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Our vendors: Andreas Hossmann (Surprise, Basel, Switzerland)

Andreas sells Surprise in Basel. The 63-year-old talks about his varied financial career – from the stock exchange to art dealing – which ended in the very building that now houses the Surprise office.

By Andreas Hossmann, Surprise vendor

Here we are at the Surprise general manager’s office and you know what? This used to belong to me. No joke, this is the exact place where my desk used to be. I had a high-ranking position with the trust firm who used to rent these premises.

Back then, new laws regarding money laundering had been introduced, and it was my responsibility to track down the owners of all accounts. This was rather tedious work, as the clients were required to come in personally, sometimes from abroad. After all, I wouldn’t ask a client in a letter or on the phone if the money we invest on their behalf might be illegal. I’m not completely stupid.

Andreas Hossmann selling Surprise in Basel. Photo: Amir Ali

I started my career in 1968 with an apprenticeship as a bank clerk with a French bank at Clara square in Basel. After my qualification, I got a position in the department Domestic/Foreign Stock Exchange at the same bank. Back then however, this work was completely different, you would be sitting with other brokers in the basement circle, with the telex prints in front of you, being on the phone with the clients all the time.

After that, I had the chance to go to Paris for one and a half years to work for the Dupont Bank. To me, that was a dream come true. I had always considered living abroad. Unfortunately, after my time with Dupont, there was no work opportunity in Paris, so I returned to Switzerland.

For a while, I made a detour into the world of art and worked as a fund manager at a company who transported works of arts and cash. Their business was still in the starting phase, and they needed someone to organise this. It was a lot of administrative work, but sometimes I had to take a revolver with me and join the transportation process.

Afterwards, I went back into the bank business, for example as a broker with the Bankgesellschaft, which is today called UBS. Eventually, I was employed at Raiffeisen bank in the town of Aesch near Basel. At the beginning, my main job was to ensure that on payday, there would be enough cash and staff at the bank counters.

At the same time, I developed stock exchange trading. My boss gave me plenty of scope, and I made a lot of money for the bank. This would have been the kind of job I would have pursued for a long time – if it hadn’t been for a new boss being appointed, who immediately took the job as financial manager, which I would have liked myself. And in general, the chemistry between us wasn’t right.

“Superficially, the man was always friendly, but behind my back, he was attacking me… I was made redundant”

Superficially, the man was always friendly, but behind my back, he was attacking me. I, on the other hand, prefer to speak my mind. If in my view, my boss is incompetent, I say so. Some time later, I was made redundant.

The trust firm that used to rent these offices closed in 2003, because the rent was no longer being paid. We went bankrupt, and due to the fact that I was promoted to an authorised signatory of the company, the bankruptcy affected me too. However, I was only aware of what my department was doing and had no insight into administrative accounting.

While the owner went straight to prison, my punishment was my incapability to pay my invoices. There are unpaid wage demands against my former boss to this day. Once you’ve face debt collectors, obviously there is no chance of employment in the financial sector.

So, then I worked in all kinds of fields. Early in the morning, I delivered newspapers. In the afternoon, I gave advice to a wine dealer’s customers on the phone. In the evening, I delivered pizzas. A huge effort that still didn’t made enough money. Today, I only do the newspaper tours, and also sell Surprise. This is how I’ll manage until early retirement. But to be honest, I don’t think of the end of my working years.

My big lesson from my story is: as long as you are well off, everyone comes and wants something from you. But when you hit rock bottom, people show their true face. There are many people from my former life that I don’t want anything to do with anymore.

Andreas was talking to Surprise editor Amir Ali. We publish a new story from our network of street paper vendors every Wednesday. Read more here.

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