The former head of Deutsche Bank’s mortgage bond desk has made a notably unorthodox mid-career pivot: He’s taken up writing young-adult fiction, hoping to ride the wave of dystopian novels to a multimillion dollar movie deal a la the Hunger Games.
Chris Babu ran the government-backed mortgage-bond trading at Deutsche Bank AG until 2016 before leaving to try his hand at writing novels. He says he’s gotten used to funny looks when people hear about his career change, according to a short profile published by Bloomberg.
“You’re nuts,” Babu says old colleagues sometimes tell him. “Get a job that’s going to pay you a lot of money.”
Of course, as he tells BBG, he hopes he’s done just that: Investing a “not insignificant” amount of his own money in marketing his series. The first book, “the Initiation” is set to be published this month by Permuted Press, which specializes in sci-fi and dystopian fiction.
Chris Babu, soaking up some inspiration for his novels in New York City’s subway.
He describes the series as “the Hunger Games” for nerds – noting that his books have more of a hard sci-fi bent. The story was inspired by Babu’s formerly hellish commute on New York City’s subways.
The novel was partly inspired by what Babu called his “daily hellish commute” from Manhattan’s Upper West Side to Wall Street on the 2/3 subway line. The main character is a 16-year-old math geek who, along with five other kids, has to undergo a series of tests in the abandoned subway tunnels of Babu’s post-apocalyptic New York. You fail, you die.
Despite the instant relatability of his premise, many of his friends and former colleagues questioned Babu’s sanity, he says.
“The general reaction was, ‘That’s a cool thing you’re doing,'” Babu said, despite the occasional questioning of his sanity. “A lot of people didn’t take me seriously. They were surprised that I stuck with it.”
Babu, 42, had always been a voracious reader. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in mathematics, and worked at Bank of America Corp. before landing at Deutsche Bank in 2005, eventually rising to oversee 35 mortgage-bond traders and an $ 18 billion balance sheet.
However, during the post-crisis era, fixed-income trading eventually got boring, as the Federal Reserve, ECB, Bank of Japan and other central banks unleashed a wave of quantitative easing that led to years of mostly one-directional trading. Babu said he blames the Fed, but also the Volcker Rule and overzealous post-crisis compliance requirements for removing the volatility – and, with it, most of the fun and excitement – from trading.
By the spring of 2015, Babu was winding down his desk at Deutsche Bank, which was reeling from more than $ 500 million in losses on bonds amassed by former trading head Troy Dixon. He was also spending large chunks of time in a dentist’s chair suffering through a series of root canals. Babu had never considered putting his own ideas to paper, but after mulling it over he realized he had a story to tell.
“I had no qualifications to write a novel,” Babu said. He took to writing after work in his final months at Deutsche Bank, and stuck with that schedule once he left Wall Street, sleeping from sunrise to sunset and waking around 5 pm to work.
While his friends might be skeptical, Babu’s publisher appreciates his career shift, saying it’s refreshing to work with an artist who knows something about the business end of the industry.
“The fact that he understands business was a huge asset to us,” Michael L. Wilson, the publisher’s president, said. “So many artists don’t understand the business side of things.”
While he loves his work, Babu says he hasn’t ruled out making a return to finance.
“As committed as I am to this, I’m not ruling out going back to work in finance,” Babu said. “If the books do well, and they become movies, then probably not.”
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Babu’s career transition is that his work at DB wasn’t more influential. Because what could be more apocalyptic than a novel about the global collapse of capitalism, and what could be more wonky than explaining to readers how a global bank’s staggering derivatives exposure could trigger such an epoch-defining event?