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Vice Blog

Talking to the Bankers


While broadsheet journo's have been busy wondering what the funny smell coming from the urban wizard's tent they just interviewed is, we've been scratching the surface of #OccupyLSX speaking to the people no one else can be bothered to: The Bankers.

We wanted to find out if The Banker was in touch with his inner street juggler. Can they sympathise with operation crustie-tent? Do they own a pair of practice poi? Or would they rather eat children on the weekend like the slimey Tory lizards we all hope they are?


Here are The Bankers we spoke to.

(None of The Bankers would have would have their picture taken out of fear of retribution, hence the sneaky spy shots from a distance.)

Hello Banker, what's your name?


How long have you worked in the city?

Twelve years.

What sort of Banking thing do you do?

I'm an insurance broker working for a finance company.

Do you have an opinion on the Occupation?

Well I think it's an easy thing to hit on the banks and the financial community. But it's not very well informed because everyone depends on what the City. I mean the UK in general benefits very much from having the financial centre here. Without it a lot more people would be unemployed, plus we would pay more for stuff.

What do you think about the actual people camped out for the Occupation? Is it a problem them being there?

It seems a bit like in New York, I mean they're all… I mean… they look like… hmmm…


Yeah! And in Madrid in Italy, as you would expect, it's the militant anarchists out on the street beating up the shops. It doesn't really help the cause. Just wait for the German's to come up, they can be tough as well.

You don't seem to be taking #Occupy very seriously.

Well, it's good to protest and stuff, but what does it help? You can say it's the banks and the financial thing, but who is at fault? It's just as much regulators and the laws because the banks, and everyone else in the financial community, works within the framework.


If that is too lax, and something happens and goes wrong, then quite frankly the people who work in the banks won't know what's gone wrong either. They're just human beings like everyone else.

It's been suggested that just because something is the legal doesn't mean it's right, it can still be immoral.

Well, immoral or not immoral… I mean, a lot of the problems we had in the financial crisis was fact that they had created this instrument with layers. The debt was in layers, along the layers. Then it was said that the very top layer, which basically didn't earn interest at all, that layer was so secure that the banks didn't need to count it against equity. That was a regulator who allowed this layer thing, I don't why.

It sounds complicated.

I mean a lot of things could have been avoided if all the loans they had outstanding had been counted against equity - including this super super safe one, which wasn't super safe because it was all crap.

For this thing, with all the instruments they had, they didn't need to keep equity, because this little sliver on the top was so safe that they would never make a loss on it. This could have been avoided, and this is a regulatory thing. They shouldn't have allowed it.

You seem a bit annoyed about it, can you imagine how the Occupiers feel who potentially don't even know about all these 'layers'?

Well, you can sympathise with them in a way. But, you know, the competition it's completely cut-throat, it's a complete jungle this place.


Do we need competition?

If you don't compete then your profits will go down, your company will go under and you'll be out of a job. It's the same on a football pitch, you have to compete to win. Maybe you can say it's immoral to kick someone on the shin, but if it's not against the rules you would do it to win, wouldn't you?

Companies come and go here everyday, you know. You can be out of business in a week. Even big corporations, as we have seen.

No answers seem to be coming from politicians on this and some people feel that they are in bed with the financial sector anyway. If they have the power to regulate, why aren't they doing it?

I don't think they understand it. I don't think you have people in the political arena who really understand what's going on, or really understand which buttons to push.

Which buttons should we be pushing?

I have no idea.

No one knows then.

I couldn't tell you, but if you have people, if you get some kind of council of people who are not active anymore from the top brass and you say to them 'Look, from a practical point of view, what the hell should be done?' I'm sure we'll get a lot better ideas than from people standing up in parliament.

Or standing around juggling?

Definitely not.

We spoke to a few people in St Paul's, some of the Occupiers seem a little unsure on what they want.

It was like these riots, it was just hangers on who want to have fun. I mean… The riots were not 'fun', but you know. There's something happening, let's go and do it.


Like sheep?

I don't think it will achieve anything at all.

Did you ever go to any protests in your salad days?

