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  • Writer's pictureHannah Duncan

Daddy issues in finance

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

Why don’t grown men stand up to their bosses? This was what the notorious 1960s Milgram experiment set out to discover. Forty strapping guys (I imagine) were each told by an authority figure – a stern man in a lab coat – to quiz a fellow participant.

For every wrong answer, they were instructed to deliver a nasty electric shock as punishment. ⚡ Eech. With one little press of a button, that poor candidate got zapped like a moth in a lamp. But it gets worse…

Voltage machine

The men were told to make the shocks increasingly painful. Dangerous voltages and disturbing noises ensued. Little by little, the shocks became fatal. Soon the terrified participant was howling and begging to be released… A bit like the planet is screaming for mercy today.

You would think that after the first little shriek of pain, these hunking American beefcakes would say, “Geez, what the hell kind of operation you got goin’ on here, Doc?

If it was a Hollywood movie, the macho man would lower his sunglasses with two fingers, raise an eyebrow and croon, “That ain’t how I do business”. With one hand, he’d effortlessly flatten the lab-coated bastard against the wall, barge through the next room in slow motion, fight a million labby wankers and carry the poor howling human to safety, fireman-style. Probably to the belting beat of Bonnie Tyler’s “I need a HEEERROOOOO!”.

... With a lengthy explosion in the background. And a beautiful woman falling gratefully and unnecessarily at his feet. End it with a neat little, “Lady, the only thing shocking ‘round here are those dazzlin’ blue eyes. Dinner’s on me”.

Annnddddd… Scene!

Cool guy wearing sunglasses

65% of us follow orders, even if they’re unethical 😳

But the experiment didn’t take place in Hollywood. It took place in New Haven, Connecticut. Almost all the men – aged between 25 and 50 - were jittery about the pain they were inflicting.

But astonishingly ... 65% continued to shock the poor participant until they believed they’d killed him!! ☠ KILLED HIM. Uhh… WTF?! 😳 One guy even burst into tears of relief upon discovering that the victim (who was really an actor) wasn’t dead.

The experiment has been repeated several times (albeit more ethically), always leading to similar results. Incidentally, women react the same way as men. When we are told to do something by an authority figure 65% of us morph into the Nike slogan; we just f**king do it*. Tick.

Scary, isn’t it? Over two thirds of us are mere orders away from becoming robot killers. History is riddled with examples of this. Humans will do terrible things when our authority figure tells us to.

We’ll shock someone to death. We’ll cover up crimes. We’ll deprive children of their future. We’ll hurt animals. We’ll capture wildlife. We’ll tear down rainforests. We’ll put other people’s pension money into fossil fuels. (Ohhhh yes. I'm going there ... buckle in ...)

65% of us will pour billions - no sorry TRILLIONS – into planet-destroying companies. Just because our manager tells us to. We will greenwash ourselves into a mass suicide machine before we'd ever dream of saying "no" to our authority figure.

Daddy issues, much?

lego man wearing a uniform

That 65% is more like 95% in finance 🤑 🙄

Traditional finance has always been a hotbed for that kind of “obey your boss” behaviour. Have you ever worked for a global wealth manager? The culture can be a hierarchical, sycophantic, psychopathic hellhole. The moment you beep your card and enter the building, you’ll encounter an entirely new ecosystem. A wanky jungle of egos and fanboys in Italian suits.

saturn planet

Fully-grown men cling to their bosses’ every word … like oxpeckers perch on the back of rhinos, eating up their fleas. You’ll find employees so far up their bosses’ butt that they’ve practically popped out of the mouth and are going back round again in a continuous ring. Like the planet Saturn.

Side note: Maybe that’s why so many have greased-back hair in ducktails? Extra lubrication.

I don’t know where the word “fan” comes from**. But it might be from the way middle aged bankers fold themselves over and over into a concertina whenever their boss is around.

The weird thing is that finance fanboys (of which there are many) don’t seem to do it for money. The kind of people who bend over backwards to walk in the butt spotlight*** of their boss are already on six-figure salaries. It’s not for promotions neither, they’ve already gone as high as they’ll go. Higher than they should go. It’s something else. Some deep internal craving for love and approval. When they fawn over a bosses’ comments…Or jostle to buy their manager a drink, are they really just saying, “love me daddy?”

The 35% who say “no” don’t last 😣

There are some brave people in finance. I can’t say that enough. I have been so incredibly privileged to meet sustainable experts who challenged the status quo. Who lashed back against greenwashing. And who fought for better.

I’ve met plenty of experts who do fall into that 35% group and can say “no” to their boss. Wanna know what happens to them? They get pushed out of the bank. One way or another.

Here are some of the ways I’ve seen my connections - the brave 35% - forced out of their jobs:

  • Silenced into submission and no longer permitted to speak on panels.

  • Couldn’t stand the culture, had to get out.

  • Bullied and micromanaged.

  • Paid significantly less than her male colleagues, even though they were more junior.

