Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The i-bankers are gone!

The credit excesses of Wall Street are only too well documented for us to narrow down to the prime cause of the world's ghastliest recession in the modern era. Not to mention the mounting debts that these credit excesses brought with them to the average denizens.

In all this, we seem to have forgotten the basic theory that world is a lot more global than it ever was in its history. It has taken us this sort of a severe beating to realise that classical economics no longer holds true i.e. supply will find and be matched by demand, purely by market dynamics. That was the old school. The Keynesian rules are far different from that - the market needs regular checks & balances, lest it crashes.

I am not great professor of economics (though it is my all-time favourite subject!). But, this market theory has just been seen in theory and in real life in the last year or so. How many of us envied those pin-striped i-bankers with jet-setting lives and making a few million bucks by selling the most complicated (so-called) equity reports. B-schools harped on i-banking placements, whenever consulting firms took a dip. More often than not, these 2 industries were jostling for space in most top campuses with the aim to grab the 'cream' of the talent. Cream for sure they did - the entire world economy, that is!

Who is to blame? I don't know. Why am I even bothering to write about it, when I am not in Wall Street or never defaulted on a payment? Well, I don't know why I feel it - no facts to back them up - but I feel it. Our globalized world and ambitious currents just made us believe these guys way too much. We swore by them, almost. A Merrill Lynch stamp on an IPO was sacrosanct! These Wall Street guys were 'aspiration' for folks who did not get there. They represented the successes of a corporate life - the types dreams are made of. Jet-setting, five star life, CxO connection, partying, and the millions! The important things in life - or, so they seem from outside, anyway!:)

But, how many of us who interacted with these salaried-millionaires, managed to ask tough questions on each recommendation they made? I don't know, again. Maybe they were asked, maybe they were not. And maybe they were asked and answered to as well. I don't know.

But, I do know, that the shareholder and average citizen never knew anything beyond those flashy reports. And that, I know is where the accountability ended with these flashy i-bankers. They were out to make their buck (good for them, nobody denied it to them); but they lacked accountability; made recommendations in a bull run, that the underlying currents went unnoticed - by everyone: experts, decision-makers, clients, finance whizkids, CFOs, CEOs, stock brokers, economists, students, et al. That, I guess was the biggest mistake.

In a way, it is sad that the i-banking profession has been hit so hard. Who would have ever dreamt that a household name like Lehman Brothers - ah, that dream placement for any MBA - would be history? But then - this is my conjecture again - alumni after alumni from every discernible business school, possibly did not correct the credit excesses of their predecessors?

I am not for once discounting the credibility or capability of these i-bankers. I am only thinking that maybe, nobody, just about nobody on the Street saw anything beyond his/her bonus. After all, the bonus is (rather, used to be), 5 times the salary of an average Wall Streeter!! We paid the price for THAT excess!

Now, the press and everyone else has enough ammunition to hurl at these erstwhile blue-eyed folks in the corporate world. We were possibly waiting for this sort of ammunition to hurl at them in our lifetime, anyway. Not because of the millions alone, but at a deeper level, for the 'gasbag/lack of accountability' they had.

The other day, my friend told me about the kind of rather discomforting reaction she received when she told somebody that her husband was an equity analyst - a once pristine profession! That, is a story in itself.

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