An unlikely financial analyst of banks

Back in my place I checked the name of the head of the company that Jeroen had written down for me and wrote a quick letter:
“Dear Mr. Wulf,
I am a very dedicated and committed person. To your company I could bring some new, creative ideas, and the knowledge of politics and European relations, which could be very helpful in financial matters. I am especially interested in macroeconomics.
Please, see my enclosed CV for more information about my background and contact information in case MoneyCare will need a person like me.”
I then went with a disk to the Internet shop to print the letter and my CV, then to the post office, and once back home decided to put it out of my mind. I was relatively frank in my letter, in terms of making it clear that I didn’t possess any knowledge in finances, and thus, didn’t expect any reply. My fate was unclear, and I remember that during that evening I went to the bank of the Amstel river to sit on a bench and stare at Amsterdam. There wasn’t much to see, since it is all flat, but I could feel the city responding in a way. The river Amstel with its boats, the beautiful century-old buildings, people on bikes commuting everywhere, the overly dramatic sky because of the flatness, – I could feel that there was more for me in this world to explore, and Amsterdam seemed like a right place to be for someone who was used to travel and wasn’t sure which was a correct path in life.
A week later I was invited to the interview by MoneyCare. I had no idea what the company could possibly offer me as a position, but I certainly became optimistic. Taking with me some diplomas, and a talisman left to me by my grandfather I went, for the first time, to the office of MoneyCare to meet Mr. Wulf, the head of the company.
The office of MoneyCare was situated not far from the business area of Amsterdam city, between a Turkish bank and a recruiting company. On top of the building the letters “MoneyCare” were greeting cars and passers-by on the pavement. During my ride on the underground to reach the Bijlmer station where MoneyCare was located, I was confronted for the first time with the other side of the city. The pretty canals and old buildings gave way to industrial constructions, and big huge buildings, dedicated to banks. It was an area I would certainly avoid under any other circumstances as it looked totally the opposite to why I had come to Amsterdam in the first place. I was attracted to its history and culture, but the numerous banking buildings I could see at the Bijlmer station were an indication of a life in the city where finances and big corporations ruled.
MoneyCare itself was spread across two floors in a five-storey building, and I had to press a button to get in. Inside, it looked like any corporate office, with bare walls, and minimum furniture, and I remember that I hesitated for a few seconds before proceeding to the reception on the first floor. It didn’t really appeal to me, the whole corporate allure around MoneyCare, but I reminded myself that I needed a job, and that an invitation to an interview was a promising gesture, even though I failed to see in which capacity I could ever be employed by a financial company.
At the reception a nice old lady showed me to Mr. Wulf’s office and said that he would arrive in a few minutes.
While waiting for the head of MoneyCare I had a look around the office. It was full of books, not all of them related to finances. Though on the table where I was sitting was a book quite related to finances which gave me a fright.
‘Alpha and Beta in investment decisions’ I read on the cover. I started to feel something resembling fear. I had no idea what alpha and beta could possibly mean in the context of finances.
What the hell was I doing in that room, I asked myself?
At that moment Mr. Wulf stormed into the office, armed with two cups of coffee, several books and a newspaper. Physically he had lots of grey curly hair, had a slightly mad and curious look on his face and at a more careful examination resembled Einstein.
He smiled at me, sat on the opposite chair and said, “I liked your application letter. Very brief and concise.”
I just nodded in return. My sincere hope was that Mr. Wulf wouldn’t ask me anything related to finances and send me home as soon as he realised that I couldn’t really tell the difference between macro and micro economics and that I was simply after a job…to have a job.
“So…” Mr. Wulf winked at me as if reading my mind, “what do you know about finances and why did you apply for a job at MoneyCare?”
Realising that I couldn’t possibly reply that finances were the last thing on my mind until recently, and that I applied for a job due to the lack of any other options, I tried my chance in talking bullshit.
“Well, Mr. Wulf,” I started, in what I judged as a confident voice, “to tell you the truth, my knowledge of finances is rather limited. But I’ve always been fascinated by this world. I mean, when you read some financial magazines, all this discussion about the alpha and beta of finances and macroeconomic developments. I always found it interesting and wanted to see how it is in practice, the world of finances.”
Okay, let’s pray now that he won’t ask me either about alpha, beta or macroeconomics, I told to myself.
“Hmm, interesting. I see that you studied languages and international relations. And you like reading… so what do you enjoy reading?”
This was rather an unexpected question for an interview, for a job in finances, but a good one. Since reading had always been my biggest passion, I surely could talk about it in a more relaxed manner than discussing… what was it again, alpha and beta in investment decisions.
“So, about reading,” I started in a confident voice and even attempted to take a sip from my cup of coffee. Well, not quite. My hand was trembling. Who manages to drink coffee during an interview, may I ask?
