers, musicians and journalists.

I’m afraid that behind the controversy over the City’s death lies more demagoguery than real concern for working too hard. In the same way that no one questions an elite athlete who trains aggressively or a singer that makes 250 concert tours, it is normal for a competitive industry to have people that give their best. Professionals that go through a very thorough selection process and freely take the responsibility, because it is also a passion. This not only work. It is a meritocracy and competition is encouraged. The same thing that many call sacrifice is, for the vast majority in the City, a pleasure.

Of course, if someone does not like this environment, he or she is free to resign, and his colleagues will be happy to wish him or her well in another sector.

A few miles away across the Channel, France is apparently the model for many advocates of interventionism and government control. France Telecom, now Orange, is a global example of what many would consider a quiet and stable workplace. Semi-state owned, 35 hour weeks, … a long-term safe environment. So long-term and safe that it is simply impossible to escape from it. In France Telecom, 35 people committed suicide between 2008 and 2009. Nothing is more inhuman than the frustration and despair of living the Kafkaesque nightmare of paperwork, mobbing, and tedious and pointless jobs. But that, of course, does not generate controversy, because that’s what many try to sell us as a “good job”.

When I came to the City of London I was 36 years, I was no kid. Taking the decision was not easy. I went from being a director in a good company in a stable secure, low-risk environment, to a very competitive industry and a salary largely dependent on the achievement of objectives. Everyone around me said it was a mistake, a risky decision. Today, almost ten years later, people say we have been very lucky and it was a good decision. I have a full life, a wonderful family and my work is not a burden because I love it. The day it becomes a burden I will quit, and I’m sure there will be dozens of candidates happy to take my place. Freely.

Working in the City is a conscious and free decision. Whoever does not like the system should not worry, because they would probably never be hired. However, between a free and competitive work environment and a safe but frustrating one, there is something that I have very clear: I would not trade freedom for security. Never.

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