In the news: From naughty to nice: 30 years of Christmas in the City

David Palmer, Chief Executive Officer
Originally printed in City AM, Wednesday 13 December 2017

I recently met up with an old friend that I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. “I’m fat and bald now”, I warned him. Unfortunately, when we met up, he agreed. As we talked, we pondered everything else that had changed.

I found myself recalling my first Christmas in the City. It was a time of deal tickets represented by little green slips that were to be put in the contracts tray by 4:30pm. If we wanted to know any “market colour”, we would call the “box” on the floor of the Stock Exchange. It was their job to maintain a chalk board with all the jobbers’ prices and sizes in key stocks. What felt most cutting was that, as I said this, I realised that even the term jobber is now obsolete.

Looking back, it amazes me how little regulation there was. Before we gave the actual order to the “box” we would write in the nominal, stock and whether it was a buy or a sell on our green slips. The “box” would then call back with the execution details to again be recorded on the slip. Client allocation? Well, that had to happen before the little green slip went into the contracts tray. Such lax client protection was made even worse by the fact that we only settled client positions on a net basis every two or three weeks.

It’s around Christmas when these changes become more apparent than ever.

In my time, jobber, broker and client entertainment was unfettered. Previously, the firm could be as generous as it liked, putting on events throughout December. It was common for my seniors to stumble back into the office in the late afternoon after a heavy lunch. And then there were the notorious Christmas parties; many a City legend was made at those parties.

Nowadays, a combination of legislation and cultural change has thankfully stopped all that. Staff parties have a strict PAYE (pay as you earn) limit and long drinking sessions are unacceptable. I used to dread the partners coming back from their lunch at 4pm. Many people still have a drink in the Christmas week but it’s kept sensible with the unwritten rule that you don’t go back to the office if it’s more than a couple.

One change that I’m not sure I can support is the appearance of the Christmas jumper. A couple of years ago a humorous ex-Guards chief operating officer colleague bought me one to wear in the office competition. It was at least two sizes too small and I’m not sure that the winner’s round of applause was enough compensation for the humiliation.

There is one thing that hasn’t changed.

At lunchtime on the last trading day before Christmas, we all finish early: not to go to the pub but to join our families. As we go our separate ways for the holidays, we all wish each other a “Happy Christmas” with a genuine smile and feeling of goodwill.

While not everyone may be off to celebrate Christ’s birth, he has brought us all together anyway. It’s my favourite moment in the office every year.