Not long ago, I came across a newly released book. I nearly ignored it as I didn’t really like the title, but the cover grabbed my attention. On the cover, there was a photo taken a couple of hundred yards from my office, in central Zurich, with plenty of big Swiss flags on it. Must be taken on National Day. We’re not too big on flag waving around here.
I read a lot of books on my Kindle and I thought I’d give this one a try. I would have to say that it was well worth the few bucks it cost me.
The Banker who Died is a brave undertaking and a scary insight into the world of private banking. Personally, I have never been a banker but I have spent enough time in related fields not to be easily shocked over the depictions of what private banking is really about.
The book follows Stanley McKnight, an American investment banker, as he transitions to a relationship manager for a Zurich based private bank. The character in the book appears to have a suspiciously similar background to that of the author himself, and whether the book is partly autobiographical or not, the fictionalized style is probably a good idea for legal reasons. Many of us in this field have at one time or another considered writing a fictionalized novel based on the absurdity that we all see around us.
Our protagonist is quickly exposed to the reality of the so called ultra high net worth, or UHNW, part of the business and what that entails. The perhaps initially naive banker learns the ropes of large scale money laundering and just how profitable it can be to simply keep the extremely wealthy happy, by any means necessary.
The book is perhaps not for the fainthearted, as it descends into the world of cocaine, hookers, violence and organized crime. It is clearly written by a man who has seen a lot, grown cynical over time and who likely came to despise the industry.
I have always contended that one of the most important factors to understanding our industry is cynicism. If you still believe that successful, wealthy bankers got where they are because of their trading abilities, you need to read more of these kind of books. It may just turn out that the key reasons that they are so successful is their ability to befriend questionable oligarchs, consume large amounts of chemical substances and assist in the obfuscation of beneficial ownership of a few billions now and then.
Having been in this industry for some time, I have known plenty of people like this McKnight over the years. I’ve never particularly liked their kind and I have never been in their line of work. But I have enough insight into their world to reasonably judge which parts of the book are likely to be completely real and based on actual experience, and which parts are likely embellished for dramatic purposes. Those who have not been near this field probably underestimate how much of it is likely to be real.
The field of financial exposés has been growing lately, but I feel that this one is well worth reading. Often the tell-all books, such as Wolf of Wall Street, leave the reader with the impression that the author is proud of crimes that he committed and only wrote a book to cash further by bragging about them. Not so with The Banker who Died, which very much leaves you with an impression of an author who walked away from a world that he could no longer stand.
The Kindle version of this book is, as of writing this, priced at $1.10 with the paperback at $12.99. That’s a steal.