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Review of "The Trading Game" by Gary Stevenson: Evaluating the Profits.

Review of “The Trading Game” by Gary Stevenson: Evaluating the Profits.


Gary Stevenson had a remarkable journey from poverty in east London to success at Citibank, which he details in his new book. Unlike the sensationalized tell-alls of Cityboy and The Wolf of Wall Street, Stevenson’s story is one of intelligence and morality. After leaving the bank at just 27 years old, he created the YouTube channel GarysEconomics to educate viewers on topics such as the Bank of England’s controversial money creation practices that benefit the wealthy and to warn against get-rich-quick bitcoin schemes. In 2021, he was among 30 millionaires who signed an open letter urging Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to raise taxes on the wealthy.

In the beginning of the book, there are descriptions of a childhood surrounded by violence, poverty, and obvious unfairness, all in view of the Canary Wharf towers. As a math prodigy, Stevenson is accepted into LSE where he quickly realizes that many wealthy individuals have low expectations for those who are less fortunate. Using this knowledge to his advantage, he triumphs in a card-based trading competition against his affluent classmates and is offered an internship and job at Citibank. His first bonus is received in early 2009, just a few months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers which caused significant damage to the global economy. The amount, £13,000, is more than half of what his father earns in a year as a Post Office worker.

Based on recommendations from coworkers, Stevenson gifts himself a Sky Sports subscription. Instead of attending Orient games with his friend Harry and his father, he starts going to Fitness First in Ilford to work out. The following year, Stevenson receives a bonus of nearly £400,000, which solidifies his obsession with trading. He continues to receive multi-million pound bonuses and trading becomes his main priority in life.

When speaking with traders and investment bankers in the City, you will often hear a common theme: finance is not just a job, but a way of life that consumes every aspect of your being. You are constantly tired from working long hours and facing intense stress, all while having no guarantee of job stability. This lifestyle makes it difficult to maintain relationships with loved ones, both physically and mentally. And with each large bonus, the divide between you and others grows wider. While investment banks are not intended to be cults or sects, they often operate similarly.

It would be unfair to solely blame Stevenson for his closed-mindedness. Prior to his job at Citibank, he worked at a sofa store earning £40 per day. He witnessed many of his friends succumb to drug addiction and ruin their futures. However, this book is titled as a “confession”, so it is natural to expect some introspection from Stevenson in his storytelling. What were his motivations and goals in life? Why did he prioritize chasing higher bonuses over his well-being? And why was he unable to maintain any significant relationships, both within and outside of the bank?

The moment never arrives. Instead, Stevenson devotes 400 pages to angrily criticizing everything and everyone. He expresses anger towards his parents, the school that kicked him out, the students and professors at LSE, and his fellow traders for not being as intelligent as him. He shows disdain for the brokers who rely on him and he fumes about upper management delaying his bonus.

After the bank sends him to Japan, his girlfriend, known as Wizard, also moves there. However, she ensures that she has her own place to stay and a job as a teacher before joining him. She is not interested in his money and actually wants him to leave his job, even if it means giving up a significant amount of deferred bonuses. “Why do you keep fighting, Gary?” she questions. “You have enough. Just leave.” However, Stevenson disagrees and states that it’s never enough and he would never quit, even if it means letting the bank win. The couple eventually breaks up, but not because of his job at Citibank, but because of their differences. Earlier in the book, Stevenson’s closest friend confronts him about his work dependency. “What is the purpose of it all, Gary?” he pleads. “I had no answer for that, so I just left.” They do not see each other for many years.

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The story concludes with Citibank giving in and Stevenson receiving his postponed bonus. Upon returning to London, he declares, “I no longer care about winning, but I should stop playing by myself.”

This book is well-written and has a darkly humorous tone, effectively arguing that the world of high finance remains just as dangerous, irresponsible, and deceitful as ever. It is commendable that Stevenson has applied his knowledge of economics and high finance to advocate for a more equal society. However, as a confession, it falls short, lacking any genuine self-reflection or remorse for his actions. It would have been beneficial for Stevenson to share his journey of healing in this aspect as well, potentially aiding others who are also trapped in the allure of wealth.

Joris Luyendijk wrote the book “Swimming With Sharks: Inside the World of the Bankers” published by Faber.

Source: theguardian.com