By Katie Martin
I have a confession to make: 18 years ago, I stumbled under pressure.
I’ll get my excuses in first. I was a young cub reporter. I was very tired. I was under an aggressive and multi-pronged charm offensive from a large number of investment banks skilled in the art of schmoozing. And I underestimated their determination to extract information from me.
I was lurching, bleary-eyed, towards the end of a month-long process of selecting winners for Euromoney’s inaugural internet awards. The process had been, with no exaggeration, gruelling.
Bear in mind this was the year 2000 and the internet was newfangled. Banks were desperate to get ahead of the pack with such cutting-edge innovations as putting research on the web and posting currency and bond prices online. More urgently still, they wanted to find out what the competition was up to.
We were penned into meeting rooms for hours, pumped full of coffee and given presentation after presentation by nerdy IT-literate bankers and back-office staff all seeking to convince us they were the best in the business. Bathroom breaks were painfully few and far between.
In truth, none of the supposed innovators in fintech, before the word existed, really had a clue either about what other banks were doing or about what their colleagues were up to. They badly wanted to know who was going to win.
“Who is it?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Right, but who? Who? Who? Coz I tell ya, if anyone else can put together a better bond pricing platform than this and still fill a client order around payrolls, I wanna know who it is.”
Eventually, trapped in the office of a particularly asinine Goldman banker and probably desperate for the loo, I pinched the bridge of my nose and sighed. “I dunno. Maybe none of you.”
I shouldn’t have given him even a hint. The illusion of surprise with these things matters. But I also regretted it from the point of view of retaining my sanity.
The next day my phone rang off the hook from bankers at half a dozen firms. What did I mean, “no one”? What about this, what about that, how about another look at our lovely website?
We gave the award to no one and presented our findings in ‘The 20 sins of internet banking’, listing the numerous absurd failings in the space. I like to think it prompted a rethink on what internet banking was really for. But in the short term, the PRs who had subjected us to hours of tech babble without access to lunch or toilets were furious. To this day, I have a very firm rule: no awards.
The torture of awards season besides, my primary memories of Euromoney involve laughing a lot, drinking a lot (primarily in the sticky-floored Cockpit) and being thrown in the deep end.
I joined in 1998, having graduated with a degree in Russian at a time when jobs in Moscow had been kiboshed by a debt crisis.
Reporters tended to join Euromoney for the training and then, when they knew the ropes, they would jump ship. The churn often left very keen but young reporters keeping the news show on the road, criss-crossing the City gathering gossip.
That was possible only because of the steady and supportive hand of Peter Lee, the occasionally grumpy (I say this affectionately) but endlessly loyal editor. I recall once getting it in the neck from a hitherto syrupy-sweet American PR who was aggrieved I had had the effrontery to write, fairly and accurately, about a court case involving her client. She was hopping mad and demanding, unreasonably, that my story was pulped.
Unaccustomed to this kind of onslaught and unsure what to do, I explained the situation to Pete. He didn’t miss a beat. “You tell her, if she wants to have a fight with you, then she’s having a fight with me and she has to come through me first.”
She backed down. I learnt a lesson: that is how you treat young reporters.
Around the same time, I recall a delicious sushi lunch with a charming FX banker from Merrill Lynch. Over savoury egg custard and delicate tuna, my Kiwi companion told me he was thinking of returning home to get into politics, maybe a slot in the finance ministry.
I dismissed his breezy self-confidence as typical banker bluster. In 2008, John Key became prime minister of New Zealand.
I did not go on to such heights, but I did move on in 2004, first to Dow Jones, in a role that was later sucked into the Wall Street Journal and then in 2015 to the Financial Times. Pete Lee checks in now and then to say he liked a story or just hopes I’m well. I live in terror that he will write one day to say he thinks something I’ve written is rubbish. I still emulate the way he absorbs the flak for aspiring young hacks.
Katie Martin is the capital markets editor at the FT, which she joined in 2015. She started her career in journalism at Euromoney. In 2004, she headed off to Dow Jones Newswires, writing initially for the wire about currencies before the tighter integration with The Wall Street Journal took her to writing and editing about broader markets at the WSJ. She moved to run FastFT before a shift to the markets desk.