Why Senior Bankers Don’t Retire: The BA Black Card

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why Senior Bankers Don’t Retire: The BA Black Card

It’s the second week of the month and Wednesday, which means its time for the European firm wide meeting and conference call at 8:30. The meeting takes place across all the European offices of the firm by audio / video conference and in the main amphitheatre in London. This is the one occasion an analyst has to be seen by senior management, so rain or shine, one wears ones best suit, best shirt, buffed shoes, combined with a clean shave and haircut. These guys don’t care about pulling allnighters. Been there, done that, and got plenty of T-shirts. They are the most important partners in the franchise and they make organization spin.

They passed the point where compensation was important long ago. They all sit on personal fortunes substantial enough to not have to work ever again. They are almost all former analysts and associates of the firm, who rose through the ranks and gained the respect of the organisation in record time. They are, in short, the pride and joy of the firm. Its present, its past and its future. They are the deep bench of talent that will take the firm from great to greater and beyond. They are also barking mad.

For guys that don’t ever need to work again, these guys are pretty damn gung ho about generating revenue for the firm, seeing clients and getting on a plane to fly halfway around the world to attend a one hour meeting and then getting the next plane and flying halfway round the world back. Do they need to be in the meeting? Not really. Are they indispensable? No. Would anything change without their presence? No. Ok. These guys evidently don’t need to be at ten different places at one time for the good of the firm. No.

Ok, maybe its frequent flier miles. They’ve gone from blue to silver to gold BA cards and they need to be in the air 24/7 to finally get an invitation for that coveted BA black card. Yes you got it. Black card. It’s not on BA.com. If you ask the helpline about an upgrade from your gold card, they’ll say that there is no such thing. But believe you me there is. The black card is by invitation only, and was set up in the old days, when bankers and executives used to jet back and fort across the pond on Concorde to New York. It gets you through immigration, security and the works along with the crew. More fast track than the fast track (although with BA nowadays that isn’t to hard to achieve if you fly from terminal 4 at Heathrow). Having said that, you’ll probably still get asked to take out your toothpaste and mouthwash by security even with a black card.

Delving deep into the senior banker’s psyche, you begin to understand. These are hotshots that have risen from height to height, from the humble level of analysts. The images of some shithead associate telling them to check the book for typos and telling them to triple check the net debt on that one comp because it can’t be right are hard to wash off. Not even when they themselves became that associate and handed down shit of greater magnitude to overcompensate, could they wash that off. Not even as EDs and MDs could they wash it off, because no matter how high they climbed, there was always someone higher up to shit on them. Now that they have reached what can in most mortal terms be called the op of the investment banking pyramid, there are always the clients whose asses they have to kiss ahead of them, and even worse, the shareholders! So now you understand, how a little black BA card is the holy grail for these creatures of finance. It is the key into the exclusive world of the uber executive where few clients are able to tread. Where not many a stockholder can reach them. Where, when they get asked to take out their toothpaste, deo and mouthwash at Heathrow airport, it will be with the knowledge that the person asking them to do so knows what a superfluous request this would is - these are the true BSDs. They don’t need deo, a toothbrush and mouthwash. They don’t carry luggage. They jet from city to city, attend meetings and jet right back. They are the true masters of the universe. They are the BSDs that sit on the other side of the line that separates the mortal world of investment banking and the twilight zone.

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