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Goldman Sachs Employee's Op-Ed Doesn’t Surprise Some

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stock prices whiz by on a ticker near the Goldman Sachs booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange April 16, 2010 in New York, New York. (Chris Hondros/Getty)

A Goldman Sachs employee marked his final day of work on by publicly ripping the bank for prioritizing profits over clients.

Greg Smith, who worked at Goldman for 12 years, wrote an Op-Ed in Wednesday’s The New York Times claiming the firm rewards employees for making money at the expense of their own clients.

“I don’t know of any illegal behavior,” Smith wrote. “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. Every day, in fact.”

That’s a long way from the bank’s sterling reputation during the 1980s, says Michelle Clayman, who runs New Amsterdam Partners, a money management firm that uses Goldman to execute stock trades.

While she was shocked to read such a public take-down, Clayman thought Smith's message was less surprising.

“I can’t say that this radically changes my view of them because maybe I’m pretty cynical about [Wall] Street in general,” she said. “I’m not going to be like the chief of police in Casa Blanca and say ‘I’m shocked, I’m shocked.’”

Clayman added the article, which has gone viral, is unlikely to affect her work with the bank.

“The truth of the matter is, if you’re a Goldman client, this is not news to you,” said Joe Nocera, columnist for the New York Times and contributor to WNYC. “The [client] calculus at Goldman has always been, ‘There’s no one smarter out there. I actually can get the best advice from Goldman Sachs and they will often bring me the best deals, but I also know that I can’t trust them, that ultimately, their motives aren’t necessarily aligned with my motives.’"

Still, if true, Smith’s accusations would mean Goldman is sacrificing long-term relationships for short-term gains. Daniel Alpert is a managing partner of Westwood Capital in New York City, an investment bank that has worked with Goldman in the past. He says it doesn’t take an op-ed for clients to realize they’re not being served well.

 “Firms that don’t treat clients with the utmost in respect and fair play are simply going to have fewer of them,” Alpert said.

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