Catching Up with the City Boy Who Spilled the City's Secrets
And got himself excommunicated from the world of investment banking.
Geraint Anderson during his city boy days.
It's likely that whatever you've heard about sex, drugs, prostitution, filth and fraud in the City of London is 100 percent true. One of the main reasons we know it's true is Geraint Anderson, AKA CityBoy. In 2006, Geraint started writing an anonymous column for free-sheet thelondonpaper, detailing life in the bubble of bonuses and cocaine banking that was (and, depressingly, still is) the Square Mile.
If you were a Londoner and you used public transport in the mid-00s, there's a strong chance you remember Geraint's column, and are aware that he subsequently wrote a book called Cityboy. Since he outed himself, a lot's changed – Geraint's been shunned by the people he used to know in the banking game and the world's markets have been rocked by the global financial crisis. Now that people have realised the one-way bonus system might have had something to do with everyone losing their jobs and going broke, city boys tend to occupy a rung on the popularity ladder somewhere between animal cruelty convicts and Joey Barton.
I met Geraint in the City of London recently to talk about insider trading, cocaine-fuelled working hours and the mess he and his former mates left us in.
VICE: In the Italian Mafia, there's the whole code of silence thing. Would you say the same thing applies to investment banking?
Geraint Anderson: Definitely. When I came out with my book, I was shunned and had people pushing me around and shouting stuff at me. It's a quick way to get rich, so if you break the code of silence to "civilians", you're out. We use a language to make everyone think we're clever, but all we really do is push around bits of paper. I was dead in this city after my book.
But banks always argue that investment bankers get shit-loads of money because they do such an important job.
I thought that what I was doing was completely pointless. The bonus system is a perfect way to get rich quickly, and investment bankers are never responsible. Before the big bang in 1986, if there were losses, you had to pay for them. But that quickly changed to the American way of doing things: the one-way bet.
Bet all, lose nothing?
Pretty much. It was a huge casino when I started – if you screwed up, you could lose your job – and my senior colleagues would tell me that the casino could blow up at any time. They say, "The best trick the Devil ever pulled was to make everybody think he didn't exist." The best trick investment bankers ever pulled was turning the bonus system into a one-way bet. They can never lose. I still don't understand how they got away with that. And everybody else is paying the costs.
How important is cocaine in the investment banking business?
A lot of people used cocaine in my time. It's the perfect drug for city boys. It's glamorous, it's expensive, it gives you a buzz like you get on the trading floor. For me, it was useful to get clients on side. We entered this Faustian pact. We both knew we were doing something illegal that could lose us our jobs, so we bonded. And it helps after a boozy £1,500 lunch where you can hardly see, you know? A line straightens you right up.
Are there sex parties for city boys?
There are orgies, man! And what's the worst thing that could happen to you at a sex party? Not being able to get an erection because you've done too much cocaine. Let's say that happened to a "friend” of mine. There's this company called Killing Kittens who book a big house in, say, South Kensington and fill it with sex toys and playrooms. There are always more women than men and the women are in control.
Surely not all bankers conform to the coke-snorting, sex-psychopath stereotype?
No, but some do; especially Euro-trash bankers. Loads of French and German guys go there and the Germans are really into it. Everyone knows they're perverts, though.
How did you get into the banking business? You had no idea about finance before, did you?
No. My brother was a banker and he got me the job. He gave me a ten-minute crash course in finance before the interview, I bought a £6 suit from Oxfam, went to the interview, got completely hammered with these guys and they were like, "You got the job."
Totally. I think the very same day, one of the guys who'd interviewed me took me to his mistress. He looked like Henry VIII – 50, fat, ginger hair. We went to a strip-club and he pointed at this young Brazilian chick pulling her butt cheeks apart, who turned out to be his girlfriend. It was after that I thought, 'This job's alright. This could be OK.' The fucked-up thing was that the guy thought they actually had a serious relationship, when all he was doing was giving her gold necklaces.
That's depressing. What kind of men tend to work in investment banking?
It's mostly the kind of guy who didn't get the girl in school and, in general, they’re the most competitive people you'll ever meet. The bonus system exacerbates it, because it's a precise way of keeping score of how "brilliant" you are. If I get a million pounds and you get two, that means you're twice the man I am. And the market, which is God in that world, has spoken. Obviously a lot of the guys are evil bastards, too. Some of them would sell their grandmothers to make a quick buck – the psychopaths.
There are a lot of studies that investigate investment bankers being psychopathic.
What are the key features of psychopaths? They're manipulative, deceiving, charming, have no empathy, no remorse and are guilt-free. I worked with loads of people who were like that and they were the best bankers. You're a better banker if you don't care about other human beings. If you organise take-overs and know that thousands of people will lose their job because of it, you best not give a shit.
And stuff like insider trading happens a lot?
Yeah, it happens all the time. It's disgusting because it's not a victimless crime. Insider traders are stealing directly from regular people and it's mostly pension funds that suffer from it.
Do traders create rumours to make money?
All the time. If you have a share that isn't performing, you make sure that your friends at the Financial Times or Bloomberg hear that it's going to be acquired so the share goes up, then you sell. It has a really negative effect on the economy and the stability of the financial world.
We're talking about the shadow banking system made up of hedge-funds here, right?
Yeah. What they sometimes do is spread a rumour that a company is about to go bankrupt, then the shares go down. They profit from that by shorting the shares, and it's clear that they worsened the financial crisis. If a hedge-fund is doing a lot of insider trading and rumour-spreading, it can be very destructive to the economic system. Some willingly destroy companies – the evil bastards.
It seems that we’re just pushing our debt into the future; somebody's going to have to pay someday.
We'll see some major changes. There's a theory that the UK is absolutely broke – just dead, at a debt level of about 900 percent of GDP. The last country that had that kind of debt was Weimar Germany, and I don't need to tell you what happened after that collapsed. We need clever regulation to sort it out, really – a move away from all that Thatcher, Reagan deregulation bullshit that created the disaster.
At least the US government has accused ratings agencies like Standard & Poor's and Moody's of the deliberate fraud that helped trigger the financial crisis. Do you know what their role was?
The ratings agencies gave these horrible subprime loans one percent chance of default and, the following year, they all defaulted. Why the hell does anyone still take any of these ratings agencies seriously? I can't understand it. They should be hung, drawn and quartered, literally. They played a major role in conning pension funds into buying this utter shit. The ratings agencies are one of the biggest causes of this crisis, up there with the banks.
But do banks actually make money from the failure of those kind of financial products?
Well, think of the Goldman-Sachs scandal in 2010. They were fined because they were clearly inventing products that were designed to fail. Goldman and other banks didn't have a self-interest in creating the financial crisis, but some individuals in the banks certainly started making crazy decisions to get big bonuses. I think that some motherfuckers in structured finance knew that these toxic loans were going to explode, but they didn't give a shit, because by creating and trading them, they made massive bonuses prior to them exploding. It's scandalous that the people who created this mess got away with it.
Was that one of the reasons that you started writing your anonymous column in the London Paper? You just couldn’t take it any more?
Looking back, I think it was like therapy for me – just trying to get rid of all my concerns about the horrible things I was doing and experiencing in the City. I would have lost my job instantly if I'd have been caught. Although, I guess I wanted to get caught and lose my job. I always felt this horrible guilt because we made money at the expense of others. I felt like I sold my soul to the devil. The reason they hate me in the City is because they think I bit the hand that fed me. Maybe so, but it deserved to be bitten, so they can fuck off.
A few things that resulted from the global financial meltdown in 2007: