Some call the workers in London's financial sector the 'Masters of the Universe'. Quite a scary title if you're looking to ask for some work experience or an internship. Yet as this article explains, they aren't that scary and in fact are pretty much the same as everyone else in the country except for the larger income salaries.

For the first time of what will be many, I traveled to one of the hearts of finance in London: Canary Wharf. After a quick journey on the underground from Waterloo on the Jubilee line I arrived and the first thing that struck me was how many people were wearing suits. In fact, wearing a suit here is pretty much a uniform - one that very much reminded me of my school days. The majority of financial workers (which is nearly everyone in Canary Wharf) are white males under the age of 40. There are other ethnic minorities, but it is a surprising spectacle for a so called 'cosmopolitan' London.

What do they wear? The men all wear black or grey suits, black shoes and pastel coloured shirts: Pink, blue, cream or white. In fact, I went into T.M. Lewin and these were the only colours on offer. Ties do not seem to be a necessary, as many had their sleeves rolled up and top buttons undone in a typically summer dress fashion. Ladies on the other hand are quite a bit more fanciful adorning heels, jewelry and other accessories that I will not even attempt to name for risk of embarassment. It should be noted that the more attractive of ladies flaunted their looks more (or perhaps this is what made them more eye catching) with higher heels, shorter skirts and open blouses.

Where do they eat? The same places as everyone else in the country it seems (in no particular order): The Slug & Lettuce, Pizza Express, Sushi Bar, Starbucks, Pret a Manger, Marks & Spencer and Tesco. Prices are a little bit higher, but that's to be expected in an area with larger income salaries. I arrived at lunch time, and so many workers were relaxing in the park with takeaway sandwiches and smoothies - however I'm sure that when entertaining clients they would dine in different, far more extravagant venues.

What do they read? I went into Waterstones to see what texts these Masters indulge in. As it turns out, only men were viewing Business & Computing and the Science Fiction sections. Only women were viewing the Biography shelves and both sexes of equal number were researching travel books. At a time of record high unemployment, this latter observation shows that the finance career is continuing to pay well and is secure enough for employees to take holidays. Although it could also be a sign of a stressful lifestyle that requires holidays to balance out from.

Indeed many workers looked physically tired - yawning, stretching and scratching eyes. This gives evidence for the long hours that are almost mandatory in the financial sector. To relax, many were drinking alcohol in bars (this was still at midday) and displaying just typical male banter - poking fun at a winning or losing football team.

Nah, this place isn't scary and I highly recommend going (wear a suit to blend in) if only to calm some future butterflies in your stomach at an oncoming meeting or interview. To be honest, it's pretty much just like school: Singles flirting behind trees, groups of friends and ethnic backgrounds, male heads turning at an attractive girl, ladies giggling at some insider joke (or tip - tut tut), eating, drinking and farting in the lift (if you are reading this Mister or Missus, then please, next time, can you wait until the lift doors open).

If for whatever reason you can't visit, then at least check it out on Google Street View as this is the next best thing. To be able to see the offices (Barclays, Reuters, HSBC, Morgan Stanley plus many more) and put a place to the name when reading financial texts gives an increased sense of recognition. It was fantastic to see the Reuters board displaying the FTSE 100 list and having learnt what each company does I could understand exactly what it was displaying and for whom. So I hope that by reading this and realising they are humans after all, you are a little bit less nervous and perhaps even relieved for that was my own intention for going, and for writing this.

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    July 2009


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