London Therapist for Disheartened Bankers Tells Their Tales of Woe

London therapist for disheartened bankers tells their tales of woe
Getty Images
The latest register of how far the banking profession has fallen in public esteem is provided by "a life and executive coach" who works with clients employed in London's financial sector. Writing at The Guardian's Banking Blog, Karin Peeters paints a dismal picture of many bankers' lives, describing deep disaffection and gnawing unhappiness, even outright embarrassment at being affiliated with finance.

Peeters criticizes condemnations of the entire business, which she considers both unfair and "counterproductive": "In my eyes, banker bashing will not lead people with low self-esteem to change course. They will only become more defensive since you attack their core sense of self."

According to Peeters, bankers can no longer count on the support of those closest to them. "It's as if they feel ashamed of working for a bank nowadays," she reports. "Their own parents accuse them of misusing tax money." To disclose one's true professional identity at a party is to risk enduring "another terrible discussion about bonuses and bailouts" -- a small price to pay for all those bonuses and bailouts, one would think, but apparently mortifying nonetheless.

These days, it seems you can't even count on a City of London gig to open romantic doors: "Some of my clients have removed their job title from internet-dating sites," Peeters informs us.

It's jarring to remember the enormous prestige that investment banking used to enjoy in this society. After the lurid excesses of the 1980s -- encapsulated in popular culture by Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" and in reality by the Savings and Loan crisis -- the financial industry reentered the realm of respectability under President Bill Clinton, primarily in the person of former Goldman Sachs (GS) co-chairman Robert Rubin. With Rubin at the helm of the Treasury Department, the Clinton administration advanced a program of financial liberalization and deregulation -- about which the former president would later express regret, saying he'd been wrong to take Rubin's advice on derivatives -- and Wall Street's portion of the economic pie grew ever larger.

This era of deference to, bordering on veneration of, Wall Street-affiliated financial wizards reached a symbolic apogee in February 1999, when Rubin and his protege, Harvard economist Lawrence Summers, were featured on the cover of TIME with Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and the grandiose billing "The Committee to Save the World." We all know how that turned out: Just look at the story of Citigroup (C), the megabank Rubin ran as CEO after leaving government.

But Peeters thinks we've overcorrected since the financial crisis, going from stoking the profession's collective ego to unfairly denigrating all its members. She wants us to understand that "nine out of 10 bankers are like the rest of us." (What the tenth banker is like she doesn't dare to say.) "They are hoping for a nice day at work. They hope their partner will go on loving them. This idea that bankers wake up in the morning thinking: 'Ah, can't wait to screw someone over...' is total nonsense."

That might strike you as a straw man, since what's at issue in critical discussions of the financial sector is not bankers' personalities but rather their institutional roles. (And as Peeters herself notes, in corporate life the wearing of a mask or persona -- for instance that of "a robot-like person", unconnected to others through empathy -- "may be useful in some cases".) But Peeters keeps things strictly personal, explaining that in her experience bankers are motivated not by greed --"I have never heard a client say: 'I'm doing this for the money' " -- but by the intellectual challenge the job provides. At the same time, she sure makes banking sound like an awful, empty exercise:

Work is no longer fulfilling, they tell me in our first session. "This is not me." They might disagree with the culture, the products they have to sell, the corporate strategy, how people are treated or the aim of the company as a whole.

"Nobody at work knows who I am," they say. "Maybe one person on the entire trading floor is aware of what I really think and feel." One client talked about standing in the shower screaming without a sound. Then she straightened out her face, glued on a smile and went to work.

So why keep working in such a dystopia? Because the banking sector offers people "the promise of emotional security":

Some people have a literally insatiable need for validation by external impulses (people, salary, bonus, car) because this helps them increase their sense of self-worth. They believe they always need to be more/better/higher, and this inner fear drives everything they do.

