Trust Me, I’m a Banker
- David Charters
- Thomas Dunne Books
- 336 pp.
- Reviewed by Randy Cepuch
- September 4, 2012
Set in London’s world of high finance, this novel of a cravenly ambitious investment banker is hilarious — and at times sadly spot on.
Reviewed by Randy Cepuch
If you’re a member of “the 99%,” this might be ideal reading as you Occupy a beach chair, or maybe a city park bench.
But if you’re among those who were until recently camped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London — in “the City,” the real-world financial district, where much of the action in this novel takes place — the story may seem quite familiar. That’s because it was originally published in the U.K. over the past decade as two books: At Bonus Time, No One Can Hear You Scream and Trust Me, I’m A Banker. The seam is rather obvious, and so is the publisher’s effort to capitalize on the Occupy movement that highlighted the excesses of Wall Street and its equivalents around the world.
Author David Charters was formerly an investment banker in London, where he worked for a couple of large German banks. Not surprisingly, his lead character is an investment banker in London who works for a large German bank. Novels, of course, are often informed by an author’s actual experiences. For the sake of anyone close to Charters, I hope that’s seldom true here — although it’s a bit unnerving that the protagonist is called Dave Hart, merely omitting a few letters from the author’s name.
Hart is an utterly unlikable character, living large (a flat in Sloane Square, a Range Rover, a private nursery school for his 3-year-old daughter, a multitude of expensive extracurricular habits) and so obsessed with his financial status that he has no moral compass whatsoever. The first half of Trust Me, I’m A Banker features a running countdown to the day when Hart is to receive his annual bonus, which he sees as the only proper measure of his (or anyone’s) value. Hart’s efforts to suck up to his bosses grow increasingly desperate, and go tragically wrong in spectacular, often farcical ways. When a woman objects to his shoving her out of the way at a crowded bar, for example, he tells her to do something anatomically impossible – and then minutes later, he’s formally introduced to the woman, who happens to be the wife of the governor of The Bank of England.
Just when you think things can’t possibly get any worse for Hart, they don’t (for a while). After behaving so badly on bonus day that he feels he must leave the country, Hart decides a trip to Jamaica might be a fine idea. The book’s title comes from an incident that occurs while he’s departing from Heathrow Airport. Hart has grown quite used to flying first class over the years and being among the first to board. When another passenger has a heart attack and collapses in the concourse, blocking the check-in desk, Hart forcefully elbows his way through. “Are you a doctor?” he’s asked. “No,” he responds while stepping over the struggling man on the floor, “I’m an investment banker. Seat 1-A.”
Jamaica turns out to be the right place at the right time for Hart to stumble (literally) into being an improbable hero, and the situation ultimately sets the stage for him to ascend to a corner office and become even more loathsome. His wife has left him, with their child, so he takes to all-night partying, gliding around London in a Bentley with personalized license plates boasting “H1 PAY” and hiring escort service girls born in poor countries all over the world (boosting global trade, he rationalizes). You’re sure that at some point it will all catch up with him, as it did for a Wall Street “Master of the Universe” named Sherman McCoy in Tom Wolfe’s epic Bonfire of the Vanities. That, as much as the snappy dialogue, is what keeps you turning the pages of Trust Me, I’m A Banker.
The Brits are especially good at finding humor in the clueless myopia of business executives. While “The Office,” built around a really bad boss at a paper company, has been a huge, long-running TV hit in the United States, the original series aired on the BBC. “Alex” — a comic strip published in the Daily Telegraph and popular enough to be turned into a popular West End show a few years back — has featured the preposterous-yet-credible antics of (fictitious) investment bankers for more than 25 years. And there have been several amusing tell-all books (nonfiction, or so we’re told) such as Geraint Anderson’s City Boy: Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile — although no one has ever improved on Liar’s Poker, in which Michael Lewis used his inside experience on Wall Street to skewer the American financial industry.
So does Dave Hart end up getting what’s coming to him? I’d recommend reading this book to find out. But here’s a clue: Trust Me, I’m A Banker combines just the first two volumes in a series of “Dave Hart” books written by Charters and published in the U.K.
Randy Cepuch has been a financial writer for more than 25 years and is the author of A Weekend With Warren Buffett and Other Shareholder Meeting Adventures (Basic Books, 2007).