I have been hearing this question continuously over the last few weeks. Formulated in numerous different ways, it basically reflects general public curiosity about how my life really has changed since I left UBS and joined my current organisation (let’s call it “the New Company” for confidentiality). After giving it a thorough thought, I am happy to summarise the answer in one short phrase: I finally have a life!
Let me start with a bit of background. I spent two years of my life (2006-2008) working for UBS Investment Bank in London as a Utilities M&A Analyst. I had my ups and downs and was planning the next step when life hurried forward and took it for me. I was made redundant from UBS last summer, took some time off, evaluated and revalued my life, left London and returned, searched for my dream job and – bingo! – found it bang in the middle of a financial crisis. Since March 2009, I have been employed at the New Company. As short as this time has been, I have already noticed some clear differences from the life (or lack of it) I had before.
I have no choice but to begin with working hours. It might seem obvious to some that a typical working day should be defined by a combination of two numbers: 9-5. I can almost hear my investment banking friends giggling at the idea. Yes, the hours in investment banking are notoriously long. I won’t lie that every one of my weeks involved 90-120 hours of office presence. There were indeed more relaxed weeks when I got away with, say, a 70-hour schedule, especially in the summer months. Even then, my investment banking existence was hell. The culmination, however, came during my last six months while working on a pure killer-deal and feeling lucky to escape work before 3am, including weekends! It is perhaps this boot camp experience that makes me appreciate my new role at the New Company so much. To be blatantly honest, very seldom do I have to stay past 7pm on weekdays. Weekend work, while theoretically possible, is certainly not what one is expected to do on a regular basis.
Next in line are the people. There is a clear difference between my average UBS colleague and one at the New Company. First, the average age at UBS was notably lower, youngest employees being very young indeed – new analysts are recruited freshly out of college, after all. British students tended to be particularly young (20-22), typically joining with nothing more up their sleeve than an undergraduate degree. At the New Company, even those ranked lowest in the job hierarchy – my fellow Analysts – tend to be at least in their late 20’s. I am almost tempted to bet that I am the youngest full-time employee hanging about. And man, do I already feel old at 25!
Besides average age, typical family situation differs dramatically. I am already used to the fact that many of my new colleagues are married, sporting at least a couple of kids. Not that UBS employees refrain from reproducing, but one has to agree that a 24/7 BlackBerry-dominated lifestyle is not exactly inductive to happy families and things.
Moreover, there is a visibly higher proportion of women at the New Company. This is particularly evident at senior levels, women in senior positions being nothing uncommon. They are, however, an exceptional rarity at an average investment bank. From a personal perspective, such women are probably not the kind you would like to find yourself in disagreement with in a dark backstreet, either.
Finally, I couldn’t possibly omit much higher time predictability at the New Company. At UBS, every workday for me was set on a battlefield. One could never infer how a day would develop. Even on a Friday, even at 7pm, there was no guarantee against some miso-bankist client dialling in to request some random analysis of some god-forgotten company. There was no way of saying no, simply because the right of say was non-existent – plus you did want that bonus, right? Looking at my situation at the New Company, I see the processes more established (read: slower) and the word “tomorrow” referred to in its literal sense. As a result, I am able to plan my time without constantly preparing for emergency or keeping my blood-shot eyes fixed firmly on that blinking little curse of a device, the darn BlackBerry.
There are, of course, numerous other quality improvements my life has seen following a job change. A beautifully spacious/subsidised/diversified canteen versus a congested/overpriced/pizza-dominated one. One-hour lunch break versus choking on a sandwich at my desk. Comfortable office temperatures versus insomniac-friendly, full-volume air-con. I no longer have to ask for permission to spend Saturday and Sunday in Riga to celebrate my dad’s 50th birthday. Or defend every holiday booking at the price of blood, sweat and tears. Or feel my heart hide in my feet at every missed call from “Number Withheld” first thing on a Saturday. The list goes on. So does my joy!
In hindsight, there is one thing about UBS I am certainly going to miss. That free fruit basket twice a day. But perhaps it’s not such a high price to pay for a little life, after all.