A father’s long-ago career tip made improbably cool by Citibank
Can a bank ever be considered “cool”? On the face of it, probably not.
“Get a job in a bank” was about the sum total of my father’s career advice. “It’s steady work.” He thought that once you donned the suit and tie and got yourself installed on the slippery pole that ended up as a branch manager, all your worries would be over.
He was wrong of course, as the savage job cuts handed out by virtually every high street bank in recent years have proved. Bank workers have no more right to a lifetime’s “steadiness” than anybody else.
My dad, unworldly son of rural Ireland that he was, would have had no idea of the vast fortunes to be made in the other activities banks pursue – investment banking, stockbroking, commodity or forex trading. But the mere fact he recommended banking as a career was enough for me to reject the idea out of hand. Even back then, youngsters thought it decidedly uncool to do what they were told by their parents.
Since then, I’ve got to know a bit more about banks, and bankers, and still would have to conclude that while individual bankers might be sometimes considered cool, their employers seldom were.
Even when they are sponsoring sport, or the arts, or buying up the best seats at rock concerts, they are still dull as ditchwater.
Or so I thought until last week, when I was the guest of Citibank at their annual media summit in London. The whole event reeked of cool.
For a start, it’s a pretty cool, and rare, thing for a bank to do these days: stump up for a crowd of journalists from various parts of Europe, the Middle East and Africa to hear the on-the-record views of their senior executives at a gathering in Canary Wharf, Citi’s Old World hub. Most of their rivals are busy keeping their heads way below the media parapet.
The Citi building in Canada Square is also pretty cool. The usual glass and concrete design, like all the other big financial institutions these days, but with a decidedly communal ambience that suggested a flat and meritocratic management structure, like those icons of cool Apple and Google.
There was also a pretty accessible collection of modern art on the walls of the headquarters, which one Citi person said ran into the cool millions of dollars of value.
Canary Wharf itself appears to be miles ahead in the coolness stakes these days against its long-term rival, the grey and stodgy Square Mile. If it wasn’t for the blustery squalls and overcoat weather, you might almost have been in the Gate Village of the Dubai International Financial Centre.
But the clinching reason Citi deserves the cool accolade was in its choice of accommodation for the visiting media: the Hoxton Hotel in the centre of London’s vibrant Shoreditch area. Blimey, what a transformation has come over the area that I knew a couple of decades ago as desolation row, a run-down and crumbling neighbourhood rubbing its nose up against the glittering windows of the City, but never expecting entry.
All that has changed. It’s hipster Hoxton. There are Michelin-starred restaurants, throbbing nightclubs that seem to cater for every imaginable taste, and trendy designer shops and art galleries on every corner.
“We thought you’d like it more here, rather than some boring old five-star place in Mayfair or Knightsbridge,” said one Citi spin doctor who lives in Dubai but deserves, along with the rest of the Citi media team, a little lapel badge with one word on it: “Cool.”
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Updated: September 22, 2015 04:00 AM