This seems like a pretty good therapeutic paraphrase of "greed" -- who besides Scrooge McDuck wants money as "an end in itself", to be hoarded in some chamber rather than exchanged for gratification? -- but you probably don't get very far as a life coach in the City of London by telling people that they're greedy. And Peeters seems to be doing well in her chosen specialty: Banks themselves hire her, "to train their staff in authentic leadership, mindfulness and self-awareness."

For all the misery she relates, there's no indication that Peeters's advice ever touches on the possibility of career change. Instead, she counsels her clients to cultivate sources of self-esteem aside from the trappings of their jobs, some of which have been devalued by the "trampl[ing]" of a cruel media. "It takes self-worth to say: no, I can't come into the office this weekend because I am going away with my loved-one on a weekend to Rome." Yes, that's more like it.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Goal Setting

Want to succeed? Then you need goals!

View Course »

Managing your Portfolio

Keeping your portfolio and financial life fit!

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:
Dr. Bill

TILT. . .Who paid this woman to suddenly start disclosing confidential patient information that just happens to paint thieves as nice (white) men we all would adore? This has to be the most outrageous example of yellow journalism since Bush dreamed up WMD. This entire site needs to be taken down. Printing drivvle that cannot possibly be verified is reprehensible. I dare this woman to produce ONE C-level executive of a major bank that has had a nervour breakdown over robbing us blind. Hopefully, this cheap shot is the harbinger of a downfall to come.

May 19 2013 at 5:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So much for the British stiff upper lip. There's no crying in banking. People have a tendency to be more reflective, when they get caught. Didn't stop them from showing up, or funding polo matches, nor taking in a spot of tea.
There's a reason the, " London Whale" based his trading program in London. There's little or no over site for large clearing operations of derivative trading. The best thing the British banking system could do for there profession, is a line accountability, with nobility.
And they better do it fast. Britain is now entering a second decade of slow growth and a deteriorating economy. Certainly a modern staging ground for civil unrest.

May 19 2013 at 10:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Strange, I though the author of ObamyFailedagain already knew the Economy tanked in 2007. That is right before President Obama took office. Remember, Henry Paulson gave out the bailout money to all his Wall Street Friends and President Obama ended up with all the mess! I don't care about investing in people who will fleece you blind while looking you straight in the eye while saying: "God is the one who provided us with all this Money" They are not even thinking about giving to the poor or the needy. They rather have 24 karat gold toilets by fleecing other African countries blind. Greed will ruin people. While everything looks Honky Dorey now, however, we don't know what is around the cornor because all of the real losses were never even put on a sheet of plain white paper. Just bundle and sell, bundle and sell they said with the AAA rating lie. We also were not taught to disrespect people in charge. Momma and Daddy taught us better than that. Even though they laugh in our face; the respect is still there for all who are in Authoritive positions who respect us. We do not follow cartoons like "Family Guy" who can teach your children to be disrespectful to everyone on the planet except people who act like the cartoon character Peter Griffen. It's not real, but your children think they can act like that.

May 19 2013 at 10:06 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply


May 19 2013 at 9:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My heart is breaking for the crooks....

May 19 2013 at 9:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh how sad. Bankers are embarrassed to reveal their profession at parties and they don't want to post that information on internet dating sites. How horrible that must be for them. What extremely difficult lives they now lead. Boo hoo hoo.

May 19 2013 at 8:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, this one seems OK. Maybe I should stick with Daily Finance!

May 19 2013 at 1:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Has anyone noticed how HUFFINGTON POST censors what you attempt to say on their sites?? Example, when I just tried to add my views on the Romney article. Hope there is no censorship on this site.

May 19 2013 at 1:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When you work in an industry committed to fleecing not simply its own customers, but the general public, and the government (read: taxpayers), you shouldn't feel good about yourself or the work that you do.
Why should I feel sorry for them? I'll bet they didn't lose any sleep over the beating my 401k took.

May 18 2013 at 4:34 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The rape! The credit card that hits 30% to the middle class overnight is the reason, When Ii am paying your rent !Percents don't change dollars do. Greed!!!
The Art of it!

May 18 2013 at 4:16 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply