THE BONUS BOYS UNMASKED…
Jamie Griffiths is not a quantitative analyst in the City. He’s an actor and playwright. Not a “quant”, a risk-taking star of the city betting and hedging and ducking and diving and making billions and then losing some and panicking and covering his tracks. But his hard, chiselled smartness and edgy delivery ring so true that at times in this remarkable monologue you drift into thinking the performer is telling a true story.
And in essence, true it is. As a maths graduate, enraged by the bank bailouts, Griffiths became obsessed with how it all worked, read widely, hung out in forums for quants and traders and got even more enraged. Fascinated, too, by the bizarre, risky casino culture of young, wet-behind-the-ears adventurers encouraged to bet not only their own institution’s money, but imaginary money it doesn’t have. So he begins his presentation as if we are trainees being told how it works; as it goes on, the story shades into autobiography and a final reveal about the Quant’s own biggest, baddest bet. It becomes ever more gripping, ever more brilliantly appalling.
It is full of fierce little wisdoms, which might be spoken by a real practitoner. “We do not grow anything, we do not manufacture anything. We manufacture risk”. He explains the levels and types of risk. Execution risk, in which the other guy might be faster, so it is vital to be near the server hub (“ever 93 miles away you lose a millisecond”). There’s Excel risk, in which you model a computer programme but it doesn’t deliver. There’s counterparty risk, in which you win but the other guy can’t pay up. And there is people risk, in which human beings simply don’t behave logically (“Why didn’t Greece default?” etc). We learn about derivatives, leverage, arbitrage, and above all the giddy triumphalism of the successful trader who is dealing in sums so vast, and earning sums so vast, that he feels omnipotent. “Staring into the face of God and realizing you are looking in a mirror”.
Watching him, listening to this impassioned impersonation, I found it easier than usual to answer the humble layperson’s question, “why don’t these people just take the first couple of bonuses and bail out, buy a farm or something pleasant, get a proper life?”. They can’t: it is addictive behaviour. And, as becomes clear as his narrative unfurls, even the maddest of this behaviour is not likely to be controlled, curbed, or even condemned by the big profitable institutions in charge. Until it goes seriously wrong and they need a scapegoat. Riveting.
http://www.edfringe.com to 24 August