Out-of-Work Financiers Reap Dividends of Seeing the World

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 27, 2009

RIO DE JANEIRO -- When Deutsche Bank determined that strategist Rod Manalo was, in the merciless language of hard times, "redundant," it was an abrupt and humbling end to a seven-year career in finance.

But Manalo, 30, has not been trudging the gray streets of London where he was based looking for work. This week, he was in the sun-drenched Brazilian resort city of Florianopolis, taking surfing lessons and dancing in throbbing nightclubs amid Carnival revelers. That was after he had snowboarded in the Alps, golfed in Florida and prepared for a year-long world journey that he expects will take him to the Amazon, Antarctica, Australia and beyond.

"Decent finance jobs are nonexistent. Few hedge funds and no investment banks are hiring. If I were to find a job, I'd just fear losing it again, would continue to watch markets drop and would expect little or no bonus," said Manalo, who was fired in December from his position as a vice president in risk arbitrage.

Apart from occasionally watching his investments, he said, "I am fully focused on traveling."

One byproduct of the economic blood bath of the past several months has been a bumper crop of relatively young and wealthy but out-of-work financiers. Unemployment in the financial sector in the United States doubled from 285,000 in January 2008 to 571,000 last month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are "pink-slip parties" in New York for the newly untethered to mingle and match. Business school applications have soared for those seeking academic shelter.

But some financial refugees have fanned out around the globe in pursuit of leisure, achievement or to explore something, anything, outside a cubicle's confines. And if a dozen or so lost souls of finance are any indication, many are finding at least a temporary refuge roaming the globe.

The Brazilian bacchanalian festival of Carnival is just the kind of place to find them. On Sunday, amid thousands of cheering fans, exotic floats and barely clad samba dancers, one investor at a London hedge fund paraded by in a costume somewhere between Roman gladiator and giant chicken.

Although he still has a job, he is not confident it will last long. And besides, he said, in the office he has almost nothing to do.

"My industry has basically shut down," said the investor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid violating company rules. "What is the opportunity cost of traveling? It's basically zero."

After eight years in finance, Jessica Alberti, 32, said she abandoned her work on emerging markets at a major New York hedge fund in October when people were losing so much money that she now has trouble finding sufficient pejoratives to describe it.

"It was so negative, it was horrible. It was tense, extremely negative. Miserable," she said. "It was so bleak."

So after getting her bonus, factoring in the weather and world currencies, and deciding that Europe was too expensive and that she'd already seen Asia, she headed for South America. She planned to be gone until early January, but that quickly changed.

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