Con­fes­sions of an over­seas banker

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - John Le­Fevre

One of the crit­i­cisms I've heard of the "bankers be­hav­ing badly" cliché is that it doesn't ap­ply to the ma­jor­ity of bankers; it's just a few bad ap­ples and they typ­i­cally work in emerg­ing mar­kets. Well, as some­one who's worked in New York, Lon­don, and Hong Kong, and done count­less deals with ev­ery bank on Wall Street, I can tell you this is not true. The de­viance is per­va­sive.

It is true that Hong Kong can be like Dis­ney­land for ex­pa­tri­ate bankers, where there are fewer rules and less over­sight than in the U.S. and the de­bauch­ery tends to get am­pli­fied. Misog­yny is cel­e­brated. Bankers still en­ter­tain clients in pri­vate karaoke rooms filled with scant­ily clad women. Drug use is ubiq­ui­tous. How­ever, it wasn't the Hong Kong bankers who had the most fun - it was al­ways the bankers and clients who vis­ited from New York and Lon­don.

New York bankers will do just about any­thing to jus­tify a trip to Asia. When I was work­ing on the bond-syn­di­cate desk in Hong Kong, there was al­ways a wait­ing list of man­ag­ing di­rec­tors try­ing to at­tend our in­vestor and bor­rower con­fer­ences - and wed­ding rings were al­ways op­tional. One of our traders even got an early pro­mo­tion be­cause (in our opin­ion) he was so good at en­ter­tain­ing se­nior man­age­ment from New York. His go-to move? The he­li­copter to Ma­cau and a trip to the spa, where pros­ti­tutes bathed them in milk and mas­saged them with­out us­ing their hands.

U.S. bankers would of­ten jus­tify an ex­otic boon­dog­gle by con­vinc­ing their clients to do an Asian in­vestor road­show. It's not a hard sell: stay at the Man­darin, meet some in­vestors, get some suits and shirts made, eat Miche­lin-starred food, and then party all night.

The trips are quite of­ten point­less - Asian in­vestors have no in­ter­est in meet­ing the ma­jor­ity of com­pa­nies who force these road­shows on them. We'd fre­quently have to beg buy-side clients just to take a meet­ing, promis­ing gen­er­ous al­lo­ca­tions on fu­ture deals in ex­change for the fa­vor. And, if we still couldn't fill out a sched­ule, es­pe­cially for lunch or group pre­sen­ta­tions, we'd have ju­nior sales staff pre­tend to be in­vestors.

This did back­fire spec­tac­u­larly for me at a lunch round­table I hosted for the fi­nance di­rec­tor of a large in­sur­ance con­glom­er­ate. In a panic that the board­room would be half empty, I rounded up a few sales­peo­ple from the China team to play the part of in­vestors. Just as we are about to start, a first-year an­a­lyst comes run­ning in and sits in the seat next to the pre­sen­ter, which had been left empty out of po­lite­ness.

Through­out the en­tire du­ra­tion of the lunch, this kid keeps dis­rupt­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion - chew­ing dis­gust­ingly with his mouth open, belch­ing, clear­ing his throat, slurp­ing his tea, even fart­ing unashamedly. When he's done eat­ing, he starts hack­ing at his teeth with a tooth­pick. The fi­nance di­rec­tor is openly strug­gling through the pre­sen­ta­tion. I'm open­ing strug­gling to keep my food down.

I had to show them a re­ally good time at karaoke that night to make up for that de­ba­cle. But all was for­given; that's what these trips are all about any­way - hav­ing a good time.

Another time, we had a high-level ex­ec­u­tive from one of the largest GSEs go to Tokyo to be the key­note speaker at our an­nual con­fer­ence. It started with din­ner and drinks with se­nior man­age­ment the night be­fore. (I wasn't se­nior enough to be there.) As peo­ple are look­ing to head home around mid­night, the ex­ec­u­tive says he's go­ing to meet a guy from another bank for "one quick drink."

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, there is no sign of him. About two hours be­fore his midafter­noon key­note ad­dress in front of Ja­pan's most im­por­tant in­vestors, he is still is MIA. With his phone turned off, our se­nior man­age­ment is left with no choice but to phys­i­cally go to his ho­tel. The fa­mously dis­creet staff re­luc­tantly ex­plain what hap­pened, and it's not pretty. Ap­par­ently, he came back at 5am com­pletely wasted, trashed his ho­tel room, and then when he de­manded a new one, they kicked him out.

The search party walks to the near­est ho­tel only to dis­cover that they had just missed him. He had gone straight to the air­port via chop­per, where he pro­ceeds to char­ter a pri­vate plane home.

In the end, their CEO [al­legedly] called our CEO to say this is the of­fi­cial ver­sion - he got vi­o­lently ill with food poi­son­ing, end of story.

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