A quiet life on the llama farm

Former banking types find solace in art dealing, cabinet-making and the Foreign Office

By the time real prosperity returns to the City, thousands of bank employees will have departed the Square Mile with big bonuses in their pockets - or at least a decent redundancy cheque. But what beckons for a City banker looking for a different career and a change of lifestyle?

Some think of new commercial enterprises (recently, not-so-small fortunes have been made in schools, nurseries and dental practices, to name a few odd choices). The more senior ones may be happy to stick to lucrative non-executive directorships - if they can find them, that is. And then there are those who are looking for something completely different.

But before you buy that llama farm in Wiltshire or invest in cheese-making in Wales, you should think hard about it, according to Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at UCL. "Too many people leave the City to take up essentially simple-minded activities which they have long been fantasising about," Furnham observes. "For years they have been richly rewarded for leading an uncomfortable life. They are full of hubris, but they have worked so hard they haven't had time to develop hobbies. Essentially, they have confused extrinsic with intrinsic pleasure."

None the less, some are quite happy to pursue the simple life. Albert is a Swiss-German in his early forties who spent 20-odd years as a trader in Japanese bonds. For the past year, he has been attending an intensive live-in course in Devon, learning to become a cabinet-maker. He is now, according to a friend, "an expert on shaving one-hundredth of an inch off a piece of walnut".

Albert recently went back to the City - to install a cabinet in the chairman's office at a major investment bank. It was, apparently, "quite refreshing to look at the screens from the other side of the glass".

The art world is an option for those not prepared to give up wheeling and dealing completely. Zara Perry ("my dear, describe me as a former secretary to the chairman of a merchant bank - that'll show how old I am") now works as an art dealer. "Having worked in the City helps me," she says. "It means I am not afraid to bark - and violently." She has used her City contacts to sell the work of artists she represents, such as the sculptor Hylton Stockwell. "I've recently sold a work of art as a signing present for the closing of a major loan deal and a cartoon for a concert at the Barbican sponsored by an investment bank. And every year I point out to them that they are going to need Christmas cards - they might as well be original."

Others seeking originality dream of becoming writers, following in the footsteps of the former bond salesman Michael Lewis, he of Liar's Poker fame (and royalties). But, in the experience of the literary agent Broo Docherty, "most write their best book while they are still sitting behind their desks". None of the current run of "get away from it all" books is written by an author with a City background. If the Peter Mayle phenomenon is anything to go by, advertising may be a better background for those who want to write bucolic tales of their experiences abroad.

There's always the Foreign Office, if you want to travel and get paid (albeit less than you're used to). As one recent FCO recruit from McKinsey put it: "I began to wonder about my future as a strategic consultant when I was asked to go to Bradford for the weekend." If public service beckons (and the FCO reports booming interest since 11 September), the advice is not to leave it too late. "We want them with commercial experience," notes one FCO official, "but we also want them before they get trapped into the partner/mortgage/ money/kids minefield."

Some former City workers choose to move to the country to set up their own businesses rather than commuting. But, according to Nick Hewitt of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, many of them end up running City-style businesses at the end of a telephone. After all, in these days of high technology, does it matter where you base your currency trading operation? But surely that is missing the point. As Hewitt observes: "I don't think they end up taking many more holidays."

Champions of the City lunch might be drawn to the wine business. "Some ex-bankers and brokers do fancy a dabble in wine," admits Gilbert Winfield of Winfield Wines. "Until they look at the margins, that is." But what about a vineyard - preferably with a chateau attached? Unless the bonus has been unusually good, allowing you to employ others to do the work, it's not that easy. Or so says Patricia Atkinson, now of Clos d'Yvigne wine, but formerly employed at an investment bank.

"I left the City for a change of lifestyle rather than because I hated the place," she tells me from her 21-hectare estate near Bergerac in the Dordogne. "It's hard work making wine." But then she announces that she has just come into the winery "with a truckload of some luscious purple grapes - and it's the most perfect weather down here". There is compensation for leaving that screen behind.

Sarah Woodward is editor of International Review of Employment

Next Article