Swimming with Sharks
My journey into the World of Bankers
A reportage about the time bomb at the heart of our society
One of the few upsides to the financial crisis has been the wealth of books published about its causes and consequences. They include some excellent anthropological accounts, of which Luyendijk’s bestseller is among the most valuable.
It is the product of a two-year collaboration between Luyendijk and The Guardian, during which he conducted over two hundred interviews with those who work in the City of London, Europe’s financial capital. Written for a broad audience, it asks straightforwardly: what happened?
And, even more importantly: could it happen again? Luyendijk is no financial expert, which makes his efforts to decipher the workings of the closed world of finance in simple terms all the more impressive. He pulls no punches and the story he tells is nuanced, entertaining, poignant, convincing and, yes, profoundly frightening.
Luyendijk first explores the problems that define Planet Finance, and then goes on to evaluate potential solutions. He starts with layman’s questions, before delving deeper and deeper into more complex activities of the financial sector, painting a comprehensive yet comprehen- sible picture of the financial world, from bankers and insurance brokers to wealth managers; from front- to back-offices.
Luyendijk sees a large bank not as a single entity but as ‘an archipelago amidst the fog’. Having described how the City and its corporations are structured, he explores their culture by bringing to the fore various types of interviewee, from ‘tooth grinders’ to ‘bubble bankers’, laying bare their inner struggles. The amorality that shapes financial dynamics is chillingly revealed in these interviews.
The author’s mood gradually changes. At first he is simply curious, but later chapters are dominated by outright anger and disbelief. The main problem facing post-2008 societies is that ‘the underlying structure of the financial world remains intact’. However reprehensible the behaviour of some individual bankers, it is the perversity of the system that needs to be addressed.