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spikegifted.net - Archive Q1 2009

March 2009:
Home: I have to take a week of holiday to use up my allowance from last year. The rule in our firm is that if there is holiday allowance carried over from the previous year, it has to be used up before the end of March or we would lose them. However, the Ruler_of_spike has far less holiday allowance than I do, so I spent the week at home. I could not have picked a worse week! The week prior to my enforced week off, the weather was beautiful - with clear blue sky everyday, London was bathing in spring sunshine and the temperature was in the agreeable zone of the high teens. The week after my holidays, the weather was good also, although there was a bit of fog in some mornings, the days were generally fine. But my week off was awful - it was raining, with high wind and generally felt more wintery than spring-like. So I was stuck indoors pretty much most of the time. To make matter worse, I told my colleagues that I would be contactable as I wasn’t going away. In the end I was called four days out of five and I had to work parts of most days. After the week away from the office, I really didn’t feel like I have been away. It was a complete waste of holiday allowance. 
Work: We work in an industry where, for a certain segment of my colleagues, compensations are primarily made up of bonuses. These are the “revenue generators”. These are the ones that whole army of support staff, like myself, are hired to make their deals work. So, in the event that bonuses were not paid, these folks basically worked for ‘free’. There are good justifications for not paying bonuses when the organizations they work for were not profitable. However, there are no hard and fast rules about these things. Ours is a highly competitive industry, where the firms’ abilities to attract and retain talents are primarily judged by the size of their bonus awards (along with the firms’ reputation, platforms and track record). So if a firm sets a precedent of not paying bonuses, how is it going to attract and retain talent in the future? If we choose not to look too far to the future, but concentrate on the present, the picture doesn’t necessarily be better. Yes, the firms save a pile of money that would otherwise used to reward of people who don’t necessarily deserve such rewards. So the revenue generators, and some of these folks personally generate millions on their own, aren’t getting paid. So what? So they leave. One by one, or team by team. Before you know it, there are no revenue generators left. How are you going to return the bank back to profitability?
February 2009:
Work: What has been considered work has come to a stand still. I still try to do my stuff, but the flow has gone. It could get busy from time to time, that was just the nature of normal business flow. However, on the whole, there is a complete lack of activities. In such circumstances, there was very little anyone can do about it. The acquisition by our new masters was announced long ago, yet there was no business strategy. Whatever little information given was generally negative to our old business model. There has all kinds of noise about job cuts and integration, but until a comprehensive business model was announced, we, in the support function, would not know how our situation would become. In the mean time, I just tried to keep myself busy - read up on industry developments, work on trimming down unnecessary exposures, keep abreast of news on my portfolio, both past and present. 
Home: Wow!!! Did I say 'snow'? Well, there was snow and there was more snow... London, the city that aspire to be a leading global financial hub, was grind to a complete halt. Using a rather crude form of measurement, by eyeballing our back garden, we thought there was at least 30cm of snow fallen in our area. I haven't seen snow like this in the London area since 1991. On the Monday morning, I went to the train station after battling my way through untreated roads and sidewalks. This journey usually takes around 12-15 minutes, took nearly 25 on that day. Conditions were just dangerous. I saw cars sliding on the compacted snow and many cars had over 20cm of snow sitting on top of their roofs and even bonnets. When I finally got to the train station, it was closed - all train services were suspended. We were grounded. As it was evident that I could not make it to the office, I took my time on my way home and admire the snowy scene. It was a strange phenomenal: a covering of snow completely transform the scenery. It looked calm, even peaceful. Cars, where would usually rushing around, were driven slowly and were making that strange sound snow being compacted under the tyres. It looked like no gritting was carried out overnight so all the falling snow was just accumulating higher. Groups of kids were out throwing snowballs. However, I will be the first one to admit that I was glad to be back in the warmth of my house.
January 2009:
Work: Harrah!! No that long ago, I was bemoaning that I have yet to receive a new client from our business folks. That was a scary prospect - our investment bank's business relies on sales people to continually bring in new clients to enhance our earnings. Obviously, not every client would bring a good quality income stream and, as time went on, the clients would want to diversify their own portfolio of counterparties to reduce their own concentration risk. As such, the sales folks had to keep working hard to bring in new clients and to maintain our existing ones happy. Under the current economic climate, particularly within the financial services industry, and the uncertain future of our organization, it would be easy to blame these factors for not bringing new clients. On the other hand, one has to consider the quality of the clients and the quality of the potential future income. With these thoughts in mind, I had to take a deep breath when this new client was introduced to me. I recognized our client's business model and I'm certain that it was a good one. On the other hand, I wasn't certain if this was the kind of client we, as an organization, wanted to get involved with. A lot more work still needs to be done to ensure that we know what we are thinking of getting into. And, as thing may turn out, this client may be too difficult for us to deal with. 
Home: It would have been mom's birthday earlier this month. She would have been only 68. I have been dreading the arrival of this date since her passing early last year. During happier times, before mom’s hearing deteriorated too much, I would have called her to wish her a ‘happy birthday’ and chat to her about our activities since Christmas. I would have looked for a nice card for her at the beginning of the New Year and I would have written something thoughtful in the card. However, since her hearing deteriorated, it had become more and more difficult to communicate with her over the phone, especially as she refused to wear hearing aids. Moreover, in the last couple of years, as she had either been in hospital or had been staying in the medical care home, my birthday cards to her weren’t even addressed to our home, but some alien addresses that I could barely remember. This year, on the day that would have been her birthday, I went about my things as I normally would during a work day. Then came a time in the afternoon that the actual significance of the day struck me. There was the memory of those earlier times, both happy and sad. Then there was the realization that she is no longer with us. I was emotional, saddened and generally had a terrible afternoon. It is a shame that I can't now express to her how much I miss her and how much I love her.
Home: It has been very cold this winter. For three weeks after Christmas 2008, the outside temperature has been way below average. It was reported that a few nights, the temperature in our area actually dropped to -10C, with daytime temperature barely made it above freezing! On the other hand, it has been clear and sunny, which made the cold a little more pleasant. We were very thankful that the boiler did not malfunction during this time. Those few days back in November when the boiler was not working was rather miserable. I was also quietly hoping that the insulation I put in before Christmas was making a difference and that our house was losing less heat than before. While crude oil price has come down substantially, this has not translate to a fall in gas prices for the consumers. So, potentially, this cold winter might deliver to us a rather expensive gas bill... 
Work: Usually, at the beginning of each year, there would be little bursts of activities from the client-facing guys in our bank - trades ideas or prospects that were discussed at during the quiet periods leading up to Christmas in the previous year were executed or chased up and we, in the credit risk area, would have been in full swing by the second week of the year. This year, there had been nearly no activities at all. There were a couple of explanations for this: a) the global financial markets were still trying make sense of what happened last year and particularly in the last four months, and b) the completion of the acquisition of our bank by our competitor which was agreed some months ago, but only completed this month. The front office folks have been rather rudderless as they didn’t know what kind of business model our new masters had. To be completely honest, this has been the quietest beginning to a new year I have ever experienced. I just hope that this lack of direction wasn’t slowly killing our bank’s franchise.
Home: It has been a terrible start to the New Year. The Ruler_of_spike and I found out that we have lost something very precious. We were both very much saddened by this loss - it was like someone has punched us very hard in our chests. There wasn’t anything we could do or could have done to alter the outcome. There were encouraging lessons we could learn from this loss, but they did not compensate our disappointment. While this was a major setback, we are strong and we shall recover in time. We remain positive regarding the future.
Home: Happy New Year!! 2008 has been a long and hard year. Let’s hope that 2009 brings us much happiness and prosperity!!