No, not really. I signed a petition once. It's the only petition I've ever signed in my life, against the Shah of Iran. I didn't realise I was supporting this Ayatollah Khomeini, who was sitting in Paris at the time. After that I never signed anything again.

You can't let one bad experience put you off forever.

The thing is you can be against something, but you need to know what are you for. That goes for these people as well actually [gestures to #Occupy], it's nice to be against the finance, the banks or whatever… But what the hell would you want instead? Communism didn't work very well.

You don't like capitalism as long as you don't get the money yourself. Pay anyone of those  [gestures to #Occupy] the bonuses bankers get and they'd be happy. They wouldn't stay around another five seconds.

Sends chills up your spine doesn't it? Brace yourself for more.

We couldn't get a picture of this next guy, because he ran off. He was quite young though and clearly living the yuppie dream. The two guys with him said literally nothing, they were like his little stooges smirking at everything he said. He looked like a chubby version of Draco Malfoy. He was definitely in Slytherin.

Could I ask your names?

I'm Zach, this is Tom and thats Anthony.

What do you guys think about the Occupation?


Zach: Look, to be honest with you, yeah, I sympathise with what they're saying, but from my perspective I work in a bank, I need to have a job, I need to make money so there's nothing much I can do about it.

There's a lot of people over there [gestures to #Occupy] who are telling us what's wrong, but no one's really offering any solutions, so I'm just standing there listening to people shouting and getting angry. I don't think them sitting there is gonna do as much as they think it is.

Tom, Anthony, do either of you guys have an opinion?

[Tom and Anthony shake their heads]

Ok. Zach, do you think the Occupiers have a problem with being taken seriously then?

Well, I don't know about being taken seriously, but in the political world and in the Western world sitting on the floor outside a cathedral is not going to achieve anything. You need someone at the top whose going to go and say something for them and they need to have a proper voice. That, it's very nice all that, it's nice but it's not gonna achieve anything. That's what I think anyway.

What do you think of the jugglers? What's the best trick you've seen?

Mate, I've been to Glastonbury four times, I've been to India, I know all about it, you know? I'm not a mug. I just happen to work in the City. At the weekends I dress like that.

I don't believe you. You sound defensive, do you feel like you're being victimised?

What, people who work in banks? Not me particularly, we're small cogs in a massive wheel. We don't see ourselves as 'bankers' as such, we work for a bank, but that's just because we wanted a job when we left Uni, we didn't have anything else to do.


What do you do?

We work in risk, in a global bank based in the City. It's a really well known institution and it's a great place to work!

So you are bankers.

For me, having these jobs available to people like us [points at Tom and Anthony] that's what makes London so great. Me personally, I don't have a problem with it.

And those Occupiers are trying to ruin it all.

If these companies were to leave and move to Asia, a lot of people would be out of work. This place would be a lot more depressing than it is now, I can guarantee you that.

Is that a threat? Never mind. Would you go to a protest, is there anything you feel strongly about?

The only thing I ever feel passionately about, to speak up about, is West Ham. Other things I kind of just let them go over me because I think 'what can I do to bring down corporate greed?'

Not work for a bank maybe. So you do think there is a problem with corporate greed?

There's a problem how all the money's in one place, but what you gonna do? What you gonna do? I dunno if it's a selfish thing, but I'm not gonna be here for long, I need to make some money, I need to provide for my family. What am I gonna do? I'm not gonna sit outside a fucking church in London and try to do something about nothing, I'm just gonna get some money and get on with my life. They [gestures to #Occupy] , theyshould do that as well.

This guy seemed a bit upset about working in finance, but his aftershave smelt really great.


What's you name Banker?


So Leo, how long have you worked in finance?

Four years now.

What sort of thing do you do?

Right now, fund management.

And what's you opinion of the Occupation?

I don't agree with their means. I don't share their ideals. I'm Spanish, and we have the same thing in Spain. It is tremendously skewed politically right now because something needs to be done, yes, yes indeed. But the thing is these people are not asking for anything in particular. They're asking for overall reform, I don't think it's very productive to criticise and not to propose anything.

Do you think the finance and banking industries are being targeted unfairly?

