Goldman Sachs, Greg Smith, and the Muppets

The muppets are confused, confounded and bewildered. Questions swarm in their mind. They are probably going to pay more attention, listen keenly, research more before they put their money in the hands of the men and women at Goldman Sachs. They have been warned of the eroding moral values, lack of concern for the customer by an insider. Not just any insider, one who was perched way, way up in the tower of things powerful and rich. Greg Smith executive director of the firm’s U.S. equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Goldman Sachs , London.

"It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail...” “No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely.", he says in his op-ed piece in NYT.

Consequently, Goldman Sachs lost 1.3 billion pounds of its 36 billion pounds in New York trading. Mr. Smith has said goodbye to his 3 million pound a year job at 33, from the firm he has been working with for 12 years. No one will ever employ him the Internet buzzed. If the NYT thought it fit to publish Mr. Smith, he might not need a job. It also added its own charming illustration to Mr. Smith’s piece, a vulture flying away from a group that is pecking the last bits of meat off a carrion.

Concerns over his future impending (really?), one wonders why Mr. Smith did not love his company enough to stay on and fight, attempt a change in its culture. After all Goldman Sachs is not some pure shining light that has been besmirched.

The Wikipedia on Goldman Sachs states that Goldman made a profit of about $4 billion by betting on the collapse of the sub-prime mortgages in 2007. Through its arm Goldman Sachs Alternative Products (GSAMP) this top rated firm decided to bet on the junk mortgage market (about $494 million). This in turn contributed to the housing bubble burst.

To quote Allan Sollan, editor Fortune magazine, “This issue, which is backed by ultra-risky second-mortgage loans, contains all the elements that facilitated the housing bubble and bust. It's got speculators searching for quick gains in hot housing markets; it's got loans that seem to have been made with little or no serious analysis by lenders; and finally, it's got Wall Street, which churned out mortgage "product" because buyers wanted it. As they say on the Street, "When the ducks quack, feed them."

Clearly Goldman did not seem to have customers’ interest in mind. Mr. Smith has been ruminating it for a while, as the letter suggests. A mid-level player at Goldmans, NYT perhaps has tried to catch on an insider view of things. Many in America do believe bankers are very fat cats who don’t have a shred of sympathy for the general public, and are very busy stuffing their pockets for generations to come. They have come to represent inequities of the worst kind, while several hard working citizens stare at financial ruin in their lifetime.

Perhaps it is well Mr. Smith quit now. There are very dark storm clouds gathering over several parts of the world. The average Joe and Jane will use any device at hand, the pen, the keypad or placards to fight. Mr. Smith is either very smart or very foolish. He could be looking at a career as an anti-establishment evangelist, whistleblower and spokesperson. The strong reaction to his piece is foretelling a muppet revolution.

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