At the height of the financial crisis, while many of his former colleagues were attempting to survive numerous redundancy announcements and huge industry change, former Credit Suisse vice president, Martyn Shone, was touring the world as one half of folk duo Honey Ryder. It was, at the very least, a relief to be open about his musical ambitions.
Shone spent nine years working in the City, but few of his co-workers ever got a whiff of what he did in his spare time, something he says allowed him to maintain his “professional status”. “It was getting to the point where I was talking to people on Monday morning, saying I’d spent the weekend at B&Q, when in fact I’d just got off a plane from Moscow after performing a show at some swanky party,” he says.
In 2008, he quit banking to try to make a go of the band full-time, and they released their debut album Rising Up in 2009. Honey Ryder has enjoyed some success, breaking into the UK top 40 with two singles and supporting the likes of Michael Bolton and Will Young, and is set to tour its second album, Marley’s Chains, released last year. Shone, though, won’t be joining them.
He’s back in the City. Initially, he re-started his finance career as a change manager at Royal Bank of Scotland, but is now programme manager at Lloyds Banking Group. “It’s really hard to earn a good living in the music business and most musicians are on the poverty line,” he says. “We all survived for the first few years, but after becoming a father I had to earn some more regular income.”
The rock and roll lifestyle has not been deserted altogether though: “Last week, my team made me sing at the Christmas party,” he tells us.
The beige life of a corporate financier
Creative spirits are not nurtured in the financial sector. Shone says he worked 12-hour days at Credit Suisse in Canary Wharf, before hopping on the tube to Acton, West London, and recording the album still dressed in his suit, all without the knowledge of his team. Even if you harbour musical ambitions, it’s difficult to give up a big salary for the life of an artist and, as Shone proves, a financial services career is tough to leave behind permanently.
For Stephen Ridley, a former investment banking analyst who left UBS after 17 months in the industry for life as a solo artist in 2011, there’s no looking back. He competed against hundreds of other grads to break into investment banking, and followed the typical route in – a first class degree from a top university, summer internship, a clutch of academic awards.
He has no regrets about quitting. “I worked my arse off to get in the top team of a top bank, but honestly, I had no idea what I was really pursuing, and when I really found out, it was enormously underwhelming,” he says. “So I could say ‘Well, I've worked hard to make this bed, so I’d better lie in it’, but that just seems nonsensical to me. Keep the bed, I'll go build myself a better one.”
Investment banking promises a lot to an elite cadre of graduates, but the realities of the job deliver little satisfaction, he says.
“It's the safest way for risk-averse people to make a better-than-average amount of money, by working longer-than-average hours on some pretty transient and bleak tasks,” he says. “It's never going to be for me. For me, corporate finance is beige. I want a life that's vibrant and colourful. I really like a lot of my ex-colleagues as people, I just don't admire them. I admire creators; artists, entrepreneurs, bohemians, humanitarians and all who devote themselves to helping others. This is who I want to be. Not a 'young professional'.”
From six figures to the struggling creative life
For Anthony Marber, that stage of his career had passed by the time he departed become an operatic baritone – at 35, he was a gnarled industry veteran in financial services terms. By 1993, he’d just come out of a nine-year stint at Mercury Asset Management (acquired by Merrill Lynch in 1997) where he was a managing director earning a six-figure salary. In 1994, he launched his own CTA hedge fund, which folded 18 months later after a torrid period for the sector. This, combined with the fact that he’d found a “fantastic” singing teacher, spurred him to take his passion for opera singing to a professional level.
“I’d bought a new flat in the City, which had great acoustics – until then, I’d been practicing in friends’ houses – I got an agent, a fantastic teacher and managed to secure my first professional contract,” he says. “I decided to put all the headhunters’ letters on the side, and make a go of starting an opera career.”
The point, he says, is that he had a roof over his head and a “modest amount” of capital to allow him to take the gamble. He’d need it – Marber was working regularly from 1995-2003, including the title role in Pelleas and Melisande at the Nationale Reisopera, but says that he was still only making £17-18k a year. “I met a lot of wonderful people struggling to make a career in a very competitive job market, auditioning for work in the very limited number of opera companies.”
Over the years, he also had some “hysterical” experiences, he says, not least when he had to change costume mid-way through a production, stripped down to his underwear only to discover that the outfit had disappeared. He was forced to carry on singing in his underpants, behind the curtain, while the crew frantically searched for his new outfit backstage.
Nonetheless, the City came calling again and in 2003 Marber joined hedge fund Marshall Wace, where he’s now head of marketing and investor relations. “The cards just seemed to fall in the right place. Marshall Wace was exciting, growing and full of a very different type of people compared to those that had left me a little jaded with my time in the City. I had a break between singing contracts and it did make me wonder whether, at 44, I could really afford more long breaks in the future. Some old banking friends were also being made redundant, so it seemed ill-judged to turn down the opportunity.”
Marber says he no longer sings, aside from the occasional experience entertaining family members: “It’s a bit like being an athlete, you need to train your voice to stay at the top of your game, and my hours are too long to commit to it currently.”
Shone, meanwhile, tells us that he’s still writing songs and wants to perform the occasional gig again with Honey Ryder on their new tour.
But Ridley has thrown himself into the artistic lifestyle. Not only has he just released his first (self-produced) song, he’s been modelling for Italian Vogue and says he’s in the process of writing a novel. What tips does he have for other bankers looking to escape the rat race?
“Stop being weak. Stop playing the victim. You are not an effect of life, you are complete cause over your life. One day in the not too distant future you will die. If you are lucky, you'll get chance to reflect on your life. Don't be that person who wishes they did X, Y, and Z,” he says.
Any perceived job or financial security is an illusion in the banking industry, he says: “It's just fear; fear of not being able to generate the money they want or need any other way. The funny thing is, that office job might seem like security, but it really isn't; you can lose it in a heartbeat. A large number of my colleagues have done since I left. The only real security you can have is the security of knowing that you can generate everything you need,” he says. “To get that security, you gotta take a leap of faith - in yourself.”