Well, yeah it's an easy target. A lot of mistakes have been made in terms of regulations. Lets say that many things have been allowed that shouldn't have been in the past. But also I think it all comes down to personal responsibility. We're talking about people living way beyond their means for a very, very long time.

Economies have been artificially inflated because people had access to cheap financing, and the thing is when people find themselves saying 'I've actually borrowed too much and I can't give it back', who do they look to blame? The people they owe money to.

If the protesters don't have it right what are the real issues?

The thing is, it's not so much been a change in the political system, I think it's a problem of mentality. Sometimes politicians take measures that only span their term. In politics it has to look like we're doing well and basically they favour things that shouldn't be favoured.


In the case of the real estate it was exactly that. The real estate bubble was government saying okay, we're going to boost home ownership, and it started in the States, they started giving mortgages to people who didn't have jobs.

You mentioned responsibility, who else is responsible other than people who owe money? Surely you guys?

The thing is it's a change in mentality and a global issue that involves everyone, not just the finance world because the finance world at the end of the day are private companies who have to make money in the regulatory framework that they're given.

Would you agree that most people who work in the financial services industry don't actually understand what it is that goes on in the financial services industry?

Well yeah, as I say, when you put in a political regulatory framework that you don't really understand, and you allow for products to be traded that people don't really understand, it becomes a problem because if you don't understand those products they can blow up. That's exactly what has happened.

But the people who are responsible for fraud and things like that, they should go to jail.

Do you think the protesters will achieve anything?

No. I haven't been down there, but I don't think you have to go down there to know what they want. But, no, they won't.

So people basically need to shut up and learn to just get used to it.

Well, I'm not sure about what the end result is going to be. I mean their have been quite a few crisis in the last thirty-forty-fifty years.


I think more than anything it's an assumption of responsibility and it's an exercise in responsibility that needs to be taken, and that takes more than protests and sit-ins in front of St Paul's church.

There's a lot of people saying the bankers need to take responsibility, and there's a lot of bankers telling everyone else they need to take responsibility… Can't they all just get on?

I think the middle ground is that the blame belongs to all of us. The blame belongs to all of us and to none of us at the same time. I think it's more towards all of us.

We need to make sure people who don't have a job don't get mortgages. Not allow people who don't have a job to refinance their house once, twice, three times, four times. We need to be aware of what we can do with the income that we've got, we need to be able to live within our means. That's not something that liberalising the mortgage market is gonna help.

Hmmm… I have a sneaky feeling you're saying 'we' but meaning 'you'. Some of the Occupiers were talking about starting a new society, what do you think about that?

I think setting up a new society is fair enough, I mean people can do what the hell they want. But what is it that new society about? What values are they trying to instill? What is it they're trying to propagate as a set of values, as a set of rules, as a set of ideas? You know, saying 'oh yeah we need a new society' is great, but what is it gonna be like? It's not a solution in itself.


What's the solution?

I don't know. It will take a huge amount of pain, and I think we're gonna be in pain for some time now, I think the pain is not close to it's peak now…

Some would point out that the pain is sharpest with the people who had least to start with…

Well of course. It's always like that. We are not communists. We actually rejected communism a long time ago, and now it turns out the government owns companies that were private five years ago.

George Osborne recently announced the Treasury may offer credit easing, essentially meaning the government would have a direct stake in private businesses, isn't that essentially nationalisation as well?

I didn't know about that. Then I guess we're back to questioning our own way of doing things. We need serious overhaul, and we need smart people to come up with serious and smart ideas to fix the problem.

Are those ideas going to come from St Paul's square?

Maybe they can come up with some good ideas, if they do then good for them. In the meantime they need to be saving all the money they can.

What's your name sir?


What type of banking do you work in?

Finance change.

What does that mean?

Process management.

Of… money?

Errr… yeah, moving money around is part of what I do.

Ok. Michel, the word on the street is things have gotta change, we need a new system, what do you think?

There are fundamental things that need to and need to continue to change. There is regulation in place that is altering things already. It may be going the right way, in steps. Some people probably want it faster.


Is the Occupation in St Paul's square having an affect on the City, making it move faster?


