Blog - Investment Banking 1
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Gareth Martin

Executive / Life Coach
Host of Ridiculously Human Podcast

The things I learnt, one year since leaving my job as an Investment Banker — PART 1

I’m sitting here in my undies, on my bed, the sun is shinning through the blinds in my loft and I’ve just finished an amazing morning routine. I started the day with some yoga, went for a mini-walk outside to get some fresh air and take in the morning energy, made a green juice and some coffee, had a cool chat and laughs with my girlfriend, took a shower and now I’m sitting down to write. Sounds quite ideal right…if only every morning was like this…!

I have been meaning to write about this for a month now, or at least drafting it so it would be ready to send this week. You’re going to find a theme of procrastination in my journey.

Firstly I have no idea how long this is going to be, so we may have to break it out in chunks and publish it in a few parts, so I don’t take up too much time of your busy days!

I’d like to take this journey back, to before it actually began. This is my second stint at giving up the corporate world, my first attempt failed miserably, although it taught me great lessons.

5 years ago, I was fortunate enough to get approval from the Investment Bank I was working for to take a 6 month sabbatical. It ended up being 6.5 months because I had outstanding holidays to take. It was probably one of the most amazing trips of my entire life, the memories, the friends, the places, the awakening….

I came back a re-vitalised person, with new energy and a new perspective. I was so keen to make a big difference in the bank and work a little differently, be more expressive and creative, with the hope that it may rub off on my colleagues, managers and who knows….maybe the whole industry, LOL. Surely we could make our jobs in an investment bank more exciting?!

Alas, that renewed vigour lasted about a week or so. My job had changed, which I knew would be the case, I was flying solo as my previous team had disbanded and things generally felt a little rudderless. After a month, I knew that I needed a change and a drastic one. I was really fortunate (once again!) to have a manager I could speak to openly and honestly. I told him I would like to leave the bank and would offer myself up for voluntary redundancy, if it was an option. Luckily it was, primarily because they were aggressively downsizing. I managed to secure a few months salary as part of my redundancy package. Within 4 months of returning from my sabbatical, I was saying goodbye to a company I had enjoyed 10.5 years at, a place I had met incredible people, made amazing friends, learnt some great skills and a good work ethic.

My plan…..errrr, well I had big ideas. I spent a couple months learning about App development and was going to build an App and make millions in the online world, of course I was 😉 …

I decided to travel a bit more again too, I re-visited South America and my home country, South Africa. At the time, I probably told a good story about what I was going to do and had at least convinced myself that this was the way forward. When I landed back in London, it hit me that I hadn’t really thought this through too well and entering the world of entrepreneurship was a whole new playing field, which I wasn’t necessarily prepared for!

It was a coincidence that a friend of mine had just started working at a consultancy and called me up to ask if I was interested in a consultancy role back in banking. Fast forward three years and I had completed 3 stints of consultancy / contracting at 3 investment banks. The irony being that my last role was back at the first bank I had left after 10.5 years. I was like a homing pigeon to that place!!

So now you have a little context to my journey!

It’s important to add, that in those 3 years I spent a lot of time going on courses, attending events, reading and learning about the A-Z of starting a business. I also invested small amounts of money in a few start-up companies in London and sat on the Board as a non-exec director. It was and still is some of the best learning I have done. On the job learning is ubiquitous for each career/job I have been in.

What I did during this last year, since I left my job is a whole separate article {not written yet, but coming soon and will be linked up here}

If you’ve made it this far, then thank you and namaste 🙂

While writing these out, I have realised that it’s worth documenting them in sub-categories, as the lessons are multi-layered and related to different elements. These particular lessons, are in relation to what I didn’t realise while working for the banks. I’m conscious that there are many strands to each of these which I could elaborate on, but maybe those are for future articles too. I’ll be concise as possible to give you the gist of them.

1 — Having a job is easy(ier)

When you work for a large financial institution you often dream of getting out to manage your own business, to be more in control of your day and to live a life on your own terms. I must dispel the myth that this is the EASIER option. It is not, certainly in the beginning (beginning equals 1–3 years!). You realise that waking up, going to work, having a fairly structured day, seeing your colleagues, taking a lunch break and then packing up at 6 or 7pm, is actually pretty cruisey and easy. Then at the end of each month, you get a little top up into your bank account as a thanks. Happy days.

2 — I miss the day to day interaction with people

When you have something in abundance, you don’t necessarily appreciate it. I am definitely a people’s person and get a lot of energy being around them. Having colleagues, who you can see and talk to everyday is an absolute luxury. Of course you are not going to like or see eye-to-eye with everyone but for the large majority, you will enjoy some or all of their company. It’s something I never took for granted and made a big effort to make friends and acquaintances while I was working, however, I didn’t realise what a big part of my life they were and how much I would miss those people and interactions.

3 — I could have worked a lot harder and smarter

Firstly apologies to my previous managers and colleagues, I could have worked harder. When someone else is paying for your time it doesn’t seem like a big deal to spend a portion of your day catching up on the news, aimlessly surfing the net, paying your bills and/or looking for your next holiday.

Long toilet breaks were a distraction and a time for me to catch up on social media and my personal life. Being able to use my phone at my desk was another distraction. It’s obviously your responsibility as an employee to limit these and manage yourself effectively, as you are an adult…..but (well there is no ‘but’ really, it’s just the way it was towards the end of my banking career unfortunately)

3 (there are many more!) elements of the system which are inefficient and need changing.

i) Email is a MASSIVE distraction and interrupts your day and flow of work. It should be shut down and only viewed at certain times. People thrive on emails in banks, the more the better. The more reports and reconciliations you receive, the more busy you are perceived to be.

ii) There are way too many meetings, with too many people attending. People need training on how to effectively manage meetings too. There is a framework to effective meeting management, it is an art and skill which many people don’t have or understand. This should be taught more.

iii) The culture of having to stay back later, to be seen to be ‘busy’ or ‘working hard’. This is a biggie. I know that if I had worked harder, smarter, not attended pointless meetings and not been distracted I could finish my day in 6 hours. I probably knew this subconsciously which is why I would ‘drag’ my day out with personal arrangements.

4 — I learnt great skills and they are transferable

While they may have seemed boring and pointless at the time, I did learn a lot of great skills, ways of doing things, work ethic, life lessons and how to act correctly in a working environment. Things like:-

  • Adding structure to my day
  • Dealing with stressful situations
  • Dealing with aggressive colleagues
  • How to use excel, word, powerpoint
  • How to write good emails
  • Using and creating checklists (HUGE ONE)
  • How to write great procedure documents
  • Documenting in general — business plans, business cases
  • Understanding budgeting
  • Knowing a little about how the world’s financial markets work
  • Being aware of different cultures and people’s views
  • Learning from those more wise than me. You are surrounded daily by a lot of smart people
  • Listening and watching from afar
  • International dialling numbers
  • Creating reconciliations
  • Project planning and setting milestones
  • Problem solving
  • Team structure
  • Company culture

These are important in anything you do, so please don’t think that you have no skills if you ever want to get out and work for yourself!! It’s easy to feel trapped, but you should not feel like that is the case. I see it in a lot of start-up companies, they DO NOT know or have these skills. They are youngsters who are ambitious and creative in their own right, but you still need to have these base skills to be able to run a business efficiently!!

That’s it for now…I’m thinking Part 2 and 3 to be along the lines of

2 — Things I did realise but should have done more of

3 — Lessons learnt in my first year of working for myself

If you have any questions of comments, then I’d love to hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch 🙂



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