Confessions from the City: The bucket shop broker

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Nothing could have prepared me for my first job in finance.

It was in Mayfair at a start-up “corporate finance boutique”, which I later realised was a fancy way to say tiny broker.

I had an inkling this job would be different to earlier ones. I was the youngest by 20 years, and left all five of my morning interviews for the role drunk — so drunk in one case, I had to get a hotel room.

My first two days in the job were spent in a wine bar from 11am until close.

It became clear I’d joined a place run by people who once had bright careers, but for whom those days had long passed — as had their desire to play by the rules.

When FCA authorisation failed for the second time, business simply continued anyway, alongside a cavalier quest to gain a back-door, “quickie” style approval via a loophole, which also failed.

It involved putting someone on the board who, by all accounts, was on his or her death bed.

The accountant who specialised in this service (but who wasn’t actually an accountant) stopped working on our application when his fee (which was a large diamond shipped across from Antwerp) never materialised. 

His parting words were: “Gentlemen, my wife is going to be very unhappy — that was her f****** Christmas present!”

This was just one of a long list of unusual payments. One of the deals struck with our lawyer, who wasn’t actually a lawyer (how did you guess?), was to give him access to the office on Friday nights to spend with women who weren’t his wife. 

One night, he was barricaded in a lavatory by one of them before ransacking the office.

Then there was the sandwich shop man who threatened to smash the place up if we didn’t pay our ludicrously large tab — only to be offered shares in the firm instead.

I also remember the photocopier and bottles of vodka from a start-up drinks company we were supposed to be raising money for being given to a courier firm we owed money to.

I got used to the chain-smoking in the office and “cocaine Monday” (which ran well into Wednesday), but when I had to chase pay cheques every month and was told “look mate, if I don’t get £10k in my back pocket every month, you don’t eat,” I realised it was time to go.

When I gave notice, they were playing poker and drinking games in the boardroom.

Within a year, the business closed and two years later, one of the lead partners was sent to prison. As far as I know, he’s still there.

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October 7, 2016 |
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