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‘S**t’s f**ked up. It’s going to get really bad’: Millionaire financial whizzkid on the economic disaster heading our way

Londoner Gary Stevenson, who was Citi’s highest-paid trader worldwide in his early 20s, is despondent about the future as economic inequality deepens

It is 10 years since Gary Stevenson, in a fog of disillusionment, quit the world of high finance that had made him a millionaire in his early 20s. Yet even now its bright lights still hold a certain hypnotic allure. His Limehouse flat near London’s docklands sits almost in the shadows of the hulking skyscrapers that yawn into the sky over the Canary Wharf financial district. You can easily see their rooftop lights twinkling from his front balcony across the canal.

Stevenson used to look up at those lights as a kid in working-class east London, swearing to himself that one day he would work in those tall buildings and get rich. As a maths whizz, he succeeded. Eventually he ended up hating that world and, for a time, himself, over its excesses.

Now a fidgety, slightly angsty 37-year-old with a zeal for radical economics, he was once the highest-paid trader worldwide at Citibank. After the last financial crash, he won a series of huge interest rate bets that the economy would be slow to recover as the poor struggled to buy life’s basics.

The full, testosterone-fuelled story is outlined in his pacy new book, The Trading Game: A Confession. Although once expelled from school, Stevenson’s academic prowess and hungry work ethic got him to the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE), where he won a glorified card game with a prize as a summer intern among Citi’s traders.

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He was kept on and after his first full year, the then 23-year-old received a bonus in early 2010 of almost £400,000 (€470,000), more than his father had earned in his entire career to that point as a postal worker. He recalls the contrast when, short of cash, he used to spend 75p each day in the Sainsbury’s near LSE to buy his usual lunch of two Scotch eggs.

“I started to feel like my life up to then has been like a manipulated game, right? My whole life was, like, you look for the cheapest version. Then suddenly, you get paid 400 grand. You look back and you think, like, all those f**king Scotch eggs.”

The following year Stevenson topped the bank’s trader earners globally, breaking through the million-pound barrier as his unfancied interest rate bets kept winning. Seven-figure bonuses became the norm for him, even as he watched his working-class friends and neighbours from his old east London stomping ground continue to struggle for housing and other day-to-day expenses.

You go back and you look at it and, in some ways, it was kind of messed up. [But] I was in with this, you know, kind of mad bunch of guys [on the trading floor]. I knew there was money to be made

—  Gary Stevenson on working as a Citi trader in his 20s

His winning bets at Citi effectively held that the wealth chasm in society would widen even further – the rich would get richer while the poor floundered. The inequality made him despondent for the future, so he got out after a couple of years of a sojourn as a by-then storied trader for Citi in Japan.

“You get paid and everyone says ‘well done’. But there’s not even any question of it, you know, should we do anything about it? And that’s the world that we live in,” says Stevenson, as we sip tea and munch chocolate biscuits at the kitchen table in the modern flat that he bought with one of his first big Citi bonus cheques.

This is clearly the home of a bachelor. The evidence of male singledom litters the room, which lies on an acceptable halfway point between messy and tidy. There are a couple of guitars lying around; a few dumbbells. Most of the flat surfaces are covered by a scattering books: proofs of The Trading Game alongside tomes on economics and politics. The kitchen aroma seems to be of Asian cooking; spices and woks stacked up on the countertops.

With his cropped hairstyle and offbeat tracksuited look, Stevenson appears a bit like a slightly ageing gamer. Does he miss the suit-and-booted world of the game of high finance? Did he once enjoy it?

“It was great fun at first. I mean, it was intense. You go back and you look at it and, in some ways, it was kind of messed up. [But] I was in with this, you know, kind of mad bunch of guys [on the trading floor]. I knew there was money to be made.”

He admits his success definitely went to his head, and a kind of arrogance in his own abilities “is in me still”. He also retains a sense of ire, however, for some of his former high-finance colleagues, whom he dismisses as posh, over-educated know-nothings who were born insulated from the real world. Some were “just so disgusting and so full of themselves”, he says, although, to Stevenson, their worst crime was that their wealth and naivety about the world made them “boring, boring, boring”.

“I think really, more than anything, I was disappointed,” he says of his Citi life. Following his blistering initial success in London, he was posted to Japan after he first threatened to leave the bank. After a couple of years there he got out, despite warnings from an industry counterpart who warned that banks can sometimes make it difficult for successful people to depart.

He doesn’t come right out and say so in the book, but it is clear from its pages that he suffered with clinical depression during his time at Citi, especially in Japan. All the typical physical and mental symptoms of emotional struggle are laid out in the pages.

“I don’t say it in the book, but yes it’s true, I was diagnosed with depression. I think people who don’t have something that is a little bit missing somewhere are unlikely to go into that field of work. I don’t think that being really ambitious genuinely is a healthy mind state. There’s a reason why you’re looking for something – because you’re missing something.”

I’ve come to terms with my connection with my parents. The truth is that I had a difficult family upbringing. It wasn’t an easy family to grow up in

What had Stevenson been missing in his life? “Emotional support,” he shoots back straight away.

A theme of the book is the seeming emotional distance between Stevenson and his parents. He admits he wanted this to be noticed by readers of The Trading Game, but for it not to be too overt. Yet it is clearly hinted at in several passages, giving the book a poignancy beyond of its rocket-fuelled financial thriller narrative.

Stevenson says he loves his parents, but “they are very unusual people” and they won’t be at his book launch as they are not close.

“I’ve come to terms with my connection with my parents. The truth is that I had a difficult family upbringing. It wasn’t an easy family to grow up in. It’s difficult for people who haven’t come from that kind of family, [they] struggle to understand it . . . I’m not comfortable talking about it.”

He begins talking about himself by flitting in and out of the third person, half-detached.

“This is somebody who has been so unsupported for such a long time, that he is completely used to the idea that, for every kind of practical support, emotional support, the only person I can go to is myself. A lot of men will relate to that. It’s been this way for men for a long time. Men are trained, like, don’t ask for help, especially for emotional support.”

He remains pessimistic about the financial future of the world as economic inequality deepens. He believes it will inevitably lead to economic disaster as the poor are cast off into a kind of modern serfdom, with all wealth concentrated in an embedded ruling class. It sounds dystopian, but Stevenson has been correct before when others said he would be wrong.

He runs a popular daily YouTube channel, Garyseconomics, where he explains fiscal matters to the masses. He is also a fan of the work of inequality economists such as Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman. Stevenson is also a member of the Patriotic Millionaires, a world movement that calls for higher wealth taxes.

He could afford to avoid disaster and “go live on the beach on the Philippines”, he says. But who would be left to warn the working-class poor about the economic disaster he believes is unfolding for them?

Stevenson says he is now “more contented than I used to be” when he was at his emotional nadir in Japan.

“But if you’re on the Titanic, and you can see the iceberg coming, are you really content? S**t’s f**ked up and it’s going to get really bad. It brings me no joy to say that.”

The Trading Game by Gary Stevenson is published by Allen Lane. He will be in conversation with Martina Devlin in DLR Lexicon in Dún Laoghaire on March 19th. Tickets via Eventbrite