Page last updated at 16:07 GMT, Monday, 15 September 2008 17:07 UK

'It's like a massive earthquake'

By Vanessa Barford
BBC News, Canary Wharf

City workers react to the bankruptcy

The mood was sombre as Lehman Brothers staff at Canary Wharf in London came to terms with an uncertain future after their company became the latest victim of the credit crunch.

Employees exited in more of a trickle than a stampede, with a cluster of traders emerging every 10 minutes or so.

As some stood around contemplating their fate, huddled in circles or with their mobile phone or BlackBerry glued to their ear, most remained tight-lipped and made a quick exit.

Some clutched boxes, having been given their marching orders, and had clearly been crying.

Others seemed less sure of their future, shrugging their shoulders and standing around awaiting their fate with a quiet resignation.

Kirsty McCluskey, 32, who worked on Lehman's London trading floor, said the situation was "final - everybody is just finishing up."

"It is terrible. Death. It's like a massive earthquake," she said.

She said her manager had told her he would process her expenses.

"I'll now try to move into another industry," she added.

Edouard d'Archimbaud
Edouard d'Archimbaud arrived at work to be told everyone had been fired

For others, there was a sense of disbelief.

"I was sure Lehman would find a solution or the Fed would help - if Lehman files for bankruptcy, every bank can," said 24-year-old Edouard d'Archimbaud.

The Parisian only just arrived in Canary Wharf for his first day of work, where he was due to earn 45,000 as a trader.

But said he did not even make it as far as his desk before he was told everybody had been fired.

"I do not know what I will do now. I've taken out a six-month lease on a flat and I don't know how I will pay for it," he said.

"I already dealt with delays getting to London after the Eurostar fire", he added.

'Pay day?'

Duo Ai, 26, a bonds researcher at Lehman, said it was chaotic inside the bank.

"Everyone is shocked and clearing their desk - we didn't see it coming."

Andy Bevan worked at Lehman Brothers
Andy Bevan said he had been given the "official word" at about midday

He said staff were due to be paid on Friday, and were worried they would not see the money.

Tens of thousands of people would now be competing for jobs, he added.

Andy Bevan, 27, who works in equity derivative finance, was more upbeat.

He said he had been given the "official word" at about midday.

"It is what it is," he said. "But I am lucky - I don't have any dependants or a mortgage to worry about. I feel sorry for the managing directors - they were paid about 50% of their bonus in stock, that's been written off."

"But all my team are having a drink here at the Slug and Lettuce," he said.

But for others the situation was less clear.

One quantitative analyst, who did not want to be named, said there had been "no communication" from Lehman Brothers or administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers and he was "officially still employed".

"We don't know whether to come back tomorrow or not. But there is a resigned atmosphere in the office, it hasn't degenerated into tears."

He said there was still a small chance the brokerage unit would be sold and another bank, possibly a retail bank, would take on the operation.

But the 31-year-old said the real concern for the US government was not the Lehman layoffs, but the potential "severe knock-on effect" on the rest of market.

Slug and Lettuce in Canary Wharf
There was only one topic of conversation in the bars at lunchtime

And it wasn't just Lehman Brothers employees who were concerned in Canary Wharf.

"Lehman was one of the largest banks - the impact will affect overall confidence and will be felt when the US opens its market," said 35-year-old Marcello Giordano, a project manager at the Bank of New York Mellon.

Sol Umer, 41, who works in IT at Barclays, said: "There is a bit of nervousness across the whole market - there is a recruitment freeze everywhere, businesses are cost-cutting and contracts are being defaulted into 2009."

But there was the odd glimmer of hope.

One man in his 20s, who said he was a recruitment consultant for the investment bank industry, was constantly on the phone.

Another banker had already set up an interview with Citibank, just across the street from Lehman Brothers London office.

"I need somewhere to go to when this finishes," he said.


SEE ALSO
'Meltdown Monday' - Robert Peston
15 Sep 08 |  Business
Q&A: Lehman Brothers bank collapse
15 Sep 08 |  Business

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