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  • zetlmaier

My First Walk Down Memory Lane

One of those silly little goals I've always had was to have head-cut photo in the Wall Street Journal. That's the sketch-type drawing at the top of the article of either the author or person the article is referencing. That hasn't happened yet, but I thought it could if I joined a big firm.

I got a job at a very large bank a long time ago where I duped into believing there was a career path to becoming an in-branch advisor.  I had left my previous jobs of being an actual stockbroker where the culture was very fratty and "Liars Poker"-esque, something I truly missed after the fact. Then I had a quick stint at a small bank which I have always regretted leaving.  It was a good job with a reasonable future, but I would have had to give up my securities licenses. I wasn't ready to do that, yet. So, I left for greener pastures. I was young and naïve, and the new job paid $10k more annually than my small-bank job.  Plus, they recruited me hard.  Things seemed to be going in the right direction personally too, I had a girlfriend and an awesome car, a Cadillac Seville. Maybe the head-cut was finally on its way? Nope. I had made a terrible mistake. 

This turned out to be nothing but a financial call center. There was no future.  I could have stayed working as a teller, my college job, and moved up quicker. They needed licensed people, but they didn’t want brokers. They wanted call center employees who either ran trades or partnered with the bank channel to process the opening of accounts that were considered too small for the in-branch advisors. They REALLY oversold the position. At least I'd be making more money.

Up until now I had been insulated from true corporate culture. Coming from being a cold-calling stockbroker who worked hard and screwed around just as hard, my frame of mind was the harder you work, the more you get paid. Nope. No fun here unless you consider the weekly meeting where we had to cheer about the company, sing songs, and do teambuilding games akin to what they do at Walmart and Hooters pre-shift. I vividly remember sitting cross legged on the floor of these meetings as if I was in some kindergarten sing along. Furthermore, this place was littered with middle management that couldn’t lead their way out of a paper bag.  There were so many I couldn’t even tell who did what, but they made it a point to let you know they were senior employees.  I’ve always made it a point not to get intoxicated at work (real high bar, I know), but this tested my limits. To be fair, there were a couple cool people who were at my level, but they didn't know any difference. This was the first real job many ever had. Just get through it and focus on the decent salary at the time with a bonus potential.

The quality of our work was judged by how many calls we took and how many trades we ran.  Trades generated revenue which was a hard metric and easily understandable.  Other metrics included the how many times the phone rang before answering and the amount of time off the phone when calls could be answered.  In fact, they had TWO people for this phone monitoring job.  I don’t remember how big our team was, maybe 30-40 people, but it certainly didn’t require two people monitoring us.  Anyway, our bonus was based on the metrics I just gave.  I was always at or near the top.  I would race through calls and not answer if it was a number I recognized as a piker who would swallow up a bunch of my time. I was aiming to hit my bonus and be number 1! Toward the end I worked on my online dating profile, (no more girlfriend) and played video games on my computer all while running trades.


I was in a rut. I needed a carrot on the end of my stick to stay motivated. This was a dead-end job. I had a chip on my shoulder and thought I was better.  I hated the culture; I hated the multi layered, pointless middle management.  Talk about a bunch of dipshits!  This was a place where dreams came to die. One person out of the whole bunch during my two years there moved into a better role.  I've subsequently done internet searches for some of my superiors who had unique names. I've never found one. How can none of them have advanced to something where they show up online? I also didn't have any tight work friends, something I had at my previous two stops. I don't remember what my backup plan was at the time. I was probably too defeated to even be thinking in those terms.

It should come as no surprise that I was laid off. I was a top performer, but it didn't matter.  I had no idea it was coming. My immediate boss called me in first thing Friday morning before Memorial Day and was holding back tears saying "this is the hardest thing I've ever had to do.' I just wanted to say, "Fuck off!" I was offered a nice severance and walked out without saying anything to anyone.  At the time I was told I wouldn’t get a severance if I chose to review things or make a scene.  Comply or get nothing. In hindsight I wonder if that violated any sort of employment law.  Anything in my file would have shown me as an exemplary employee unless they had a malcontent section.  Maybe they did. 

But a shitty attitude wasn't the only reason. Another reason it didn’t work out is I refused to sell really expensive mutual funds to people who called in.  We weren’t paid anything extra to sell this shit, and it took away from the amount of revenue I could generate entering trades as well as the phone metrics.  The firm did not align their interests with the employees.  Pay me to sell these funds, fine!  I’d do that reluctantly if I could make a buck.  But, don’t tell me to shine up a turd and sell it while not paying me. Keeping me from my all-important phone metrics to sell these funds TOOK money out of my pocket.

A few points come from this story.  Blessings in disguise are real! I also found that I have convictions.  The products they wanted us to sell were expensive versions of index funds. Remember, these were smaller clients not worthy of in-branch care, and they were getting screwed over in my opinion. I don’t want to sell some bullshit product to a client because someone tells me I have to.  (I’ll come back to this in future walks down memory lane) Interests have to be aligned.  I have a workman’s attitude toward extra work: you want more, pay me more. I would NEVER ask someone in a revenue producing role to do something where they didn’t get paid.  Maybe I would have sold those dogshit funds if I got paid, who knows?

The chip on my shoulder has softened a little since. I regale this story because it influences my vision of how financial services should and can work. Nevertheless, this was a hard time.  Here I was approximately 4 years out of college and out of work with zero prospects, and a lame dating profile. The Cadillac turned out to be a lemon and I had just leased a car to get out from under it. (The 2nd worst financial decision I've ever made!) I didn't have a backup or much savings. The Dot Com bust was in full swing now, and Seattle was one of the hardest hit areas. I lived off my severance, unemployment, worked odd jobs, and went to bartending school. It was truly one of those times where you pull yourself up by the bootstraps. I wanted out of this business. But like the mob, it just pulls you back in. It’s funny how life works out. I'm still waiting for my head-cut.

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