LONDON (AFP) — When Edouard d'Archimbaud, 24, arrived at Lehman Brothers offices in London on Monday he was hoping his move to the British capital would hail the start of a lucrative career in finance.
Sadly, it was not to be. The young Parisian, who had struggled to arrive in time for his first day because of a fire in the Channel Tunnel, did not even reach his desk before he was told that the US investment giant had collapsed.
"My team laughed when they saw me arrive on Monday morning," said d'Archimbaud, who has a post-graduate degree in artificial intelligence and financial mathematics.
"Everyone was standing around, with an air of defeat, and no one really knew what was going on. They were asking if they would be paid."
He told AFP that he had known the situation at Lehman was not good, but had no idea of the scale of the crisis facing the bank, which filed bankruptcy on Monday after failing to find a buyer who would take it over.
The collapse sparked turmoil in financial markets across the world, and thousands of Lehman staff left their offices in New York and London that day in dismay, with no idea of what they would do or whether they would be paid.
The investment giant's administrators in Britain subsequently confirmed that the 4,500 staff in the country facing the axe would be paid for September.
D'Archimbaud said rumours about the demise of Lehmans had been rife.
"Apparently staff had not been charging their canteen cards with more than five euros at a time because they were worried they wouldn't have the time to spend it!" he said.
With the bank's collapse went his 45,000-pound annual base salary and his hopes of setting up as a London financier.
"Before, London was an eldorado for French people working in finance. It's near Paris and the jobs are well paid," he said. "Overnight, the image of London has taken a hit."
Without any immediate prospect of a job, d'Archimbaud is going home.
"I had just found a flat with a friend, but I cannot afford the 720-pound monthly rent. So I'll be going home to Paris on Friday to see if I can find something else," he said.
The 24-year-old said he was clearly "very disappointed" about the way things turned out, but remained optimistic about his future.
"The sector is holding up, although it remains volatile. Those banks that are likely to be hiring are being careful. My trader friends say I should head for Dubai or Singapore to try to find work in an investment fund," he said.
In the meantime, he is not short of ideas, mulling the idea of developing a new Internet search engine with a friend.
And he is enjoying the newfound fame that descended upon him after he was mobbed by reporters leaving Lehmans on that fateful Monday.
"Lots of people I don't know have sent me messages on (social networking site) Facebook because they had heard of me," he said.
It's not much of a consolation, but d'Archimbaud is pragmatic.
"It's all part of the game. In finance, you know that you can make it big but that it's just as easy to lose everything."
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