Moving on to Citibank and more

Moving on to Citibank and more

I left public accounting and moved on to Citibank. What a change! When you have your CA designation and work at a public accounting firm, you pretty much a face in the crowd. A lot of professional accountants around! But in other organizations such as the banks, the whole thing changes. You’re a scarce resource.

I started work and had to get used to a completely different environment, more like corporate finance rather than trading. Interest rate and cross-currency swaps were structured transactions. Citibank at the time was an innovator in the market in trying to put together deals. The bank was also working on ways to “warehouse” transactions rather than continually look for two counterparties that wanted to enter into this type of arrangement.

So it was an exciting place to work. But my position changed from a technical role to a sales role. Sure, there was a transactional aspect to all this, but the primary emphasis was on building technical knowledge as the platform for selling the products.

There was a lot of travel involved and I loved the job (the sales aspects of it, not the transactional). I thought that it would take me closer to investment banking goal given that I was now working in a capital markets environment and away from public accounting. One step closer, I thought.

Moving my career along

Capital markets/investment banking, well they are close, aren’t they? Wrong. Dead wrong. Once I moved into the capital markets area there was no moving over to investment banking. The capital markets group was set up to create a market for swaps and do a little corporate finance. Try as I might, it would not allow me to make the move into investment banking.

So I continued on the capital markets path, and the more I got involved in capital markets, the further removed I was from my goal of investment banking. It’s difficult if not impossible to take the 180-degree turn once you’re into it.

Sidebar

One thing that I should mention was an opportunity that arose while I was working at Citibank Canada. I had met an investment banker in the then firm of McLeod Young Weir (it was later absorbed by the Bank of Nova Scotia after the 1987 stock market crash and the chaos that created). That banker thought that I would be a pretty good fit at MYW. So he arranged a meeting with their head of recruiting as one of the steps I would need to take before being offered a position.

Working at Citibank Canada gave me a rather “big head”. So the interview went badly. Little did I realize that the HR person was a partner in the firm and could block me from the firm. And block me he did. Here was a golden opportunity to join an investment banking firm. A real investment banking firm! And I blew it. Another instance of taking my eye off the ball. Why wouldn’t I swap a job that was “off track” for a job “on track”. Stupidity and poor planning struck again. Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Another monumental mistake in a long list of monumental mistakes. Career management? Not even close. Career mismanagement – at its finest!

Some background information

The 1980s were years of tremendous change in the financial services industry around the world. The divisions between the chartered banks, investment banking, insurance and trust companies were under attack in Canada.  In the United States, similar moves were being made to change the rules and regulations that were established after the stock market crash of 1929. So there were jobs available everywhere. The supply could not satisfy the almost insatiable demand.

This was coupled with financial innovation that had not been seen before. New products were being developed to provide corporations and governments with new risk management tools. Junk bonds were introduced. If you had any exposure to financial services you would in a great position to look for new opportunities. And of course, these were well-paying jobs.

So I got into it. I left Citibank and joined the newly formed Chemical Bank of Canada. I doubled my salary. A great career management move! In retrospect, however, the move was a short-sighted one. Citibank grew until some of the financial crises in the late 1980s put the brakes on for a while (and the staff was well compensated, in excess of what I was earning at my new job a few short years later).

But my move to Chemical Bank of Canada was marred by poor due diligence. Citibank Canada was at the time pretty committed to the Canadian market. That was evidenced by the many lines of business that were established here. And the commitment was further demonstrated by the number of people hired and their skill sets. This was going to be a real bank! On the other hand, Chemical Bank showed nominal commitment to the Canadian market.

Chemical Bank of Canada virtually closed its doors in the late 1980s only to be resurrected at a later time. The staff was dumped. (I wasn’t at the Chemical Bank of Canada at the time, but the staff members were all terminated. An outplacement firm brought the termination letters in a box!).

But there were plenty of jobs around with the growth of Chartered and foreign banks in Canada. It was a classic example of good times for those with the required experience! And the experience that you needed to have was pretty minimal. If you had any kind of Rolodex, any kind of experience you were a pretty hot commodity.

So I managed to get out of Chemical Bank of Canada before the doors closed.

What the heck

When the market for staff is hot, the rising tide lifts all the boats! What this meant is that the easiest way to moved forward was to find a new opportunity. And there will plenty of new opportunities.

Canadian governments at all levels, in particular, were pretty heavy borrowers at the time and were looking to tap other financial markets. Because of their credit stature, they could access capital markets in other countries and by using cross-currency swaps, hedge their foreign currency exposures back into Canadian dollars. (These borrowers had years earlier borrowed in foreign currencies without hedging their exposures to take advantage of low-interest rates. This would come back to haunt them in later years). It was crazy!

So job hoping was the norm.

US commercial banks were all looking for other jurisdictions to operate in. It was an attempt to crack a new, competitive market. Many foreign banks thought that there were capital markets opportunities (derivatives, Eurobond underwriting) because of the amount of debt Canadian governments and corporations were raising.

So what I had in terms of my career and experience another couple of wasted years. I was locked into derivatives sales (the role I had initially taken on at Citibank Canada). But remember that I mentioned earlier that when it came to derivatives, I hated my job. But I sank deeper and deeper into a career I didn’t want. Changing jobs to increase your compensation may end up

Changing jobs to increase your compensation may end up being “short-term gain for long-term pain”. That would definitely be the case here. I was liked at Citibank Canada, I worked well with my peers and the bosses were happy with me. The money would have been there, had I stuck to it. Another example of career mismanagement.

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