Financial fiction provides useful lessons for students

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But the best financial thrillers and trading floor memoirs illuminate the financial services industry for those on the outside, including students choosing a career.

Kerry Hood, of Hodder Headline, the publisher, says that the public's appetite for thrillers and other financial fiction is growing. Personal accounts by bankers of their working lives are also in increasing demand, read with the same fascination as the memoirs of former spies and SAS officers.

Liar's Poker, an exposition of Salomon Brothers published 12 years ago by the former bond trader Michael Lewis, continues to earn its author large royalties. It has been reprinted 23 times and is sold in as many different countries.

Lewis himself is under no illusions as to the source of public interest. 'People read the books because of the money. They want to know what people do to make so much money, and they want to know how their own money is managed.'

Other traders-turned-authors agree. 'There's pent-up frustration from the public,' says Frank Partnoy, author of F.I.A.S.C.O, an account of life as a derivatives trader at Morgan Stanley in the early 1990s. 'They know that there are people making $5m a year, and they want to know why.'

Accounts of insalubrious antics on the trading floor may have also boosted Lewis's and Partnoy's sales. Liar's Poker has gained near mythical status as the definitive guide to egotistical traders. F.I.A.S.C.O. followed in much the same vein: Partnoy recollects a secretary being paid to eat pickles covered in hand cream.

However, Lewis warns that sensational accounts of the trading floor are now dated. 'Students who read Liar's Poker and go to Wall Street are disappointed. Liar's Poker was written when banks were partnerships. Now that they are public companies, the idiosyncrasies are far fewer.'

In the absence of corporate idiosyncrasy, other factual authors have carved their literary niche by suggesting that banking is simply tedious. Monkey Business, written by disenchanted DLJ associates John Rolfe and Peter Troob and published earlier this year, dismisses the work of an associate in corporate finance as 'mindless paper pushing'.

Having looked forward to a world of limousines and expense accounts, Troob and Rolfe find themselves stuck in a windowless room known as the 'Bullpen', where their 20-hour days are illuminated only by the presence of four attractive BAs (banking assistants).

Troob, who is now a hedge fund manager, says that the perception that entry-level individuals lead a glamorous life is wrong: 'It may look glamorous from the outside, but these guys work very, very, hard.'

Nevertheless, money and glamour provide a good premise for fictionalised accounts of the industry.

Helen Dunne, the Daily Telegraph journalist and writer of the Trixie Trader column and book, says her readers are not interested in knowing too much about the work itself: 'A bond issue is only interesting for those involved in it. Readers don't want to get bogged down in the intricacies.' Dunne advises graduates and MBAs who really want to learn about the industry to read financial thrillers. These, she says, often provide technical information as well as entertainment.

So Something Wild, a new book by banker-turned-author Linda Davies, might be just the thing for anyone who wants to know more about securitisation. The plot revolves about an attractive heroine who securitises the income of a rock star. Similarly, a perspective on global financial crises is provided by Front Runner, a new book by Paul Kilduff, financial thriller writer and vice-president at a US bank in Dublin.

Students who want to be bankers are an important market for books of financial fact and fiction. Lewis says that one of the reasons why the royalties cheques keep on coming is that some business schools have Liar's Poker as a set book. Kilduff says that he receives emails from students interested in the industry who thank him for removing the mystique from banking.

MBAs at the London Business School confirm that reading such books plays an important part in their preparation. 'You can learn a lot from reading financial novels, even though they sometimes exaggerate,' says one.

In the absence of big bonuses for the foreseeable future, writing informative and entertaining accounts of life on the inside may prove an alternative source of remuneration for many bankers. Hood, at Hodder Headline, says the growth in the financial fiction market is being held back only by an absence of good material. Everyone has been too busy doing deals, she complains - at least until now.