  • They were moved to a different part of the bank after speaking up.

Overwhelmingly, these 35% legends leave their traditional bank to find somewhere that aligns to their values. Of course they do. Or they work for themselves in some sort of freelance consultancy role. Or they start a new venture – like super legend Tom McGillycuddy who co-founded CIRCA5000, an impact investment platform.

But these new firms rarely have the hundreds of billions behind them that big banks have. The biggest investment houses in the world are carrying trillions in assets under management FFS. The difference that the brave 35% can make is limited by the funds and size of the firm they work for, or the department they head.

Meanwhile… the planet is still screaming in pain because the only people who can say “NO” to authority figures are forced out.

Instead, we’ve got some YES MAN fanboy pressing the electric shock button repeatedly, like a furious Hector Salamanca pinging his bell. You can almost hear them gushing, “Is that hard enough for you, daddy? Guys, can we get some more volts in here for my boss? Profit. Profit. Profit. Ahaha you’re so funny, I love your jokes. Can I buy you another drink? Guys, does this button press any faster?”.

Pushing more and more oil. Until the whole planet turns into an inhabitable, suffocating nightmare.

Banks don’t like change 🙈

Banks don’t like change. We all know that. Banks do not want mavericks coming in and disturbing the way they make their short-term profit, thank you very much. The people who do well in banking are the ones that don’t make a fuss. They accept the system. They stay reeeeealllllyyyy quiet when they see something they shouldn't have. Probably their favourite band is “Status Quo”, and their favourite film is “Yes Man”. (And they hate the dance “Rock the Boat”. And they can’t stand the song “Children of the Revolution” ... I could go on…).

Those are the kind of people who are trusted to get promoted. They are the ones who get power. And they are the guys who can’t say no to the boss. Or to the system. Or to the board and shareholders who vote against climate action (looking at you Barclays).

The fanboy cycle continues. The weird Saturn butthole ring gets even bigger, we’ve got rings within rings within rings. It’s a multi-dimensional merry-go-round of other people’s sycophantism. If you can’t critique, how can you make things better?

Is this why banks are STILL greenwashing? STILL pouring billions into fossil fuels? Is this why most bankers STILL believe that they are saving the planet when it’s f**king obvious to EVERYONE that they’re destroying it?

Note to self: Write a blog about self-delusion and greenwash

Get therapy or move over. 🤷‍♀️

We are rapidly running out of time to meet our climate goals. The OECD has made it clear that we must invest more than $6 trillion into sustainable infrastructure each year until 2030. If we don't transition from fossil fuels (and their f**king short-term profits) we will lose everything. Banks and investment houses need to lead this change. But the truth is that they are the blockers. 15 major banks actually increased their fossil fuel financing last year.

The research clearly shows that 80% of energy financing must go to renewable energy if we are to meet our goals. But do you know how much is actually going to renewables? ... 7%.

Today just 7% of the energy financing is going to renewables. It's so ridiculous that it doesn't feel real, right? It's the banks who make these decisions. A handful of people at the top and their fans adoring beneath.

I mean… Is this how it all ends? Will this be the reason that we let the climate crisis happen? Because a sad bunch of bankers couldn’t say no to their boss? It's not just a disappointing end to humanity, it's so cringe! In a million years, aliens will study us and say, "Jeez, that was a rubbish way to go". Imagine if the dinosaurs caused their own extinction because of daddy issues. Jurassic Park would be a whole load less scary.

Ok, so final question… Can we please use some of that excessive dirty oil money to buy bankers some goddam therapy now, please?

We got some childhood memories to discuss.

therapist session




*Incidentally, did you know that the Nike slogan was inspired by serial killer Gary Gillmore? As he faced his firing squad, his last words were, “Let’s do it”. The phrase struck a chord with ad agency founder Dan Wieden, who borrowed it for Nike’s 1988 campaign. How very dark and twisted, right?

** I’m just joking! The word “fan” comes from comes from “fanatic”. Although some scholars think it derives from “fancy”. I’m not joking about bankers crumpling themselves into little bits and giggling like simpering schoolgirls at their bosses’ crap jokes though. That, my friends, is agonisingly real.

*** Butt spotlight. Lemme explain. Narcissist and pyschos tend to enjoy money, risk and perceived power. So they are kind of drawn to high finance. They also think the sun shines from their actual arse... 🍑🔦 And then you have a zillion fanboys keen to share the illusion. It's a mutually beneficial system. The cycle sort of keeps itself running. I like to imagine that the light coming the managers' butt is kind of a spotlight, and the fanboys dance like cabaret performers on a stage, jostling to get in the centre of it 👯‍♂️👯‍♂️ ... But then, my only colleague is my plant who can't escape, so I don't get out much.


Ps. If you liked this article, I also write for some other outlets, where I keep swearing and butt spotlight chat to a minimum (well... no promises). Here are some sort of recent articles... 🙏

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