In 2002, after many years in the City, I left corporate banking to set up independently. In my spare time I wrote “City of Thieves” – the story of one man’s fight to protect his honour in a world where honour holds no value.
When you’ve worked in any industry for long enough, you reach a point when you ask yourself a simple question: “Do I do what is right, or do I do what makes money?” All industries have an unethical side to them – the tobacco industry denied that their product caused cancer; the supermarket industry destroyed the quaint look of our high streets; and the motor car industry poisoned our planet. But ethics within the banking industry are fundamental to its very existence: banks don’t sell cigarettes, food or cars – they sell trust. You go to a bank, you hand over your money and you trust that the bank will return your money whenever you ask for it. When an industry is based on trust, there is always scope for abuse.
Over the last two decades, as Western governments gradually relaxed regulatory controls over the banking sector, bankers began to systematically abuse that trust. They used their customers’ money to make high risk bets. When the profits came rolling in, they paid themselves huge bonuses; but when the bets turned sour they walked away leaving the taxpayer to foot the losses.
The City, by virtue of what it is, attracts very clever people. But is also attracts greedy, evil, dysfunctional people – people that some psychiatrists might say harbour serious character flaws. In order to understand the mess the City is in today, you need to get inside the minds of some of the leading players who messed it up – minds that can be filled with a toxic mixture of greed, arrogance and self-importance. Some of the egos in the City are so far off the ground you’d need a lasso to drag them down to earth.
The culture of greed, arrogance and deceit that investment banks had fostered for years is now facing intense public scrutiny. There were many contributors to the banking crisis we all now face, but unethical working practices within the investment banking sector played a pretty big part. And despite politicians’ best efforts many of these practices still remain rife in the City today.
‘City of Thieves’ is the story of an analyst who dared to challenge such working practices. It’s a murder thriller written from the perspective of an outsider entering the unforgiving world of investment banking. Whilst the book is pure fiction, the issues it raises – particularly the rules, the ethics and the culture within the City – are very real.
All throughout my career I saw the good guys in the City fall like flies. Those who put their principles first were laughed at and shown the door. They weren’t part of the club. Greed was good. Well, today nobody is laughing at the good guys. There aren’t enough of them.
The problem with human nature is that we never really see things clearly until they smack us in the face. Back in 2003, once I had finished my manuscript, I sent it out to several agents. Not a single one was interested. Dismissively, they told me that “a story of the greedy world of banking would never sell.” Four years later the credit crunch came along and I had more literary offers than I could handle. The other problem with human nature is that we never learn from our mistakes.
“City of Thieves” by Cyrus Moore is published by Sphere (Little, Brown Book Group)
Cyrus Moore is the writing name for Cyrus Mewawalla, author of “City of Thieves”
Cyrus is a graduate of Cambridge University. He co-founded CYKE Partners, a leading independent research house. He lives in London with his wife and two children.