I am a son of a career banker. Banking is what I understood to be the default career of young men and women all around me. Well, that, along with medicine and engineering and other more practically disposed disciplines. After observing my father’s success – globetrotting around the exotics, living it up with lavish strokes of glamour, being yielded to with deference and respect – I knew one thing for sure. A banker shoulders the epitome of contemporary ideals of success. And, like so many of my generation, I frantically pursued the most popular degree of the material ’80s, Business Administration (with a minor in Finance, to boot). That was the first f**k up.
Undeterred, I ploughed through the minutiae of statistics, the drudgery of trigonometry, the bewildering cross-purposes of economics, and with a small quota of relief, the basics of small business management, where the sum total of most conjunctions mirrored some semblance of humanness. Yet, in all of this, something magnificent was missing. Where was the magic? Where was the promise of a glittering career as a global banker? Basically, where the f**k was I?
After confessing to my father that, well, banking sucks, he was quick to correct me. Banking didn’t suck. I sucked at banking. More specifically, the disciplines that one would traditionally follow in order to be ordained into the financial fraternity were not suited to my temperament. Besides, he revealed, he, himself, had fallen into banking purely by a fortunate stroke of serendipity. He was a chemistry major. And the fact that he did well at his job had more to do with the way he applied himself to that (or any) job he was given. Common sense, he said, piercing me with his instructive wisdom, is uncommon. So then
I took a year off and went to acting school. That was the second f**k up.
Anyway, to make a long story even duller, I skipped, hopped and jumped across three continents, four institutions, and five majors before a few, radical strokes of serendipity landed me in advertising. I was relieved, of course. For once, I could enjoy the pleasure of falling asleep in bed and not in class. Landing in advertising was my first lesson in growing up. You could idolise your future career; but it takes enormous resolve and strength of character to recognise whether you will be any good at it. To that extent, I had resigned myself to being potentially unfit as a banker, but more than suitable for a career in combining words and pictures. That was the third f**k up.
You see, after I opened my shop, we were swamped with bank accounts. I mean, quite literally, bankers were coming out of the woodwork. The ’90s were the runway for the personal banking revolution. So every bank, after decades of corporate hibernation, was primed to enter the retail banking space with all their brand assets poised for full impact – complete with visual distinction and a unique, articulate personality. Banks were authentically competing – and great advertising was their weapon of choice.
Since we were a younger agency then (pumping blood instead of ink), I can recall that much of our work during that decade was satisfyingly irreverent and provocative. Or maybe it’s just gilded with nostalgia? This was a time when our firm was handling nine different bank accounts, at the same time. Moreover, throughout each of their trajectories, I was becoming a better banker, bemused by the irony of kismet.
Today, when it’s the telcos and the real estate accounts that occupy much of our media heartland, one wonders, what happened to the trailblazing bankers of yesteryear? Something magnificent is missing. Where’s the magic? Where’s the promise of a glittering campaign? Bank advertising today, with a few exceptions, has been reduced to a heap of clichés, marginalised with patronising dribble and (dys)functional benefits. It’s a shame. Particularly because our reputation around the world for our bankers (not our admen) is generously sound.
Banks, much like advertising, are the engines of modern economies. The former finances it for enterprise. The latter powers it with enterprise. Together, we are an enviable match for a developing economy – driven by both ideas and ideals.
Fortunately, that’s not my f**k up. It’s ours.
Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE and CD, The D’Hamidi Partnership.