Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Goldman Sachs director quits 'morally bankrupt' Wall Street bank

 

A Goldman Sachs director in London has resigned after publishing a devastating open letter accusing senior staff of being "morally bankrupt" and bent on extracting maximum fees from clients by offloading unsuitable investment products. Greg Smith, who has left his post as executive director of the firm's equity derivatives business in Europe, claimed that chief executive Lloyd Blankfein and president Gary Cohn have "lost hold of the firm's culture on their watch". He added that "this decline in the firm's moral fibre represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival".. Smith's charges, which were swiftly denied by the bank, were published in Wednesday's New York Times and raised questions about the firm's relationship with existing clients, whom Smith claimed were referred to as "muppets". Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat peer and his party's former Treasury spokesman in the Lords, said the matter raised questions about any relationship between the UK government and Goldman. Smith, who joined Goldman as a summer intern and worked at the firm for 12 years, first in New York and then in London, claimed managing directors made their remarks about "muppets" in internal email. "I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It's purely about how we can make the most possible money off them." Selected as one of 10 people, out of a firm of 30,000, to appear in a Goldman recruiting video which is played on college campuses around the world, Smith has hired and mentored new recruits and managed a summer intern programme for the bank. "I knew it was time to leave when I realised I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work," he wrote. He said junior analysts are absorbing a culture in which the most important question is "how much money did we make off the client?", and that hearing talk of "muppets," "ripping eyeballs out" and "getting paid" will not turn them into "model citizens". "Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an axe murderer) you will be promoted to a position of influence." In response, Goldman Sachs denied that Smith was giving an accurate view of life at the company. "We disagree with the views expressed, which we don't think reflect the way we run our business. In our view, we will only be successful if our clients are successful. This fundamental truth lies at the heart of how we conduct ourselves," the bank said. Fast-track to promotion Smith claims to have advised the five largest US asset managers, Middle East and Asian sovereign wealth funds, and the world's two largest hedge funds. His letter did not name them, but Bloomberg ranks Man Group and Bridgewater Associates as the biggest hedge funds. The LibDem peer Oakeshott said: "We know in the City that Goldmans help themselves before their clients. Now here's the proof. Greg Smith says you get promoted there if you make enough money for the firm and you are not an axe murderer - and the people of Greece and the rest of the eurozone are paying the price after Goldmans cooked their books and Greece joined the euro at an unsustainably high exchange rate. Until this culture is stamped out, Goldmans are not fit and proper to receive a penny of British taxpayers' money or advise our government in any way." Goldman is among the gilt-edged market makers which help to facilitate trading in UK government bonds. Smith claims the fast-track to a Goldman promotion involves persuading clients to invest in stocks or other products "that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit"; getting clients to trade "whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman" – referred to internally as "hunting elephants" and securing a job trading "any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym". Goldman has lost the "secret sauce" that allowed it to endure for 143 years and is at risk of losing its clients' trust, wrote Smith: "Goldman Sachs is one of the world's largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act in this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for."

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