In 1983, Alan Bright graduated from City with an honours degree in Banking and International Finance. He bought a flat in Docklands with his wife, a fellow City graduate, and started the six-mile daily commute into Central London, which he still does today.
“I arrived at City in 1980, a year after the Conservatives came to power under Margaret Thatcher. The then head of the business school, Professor Griffiths (now Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach), was one of Mrs Thatcher’s advisers and being at City felt like being close to the corridors of power – there was much discussion about monetarism, rational expectations and the Chicago School.
After City, I was a graduate trainee with Midland Bank (later bought by HSBC). I expected interesting and challenging work to be handed to me on a plate rather than having to go looking for it – I just kept my head down and did the work I was given, which was not what was expected. There were no long-term prospects and so I left, moving into market data with a succession of vendors.
In 2000 I was made redundant from Bridge Information Systems – later bought by Reuters – and, after a time at an internet start-up, I resurfaced as European editor at Waters, a City technology magazine.
I was working long hours at Waters but unable to deliver quite what my boss wanted. After waking up in the middle of several nights in a cold sweat – quite literally – thinking about work, I resigned in early September 2001. I was pulled out of attending a conference my employers were holding in the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. Everyone at the conference died, including my boss and several colleagues. I was glad I had left on good terms.
Through a contact, I got a maternity cover job in marketing communications at SunGard Trading & Risk Systems – a software vendor. I stayed at SunGard for three years and then moved to GFI Group, an inter-dealer broker, with a speciality in credit default swaps (CDSs). Well before the credit crunch, the Financial Times regularly called me, asking for spreads on Icelandic bank CDSs. The market knew things were not right – the canary in the coal mine was singing, but being ignored. I left GFI in 2009 when the PR role switched to New York..
By now I was in my late forties and whenever I had left a job I had ended up back in the City. Was it to be the same this time? I had several interviews over the next few months but my heart just was not in it. I could not persuade myself, let alone an investment bank, that I was passionate about their PR.
While applying for work back in the City I had also started teaching chess in schools and doing paid admin and accounting work for a charitable trust. Finally, 18 months after leaving GFI, I started a part-time admin role at St Helen’s church on Bishopsgate – under the shadow of the Gherkin.
In the 1960s St Helen’s was just another church with a shrunken congregation caused by City depopulation; but a group of businessmen invited Dick Lucas, a young clergyman, to start lunchtime services – with an emphasis on sermons from the Bible on who Jesus was and what he came to do.
The church grew and flourished and since the 1960s many thousands of City workers, men and women, have come to lunchtime services at St Helen’s to hear the Bible explained; to meet in small groups to study the Bible together and to pray; to encourage each other to tell their colleagues about Jesus – see here for a video. I had been involved in St Helen’s for much of the past 30 years, as a City worker, and now I help run it, which is very satisfying. Click here for more.
And I still love the City: the architecture, the narrow streets and alleys, the coffee shops – they all combine to give it a unique atmosphere. I cycle to work most days – now along Super Cycle Highway 3, a route I have taken for many years and that one day turned blue beneath my wheels.
I also work for other charitable trusts and teach chess in four schools and run a summer chess programme for my local council. While working in the City I did not save enough money so that I no longer need paid work – but if I did not need to work I would probably choose to do little different than I am now doing: using my admin and accounting skills to help people hear about Jesus and teach a bit of chess.
- If you’re not being stretched, ask to be – or create your own projects
- Stay employable – ie, keep pushing yourself to learn new things. eg, when a new version of Windows comes out, embrace it (even if it is 8.0). You will learn stuff – even if it is an informed opinion on how rubbish it is.
- Stay in contact with people – not least so you can help them and they can help you in job searches. It really often is about who you know.
- Save money (or pay off your mortgage) so that when you no longer have the high-paid job (and I reckon the average age of falling off the career ladder is late forties) you are able to afford lower-paid jobs that might be more satisfying at that life stage.”