“I like all kinds of books, but especially French literature, also some Japanese. I am reading an author named Murakami now,” I said while putting back the cup. No coffee, after all.
As it turned out Mr. Wulf shared my love for books and we spent the next forty minutes discussing different styles of writing, Kafka and Marcel Proust. I was only hoping that Mr. Wulf wouldn’t go back to the topic of finances. However, after a while he came back to the financial issues and in a quite unexpected manner.
“Actually, what we are doing here, is a real Kafka,” Mr. Wulf looked at me trying to see if I got the point. I did not. Although I was familiar with the writings of the Czech author, I missed the connection between MoneyCare and the fiction of Franz Kafka.
Mr. Wulf tried to explain. Taking from the table a piece of paper he started to draw some schemes, explaining on the way the banking business. It was the first time that I got a definite feeling that Mr. Wulf was slightly mad.
“Banking business is quite a metamorphosis,” reiterated Mr. Wulf his fascination with Kafka. “Only a fool looks at figures and annual reports of banks. You have to dig deeper in order to understand the whole banking business. Read carefully newspapers from as many countries as possible and you don’t need to read anything else to make your investment decisions.”
Mr. Wulf then proceeded to draw some graphs and connecting his pictures to some of the banks and countries. On one picture he drew an elephant, while on the other he drew a rose.
I tried to hold on my face an intelligent, concentrated gaze, hoping that Mr. Wulf would have the impression that I was following his thinking process. Apparently, I succeeded, judging from what the boss of MoneyCare said next.
“We have an opening in our banking sector. We need an analyst to analyse banks. Would you be interested?”
Since Mr Wulf was looking at me with a serious expression, I could conclude that it wasn’t a joke. I glanced at my CV, which lay next to the admirer of Kafka wondering if he had read it at all.
“Of course, I understand that you have never studied finances but I think that you have big potential to become a good financial analyst. You are interested in politics, you like reading and I like your way of thinking”.
Okay, it must be the talisman of my grandfather, which is helping. Otherwise, I couldn’t see how else Mr. Wulf could spot my banking potential.
“You could start by analysing one or two banks, gradually building up your capacity, and after some time I expect you to be able to be responsible for one of our portfolios. Meanwhile, you could help us with improving our new internet system from the language point of view. You could begin by translating some texts from Dutch into English.”
I started to see the connection with Kafka. The situation was indeed surreal. And if one of the personages of the writer’s books woke up one day as an insect, I faced a serious possibility to wake up one day as a financial analyst of banks and a translator from a language which I didn’t even know.
“I don’t speak Dutch, Mr. Wulf.”
“I don’t think that it will be a problem. We introduced a new automatic translation system called Trados,” the head of MoneyCare winked at me as if this simple revelation should put me immediately at peace.
I sighed. With a degree in translation I knew what he was talking about (though I had a definite feeling that Mr. Wulf didn’t know what he was talking about).
“Mr. Wulf,” I tried to explain, “Trados is not an automatic translation system – it’s just a tool to assist the translator. One always has to know the language from which to translate.”
But my explanation seemed to be in vain. Mr. Wulf was definitely a person who believed in miracles.
“I am sure you will manage it,” he started his sentence to continue it in Dutch.
For a brief moment I just stared at Mr. Wulf. He was addressing me in Dutch as if simple will power or the power of his gaze was enough to convince me that I did speak Dutch.
But I didn’t.
Finally realising that I wasn’t lying when I said that I didn’t speak Dutch, Mr. Wulf switched back to English.
“Why not just give it a try? I am sure that with the help of Trados you will manage just fine!”
Mr. Wulf was clever. I was so relieved that we were back in the English mode of conversation that the idea of Trados didn’t seem so grotesque anymore.
“Well, I guess that I could indeed try,” I mumbled in a weak voice.
For Mr. Wulf this was a definite yes. He looked at me with a satisfied smile and saying that he would be back in two minutes, went out of the room. I stayed in my chair looking at the seagulls outside the window and wondering whether it all was real. Mr. Wulf seriously thought that I could work as a financial analyst of banks and translate from Dutch into English. I told myself that I had to reread Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka if I got the job.
The head of MoneyCare came back with a file.
“This is the standard contract we can offer you. We have only to put your name on it. Take it home, read it carefully and you can bring it with you on your first day at work. When can you start?”
Mr. Wulf gave me two pieces of paper. On the first one I could only understand the title “Financial analyst”, since it was all written in Dutch. But this was a definite proof that I wasn’t dreaming.
Later at home with the help of one of my Dutch friends I went through the whole contract. It was permanent with a trial period of three months. As my friend explained to me, I was extremely lucky. MoneyCare was providing a pension, a stable salary, forty hours of work per week and twenty-five days of holidays. And, most importantly, the company was willing to prove to the Dutch immigration authorities that I was an Einstein.