Capital markets: Voices from the past

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Leafing through how the industry has changed this past half century.

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As part of our research for the features in this 50th anniversary issue, we have spent many entertaining hours dusting off bound copies of Euromoney from our archive, gasping in disbelief at some of the advertising and chuckling at both the glasses and computers that were oh-so cutting edge over the decades. 

This process has also thrown up many pearls of wisdom from yesteryear, some of which appear throughout this issue. But there are many more that shed light on just how much this industry has changed over the last half century.

“Most bankers lead rather pedestrian, middle-class lives. You don’t find many who get divorced or swap wives,” a practitioner at the Institute of Psychotherapy in London told us in October 1982. 

These days, not so much. And some bankers even have husbands. 

In the same issue, a European banker who travelled frequently to Japan, outlined business trip etiquette: “Japanese bankers in Tokyo go out on the town and drink staggering amounts. But there’s a kind of rule that no matter whom you insult, or how badly, you won’t be held responsible for anything you say while you are drunk.”

There was certainly a more straightforward, no-bullshit attitude to public relations in the past. 

In June 1994, Yoh Kurosawa, president of IBJ, even approached the subject with something as rare as hens’ teeth today: a sense of humour. 

He told Euromoney that the Marc Chagall masterpiece on the wall of an IBJ meeting room is one of the bank’s hidden assets “in that it diverts visitors’ eyes from the poor quality of the bank’s management”.

Today’s obsession with technology – the rise of AI and machine learning and the race to digitise as many processes in the capital markets as possible – is just the culmination of bankers’ enduring desire to be ahead of the game in all parts of the business. 

In July 1988, Till Guldimann, senior vice-president in the treasury department at JPMorgan, put it rather differently, however. 

“We have a big fat computer in New York linked to little fat computers all over,” he told us.

Were there any signs of the looming financial crisis of 2007 in Euromoney’s pages in the preceding decades? Well, plenty, if you knew where to look. 

“Nothing socks you in the eye about Lehman,” mused a UK bank borrower in January 1994. “With Goldman Sachs it is the talent of the people, with UBS it is the rating and the Swiss franchise, with Merrill Lynch it’s the distribution. The trouble with Lehman is they are not really outstanding at anything.” 

An ex-Lehmanite concurred: “They hire normal people – people who are good to work with. They don’t hire brilliant jerks.”

So, banking is in a state of constant change. Or is it? “This is the most badly managed industry in the world,” an executive at a London-based US bank told us in January 1989. Twenty years later, in 2009, few would have disagreed with him.