So what's the point?

It's the knife edge I suppose, protesting. It highlights the issue and then the real work gets done somewhere else. Maybe it just gets it public and then it gets political attention, and once it's got political attention then perhaps they'll come back and speak to the banks.

You think that the protest will work then?

Yeah, you do need a starting point. Your seeing it gather in size and momentum. I think as a protest in itself it's probably quite small, it's slim pickings. But as part of the all rest of the protests going on around Europe and the world, yeah, maybe it's something that needs to be addressed.

Do you think we're going to see public protests reaching a climax?

Not a climax, but there might be more protests. I think Western Europe is angry enough. We're just not used to that kind of angry protest in the street. It should stay as it helps to highlight and focus the argument. It should develop and just carry on to push for real change; see what comes from that. I don't think there's a magic solution though.

Okay cool. Do we need a brand new society, or is this one good for a few more spins?

Well you can always have a grand vision and then there's the practicality of it, you're always going to diverge. Yeah it's worth aiming for the ideal, then looking at the practicality and see how close you can get.


Seeing it from the inside [of banking world], the view is there is definitely huge change needed in the approach to the market. Who's going to change it? Who's going to take it on? I guess whoever is effected by it.

When you were younger did you go to any protests?

Yeah, but my protests were very different because I'm originally from South Africa. We obviously had very different reasons for protesting.

Ah I see, yes okay. What issues do you think #Occupy should focus in on then?

Basically I think there needs to be a lot more focus on government policy on control than anything to do with the banking environment. Banks, you know, they're just capitalists, they're just out there to make money.

But if you want a structural system that's going to say how you structure a society, well, the governments had a free for all on how much credit you provide people and how much you give away. That's how you regulate where the money flows and how much capital a bank gets to hold.

It's not that bigger a reform, we just ran away with ourselves. Now we're living through the hangover and everyone gets upset and protests that we have to pay it back. The banks? It's not their fault.

'Ran away with ourselves' is a very loaded term considering the hardships some people will and are facing. Does the financial community as a whole accept some blame?

You're trying to blame the glutton. So, there's a greedy bastard at the table and you're saying, 'Hey, fat pig, why you eating all the food?' What's the benefit? He's not gonna stop eating, he wants to take all that he can get.


It's the person who's handing out all the food who needs to say, 'Sorry mate, you've had enough, you need to share with everyone.'

Can you understand the anger then?

Yeah of course, everyone can see the Fat Cat taking away all their food. But if everyone shouts at the Fat Cat, you're not gonna fix anything. You need to speak to the person giving out the food.

Where should the movement go from here then?

I think that splitting the banks is good, taking away the risk. People with money are still gonna take the risky investments and play it though. But big players are affecting the markets too much, so there is room to discuss what they can do, and what the rest of society can do is very different.

But we are gonna have to help out the banks, to sort of free them up because they are the generator of wealth.

Do people need the banks more than they realise?

At the moment… probably. They don't realise how much it helps keeping the economy going. Also there's a point where banks should make a reasonable profit, but people were getting upset and they said, 'yeah, okay there is an imbalance to address.'

The problem, though, is it needs to be a global response. If we come down too hard on the UK the money just runs away. So what you want is for everyone to talk about it, that's the grand ideal that will be very difficult to get to.

Is it unfair that some people will suffer more than others as we continue to watch shit fly unstoppably towards the fan?


Your always gonna get that, life is unfair. Most people, with a job, will actually be in a better place with their mortgage because of the low interest rate at the moment. So as long as you've got a job people should be okay.

What about people who rely on public services?

If you've got a job you fine, in my view. Obviously you've got inflation, so costs are going up. But that could happen for a variety of reasons, that's not caused by the banking crisis.

The problem is you've always got people losing jobs, and that's an issue. They try to address that through growth, how do you do that? Well you get the banks to lend, so the banks need more money. It's a cycle.

As I said, we just gotta get through the hangover period. There's just gonna be a few years of pain and then it'll be better. If you've got a job you'll be fine.

