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Of getting the point, and not getting the point

26/03/2012

Today I invite you to shed tears of outrage for an investment banker. I feel much empathy for practitioners of this ignorantly derided ‘profession’, having worked happily and productively in it for a number of years.

Imagine the sense of achievement, and quiet confidence, when you land an exciting new job. When the contract arrives, you notice that it says that you’ll be paid over 10 times your current salary. Of course you’re worth it, you rationalise to yourself.

How prescient of your new employers, you think, to have identified the talents that were tragically under-exploited by your previous ones. How much you look forward to spending, investing and generally doing all-round good with your lavish new emoluments.

Only it turns out it was just a naughty little typo and, instead, you end up jobless.

Kai Herbert, a Swiss-based currency trader, is in the process of suing J. P. Morgan Chase & Co. for $920,000. He had resigned from UBS in June 2010, with a view to relocating to Johannesburg with Morgans.

Kai’s original employment contract said that his annual pay would be 24m Rand ($3.1 million), but there was a typo – and it wasn’t. Some slipshod twonk slightly forgot about the decimal point. The contract should have read 2.4m Rand. Admittedly, $310,000 looks attractive enough as a salary, but it wouldn’t be enough to persuade me to up-sticks for Jo’burg. On the other hand, three point one large would probably do it for me.

The unfortunate Mr. Herbert resigned from UBS in June 2010 to relocate to Johannesburg, but didn’t report for work after learning that his wonder job wasn’t quite as wonderful as he had been led to believe. Morgans subsequently rescinded the the job offer because of his no-show.

He’s been effectively out of work since leaving UBS, although he did have an eight month stint at Credit Suisse before falling victim to a LIFO redundancy cull in November. I really hope that David beats Goliath again, as banks generally set such great store on reading the small print and never hesitate to pin their customers to the wall if the fault’s the other way round. If he does win, I will certainly toast him with a glass of something worthwhile.

I have a delightful cousin-in-law who was a currency trader, but it never really struck me as employment for a grown-up. It seemed that the only requisite talents were to be able to keep a handful of cross-rates in your noggin and shout, preferably simultaneously, into two phones and ‘the room’.

Later:

The verdict’s in, and I’ve saved the price of a drink. Kai Herbert lost the case, and will have to pay £85,000 in costs within 28 days. Judge Henry Globe said in today’s judgment that he ‘took the commercial risk of accepting the offer, knowing full well that the figure was an error’.

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