Whenever I speak to anyone in the mortgage industry one theme inevitably crops up – they tell me I should have been in the sector three years ago.
Of course, what they are referring to is the pre-credit crunch era of excess. In those days brokers could barely handle the business coming their way, lenders were making more money than they could imagine and everyone got along nicely.
There’s always a rose-tinted view of the past but when conferences once held in Dubai are now held in Paddington it’s clear there’s something in it.
Although utopia has proven to be unrealistic and everyone has come down to earth with a bump it’s still satisfying to reminisce about the old days.
And that’s why Venetia Thompson’ s Gross Misconduct is a good read. She recalls her long days out at Cartier polo events, six-hour liquid lunches and £500 dinners with clients every night. These were excessive times.
Although Thompson was a bond broker I suspect some of her tales of debauchery will ring a bell with many in the mortgage broking industry.
She tells how she often collapsed in bed at 4am after a night of heavy drinking, only to get up for work at 5.30am and start all over again.
Her work was her life. When she wasn’t entertaining clients or being shouted at by her boss she was sleeping to recover from the intensity of it all. She even struggled to maintain relationships as her work took over. It’s clear there’s a dark side to excess.
This book is an honest account of what it was like to work in the City, in a male-dominated world.
For example, her office nickname was Airbags because she once caught a tennis ball in her cleavage.
And the political incorrectness doesn’t end at sexism, with one broker nicknamed Ferg not because his name is Ferguson but because it’s an abbreviation of Feargal Sharkey, Cockney rhyming slang for darkie, because he’s black.
Thompson only wrote the book after a tell-all article about her life as a trader was published in the Spectator magazine and she was promptly fired for gross misconduct. Her desk was turned upside down, some colleagues thought she was a spy and she was frogmarched out of the building.
The reaction of her firm shows how secretive the finance industry can be. It doesn’t make good headlines if the politically incorrect, boozy and profane world these people inhabit is made public. And for that reason this is a brave book – Thompson has well and truly burnt her bridges.
Although she still misses the adrenalin rush she seems somewhat relieved to be out of it. She feels her life lost purpose and she became too focussed on expensive handbags and champagne.
Thompson left in 2007 so she had a chance to re-evaluate the pros and cons of being a bond broker before the credit crunch.
And many mortgage brokers have gone through a similar process, with two-thirds succumbing to the recession and the industry continuing to plod along at a low level.
Reminisces about pre-crunch times are invariably followed by obligatory comments on how ridiculous it all was and how it’s probably for the best that those days have gone. But I’m sure they had their charms.
Book review by Samuel Dale