Whilst Kevin was trying to sneak pictures of this guy he got harassed by a security guard and had to put his camera away. It turned not to be such an issue because this guy, a broker called Rob, was incredibly depressing, and Depressing Rob also had a depressing face so you're missing nothing.

You have a backpack on, what's you're name?


What's you job, Rob?

I'm a broker.

What's you're general opinion on the protest?

Well, they're free to express their opinion as long as they do it in an orderly manner and obey the law.

What do you feel about the criticisms of the financial community?


I think there's many sides to the story. Obviously they see it from their point of view, bankers and people who work in the finance industry see it from their point of view. So, who knows what really goes on.

Is the financial sector more to blame for what's happening though?

They're all part of the system, so that's who's to blame for it.

If the systems the problem is regulation the answer?

I think society in general. It's just gone that way, society's overly materialistic. Regulation have been too lax, but it's been going at this speed for twenty or thirty years.

If people become less materialistic won't that stunt growth?

I'm just saying… I'm talking about modern culture and modern society, everyone just wants more all the time. No ones ever satisfied put simply.

Have you even had been to the Occupation?


But you know what they're doing, what they're about?


Do you think they'll be effective?


Why not?

They're voicing their opinion, but it's just not a strong enough opinion. It's not an opinion that anyone in power will be forced to listen to. Stop The War protest has been in Parliament Square for ten years or something and that's not stopped anything.

Do you have an opinion on Stop The War?

No, not really.

People are saying it's going to be hard for a while, do you think there will be more public protests?

I think so. There's certainly gonna be more unemployment and we're going to go into another recession. It's going to be a cold winter and a lot of people are going to find it tough. That's going to cause a few things, there's gonna be strikes, there's gonna be anger.


Can you understand the anger?

Yeah I can understand the anger. If I was in their position I'm sure I'd feel similarly, I don't know how I'd it express it, but I'm sure I'd feel similarly.

Do you think the anger is being directed in the right place?

I think that bankers and financial workers are an easy target. I think people should look at government as well.

For regulation?

I don't know how important regulation is. I mean, there's always a regulatory frame work, how effective it's ever going to be is open to interpretation.

Time to mix it up, here's a Banker who isn't a man. She also looks kind of like Nikki from Big Brother 7.

Could I ask you name?

It's Louise.

What finance thing do you do?

Investment management.

Do you have an opinion on the Occupation?

I just don't know what they want to achieve by it, do they just want us to all, you know, shut up shop? I think bankers keep on getting quite a lot of bad press but I think what they're forgetting is that most of us just want to come into work and pay our mortgages. Just like everybody else.

I think we are kind of an easy target and the media haven't really properly explained what has actually caused certain credit crisis, and it's not every element of business that has done that.

What elements are responsible?

You could probably blame individuals or certain aspects of trading and I think since then regulations clamped down a lot, that's what they're doing now. You know, they are trying to make amends to it.


So, the solution is already in place?

Yeah. I think certain elements are, yeah. In terms of what happened with Lehman's, that wasn't great. Obviously there was stuff that should have been addressed earlier. But I don't think you can make a generalised statement that everybody in banking is… um…

A lizard?


Has it been an inconvenience having people camped outside where you work?

Just the fact that I can't even get to my gym, I've gotta go around.

That must be annoying.

Yeah, well I guess it gives me the opportunity to burn a few calories. But, other than that no.

It's growing as a movement, what do you think of the wider message?

I don't really know what they want to achieve. They're just saying anti-capitalism, what does that mean? I don't know.

People are talking about a new way to run society, maybe even setting up a new society. Do you think that's a good idea?

Societies of what?

No, a new actual society.

Well, yeah I mean setting up camp is okay. Granted it's a peaceful protest, but I don't think people take it seriously. People think 'well, what are you doing?' I mean, do you have a job? How come you're able to protest in the middle of the week?'

I'm not sure.

Well, are they on benefits? Whose paying for those benefits? Probably our taxes. I'd be very curious to actually look at the demographics of whose protesting, and actually do they have full time jobs. If not, how are they funding themselves?


Should the Bankers stage a counter protest?

I don't know, I think we just take it all and carry on. I'm just a normal person.

Where should they go from here?

