Investment bankers who become farmers

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This is not the easy option

This is not the easy option (Photo credit: Peter Mooney)

In light of the seemingly torpid rate of re-employment in the City of London (currently running at an average of 25%), you may want to do something else after collecting your bonus in the new year. If you need the money, you could always work on an oil rig, where a shortage of staff is apparently forcing pay up to levels only previously found in the front office of banks.

If you don't need the money, you could go and run a farm.

It's been done before. The dream of escaping the asphalt and working the land is as old as the Enclosures Act.

Sometimes the fantasy is nurtured alongside the day job - Stephen Hester has a 350 acre estate in Oxfordshire, but he is unlikely to be found tending an injured cow at 11pm on a Thursday evening. Hector Sants said he'd bought a Bishop's Palace in Poland and listed organic farming as a hobby back in 2010. Having finally left the FSA in June, Sants may be mulching at this moment.

Alongside the hobbyists and the bankers who pay people to farm their estates for them, there's also a cohort of ex-City people which embraces farming with the sort of enthusiasm reserved for berating interns. These are the commercial farmers, some of whom are quite successful.

"I was joint runner up for the Hampshire Down commercial flock of the year in 2012," says Michael Wentworth Waites, a former head of equities at Deutsche Asset Management, who now runs a commercial hill farm in Penrith. "This was something I'd always wanted to do. I wanted the challenge of owning a hill farm - they are some of the toughest things to make profitable."

Charlie Evans, a partner in Strutt and Parker's estates and farm agency department, says moving out of the City and into farming is perennially popular among bankers aged 45-50 who've made their money and want to relax. Despite waning bonuses, Evans says there's been no drop-off in the flow of banker-farmers in the past few years and that if anything people are trying to make the move even younger. "In the past two to three years we've seen City people as young as 40 wanting to become farmers," he says. "They've had enough, they've got young children, and they want to get away from the stress of it all."

Farming is probably best not approached as reflex reaction to redundancy. It takes planning. It also requires a lot of investment.

Wentworth Waites says he always wanted to be a hill farmer.  During his time in the City he was accumulating the capital to make this happen. "I got out after the school fees were paid and the children had finished university," he says. "The City was partly a way to achieving my ambition."

For a farm to be commercially viable, Evans says it needs to be at least 100 acres. A 100 acre farm plus a house of the kind that most former bankers could conceive of living in will cost £3m. There are various tax advantages to owning a farm: farm income isn't ring fenced and losses can be offset against money earned elsewhere (is Hester doing this we wonder?), household costs can be put through the farm accounts and inheritance tax isn't levied on farm businesses.

However Wentworth Waites says you'd be a fool to go into farming for tax reasons. "This is a very hard way of life," he says. "When we first started there were two very severe winters and I was waist deep in snow. You have to be incredibly committed to what you're doing - it can be very bloody if animals die and things go wrong."

Serious commercial farming is not an easy option. Nor is it less hard work than banking. "Every day runs into the next," says Wentworth Waites. "That's one of the features of livestock farming - you don't pack up at 6pm and go home, the animals need constant attention.

"In retrospect my life in the City seemed very sedentary," he adds. "I got fed up, stuck at a desk."


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