Bankers lose status and move down the pecking order

No one ever said a career in financial markets was fun, but it certainly had its benefits. Now, says Matthew Lynn, bankers feel themselves slipping down the league table of desirable careers.

Your portfolio is in tatters. Your job is about as secure as an investment with Bernard Madoff. Now, as if life wasn't gloomy enough, your girlfriend or wife is about to trade you in for a more lucrative model.

No one ever said a career in financial markets was fun. The hours were backbreaking. The work was dull. The maths were often impenetrable. And your colleagues? Well, let's put it this way: a picnic with a pack of wolves would be more relaxing and there would be less chance of getting your sandwich stolen.

It still had its benefits. The offices were swanky. The bonuses were mind-boggling. You could be confident that even if you hadn't reached the summit of human evolution, no one could match you for status. At its most basic, it was certain your market value with the opposite sex was high. It didn't matter if you looked more like Danny DeVito than Leonardo Di Caprio. Males didn't come more alpha than investment bankers.

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Not anymore. As the credit crunch rolls into its third year, and as politicians around the world rush to make bonus payments about as legal as carrying a loaded shotgun on to an aeroplane, bankers can feel themselves slipping down the league table of desirable careers.

One New York weblog has attracted a lot of publicity for collecting the gripes of girls who date or once dated bankers. Surveys show that the plutocrats are spending less on their mistresses and lovers, which may well lead to many women deciding to do something else with their lives.

Naturally, it is hard not to sympathise. Once you are making mega-bucks, it isn't difficult to make yourself attractive to the opposite sex. You can tip the matre d' enough to make sure you get the best table at the smartest restaurants. You can pour bottles of the best, overpriced wine down the throat of the person sitting opposite you. If all else fails, you can always pull out a Tiffany & Co box.

Now, all that has changed. A table for two at Pizza Hut with a meal-deal voucher, of course and an hour or two of miserable conversation about how everyone in the office is getting fired, doesn't quite work the same magic. The Dating a Banker Anonymous blog, as it is called, may be accurate, or it might be a clever publicity stunt. But either way, it has tapped into the zeitgeist. A collection of alarmingly frank 'money honeys' dish the dirt on their financial-world boyfriends, and they come to the same conclusion: a banker without a bonus is about as useful as a nut without a wrench. "I ain't saying I'm a gold digger, but I ain't messin' with no broke banker," writes one of its contributors.

Cold it might be, but at least it cuts to the chase. There is already evidence that men in financial markets are cutting back on treats for their lovers. Russ Prince, president of research firm Prince & Associates Inc in Connecticut in the US, carried out a survey of 191 men and women with a net worth of at least $20 million. More than 80% of the men said they planned to give lower "allowances" to their mistresses, and almost as many would offer fewer gifts.

Sure, in tough economic times, the incentive to become a kept lover may increase. After all, other ways of making easy money are looking less certain by the day. "I foresee a growing desire on the part of many people male and female to be kept," Prince said in an emailed response to questions. "A bad economy like the one we're experiencing will only make the good life ever more attractive."

Maybe. And yet if the allowances and gifts that come with the position are tumbling in value, there may well be fewer applicants. The truth is, in different ways, dating a banker is financially a far less attractive option than it used to be. They will have to rely on wit and charm, attributes in which they sometimes hold a short position.

There is a serious point here. For more than two decades, banking has been the world's most prestigious career. It paid better than anything else, and it carried more kudos.

Status is measured in many different ways. Money is part of it. Yet it is also quantified in esteem, position and acclaim. One of the reasons so many aggressive, ambitious men flocked to a career in investment banking was because it made them feel like they were running the world. As any sociobiology student will tell you, attractiveness to the opposite sex may be more important than any other component when choosing a career and lifestyle.

Bankers can no longer lord it over other professions. Finance moguls have gone from alpha to gamma in the space of a few months. Long after the credit crunch is just a footnote in the textbooks, it will have a profound impact on the industry and on the private lives of those who used to work in it.

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Matthew Lynn

Matthew Lynn is a columnist for Bloomberg, and writes weekly commentary syndicated in papers such as the Daily Telegraph, Die Welt, the Sydney Morning Herald, the South China Morning Post and the Miami Herald. He is also an associate editor of Spectator Business, and a regular contributor to The Spectator. Before that, he worked for the business section of the Sunday Times for ten years. 

He has written books on finance and financial topics, including Bust: Greece, The Euro and The Sovereign Debt Crisis and The Long Depression: The Slump of 2008 to 2031. Matthew is also the author of the Death Force series of military thrillers and the founder of Lume Books, an independent publisher.