Well I don't know how long they're going to keep it going for but at the end of the day they're also effecting the businesses in the square and I think that's very selfish.

This last guy was close to not even talking to us, and then said 'fuck it' and gave us his full name and company he worked for. He then asked that we didn't use that information because he would probably get fired. I think overall he was smart guy.

Could I ask your name?

Anthony [name removed].

What area of finance do you work in?

Private finance at [company name removed].

What's your job title?

Investment Portfolio Manager.

Do you have an opinion on the Occupation?

Well I can understand why people are protesting, but I don't think they necessarily see the whole picture.

Which bit specifically are they missing?

The bit that means a personal responsibility for the repayment of debt. Debt has been self-generated, by and large, and it needs to fall on the shoulders somewhere. It's now fallen on the shoulders of government, and the way that it will be repaid is with higher taxes and the rest and I think that's inevitable.

Higher taxes and cuts will surely affect growth, isn't this an issue?

Of course it's an issue, there won't be any growth for another two to three years until the debt's been largely reduced.


Can you see more movements like Occupy taking root if that is the case?

Depends on the speed of the downturn. If there's a very fast downturn and it's very badly managed, then no doubt they'll be blood on the streets.

But I suspect it will be reasonably well managed, with a salami slicing of the bad news. [makes slicing action with hand] . There'll be protests, but manageable protests.

What is your view on protesting in general?

I haven't got a problem with people protesting because that's the reason I live in this country. Presumably it's the reason we all live in the West. It's a good opportunity to voice an opinion. There's nothing wrong with that and that's probably very useful.

Quite possibly it extends the issues out to people who might not look at things in quite the same way. As long as it's a peaceful protest I don't have an issue, but if it becomes not so peaceful then, of course, we all have an issue.

Some people would say that the move to deregulation over previous years, which was for a while more or less welcomed by the City, is the main cause of the problems, and that it is people who had no say in this who are suffering the most. Do you accept this allegation?

I think [the City] is an obvious target. Deregulation was pushed by politicians, the banks in the States were forced to lend to people who don't really have the means to repay. So, if you put it all in a circle it was largely orchestrated, in my view, by liberal, socialist politics.

A move towards a liberalised economy, including free market propagation, isn't necessarily a socialist policy.

Well all the liberalisation occurred under socialist, well not socialist regimes, but Left regimes. I'm not saying that they wouldn't have happened under different regimes.

Are you suggesting it is a bit rich for critics of the right to be complaining?

I don't know if they're from the left or the right, I have no idea what they're political stand point is. I'd like to think they were from all quarters, but quite possibly it's probably more biased to one area than another.

I think a public presence is fine. And it's not just happening in this country, it's happening all over Europe and the States as well. It's an inevitability when resources are having to be cut back, it's the people using those resources first and foremost who are the people most likely to be aggrieved by it, so I don't see a problem with it.

Surely it's unfair that people at the bottom, with less to start with, will suffer more than others who have more?

Well yeah but come on, it's not fair that Greek public sector workers can retire at 55!

There seems to be an ambivalence within the financial community to the criticism directed at them.

There have been a few people who have been responsible for abusing opportunities badly. One could rest that quite firmly on some of the banks and some of the merchant banking facilities. That's obvious.

But whether or not people who work in the City actually feel aggrieved at all about it or not, or personally responsible for it, probably is very unlikely. The City involves all sorts of people, we live all over the country, we just happen to work here. Not necessarily for the same organisation, or same sector for that matter.

It's a very multi-tiered environment, it's not as simple and it's not as black and white as some people might actually imagine.

What do you think that ideas about a new society, a new system of running things?

Well there's a good old hippie culture of that isn't there! I don't think we're going to see the end of six hundred years of economic history in a puff of smoke, just because we're having to go through some rather tough times. It's not the first time, not even in my lifetime.

When you were younger did you go to any protests?

I use to wear flip flops and a tie dye T-shirt and everything, you know! Come on! I was actually quite young at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight I don't regret it. One has to do it. I don't know who's actually out there at the moment, hopefully it's a good cross section of ages. I suspect the majority are younger, I don't know. I might go have a look.