In a Hurry? Don’t Worry. Here’s the TL;DR Version!
– When it comes to Wall Street, if you can’t change the dress code, you’re never going to change the culture.
– Wall Street’s culture loves risk.
– Before 2008, Wall Street’s culture loved risking your financial future for its benefit.
– Ten years later, they’re still wearing the same bespoke suits.
– If you want to change Wall Street’s risky behavior, you have to change its culture.
One of my many guilty pleasures is watching Bloomberg Television all the time (it’s what happens when you lack hobbies … and friends). This morning on “Bloomberg Best,” some bankers were being interviewed and all I could think of was, “Where does one get those types of cufflinks?”
Having spent March 2008 to May 2016 at the Federal National Mortgage Association (a.k.a., “Fannie Mae,” “FNMA,” the “belly of the beast,” etc.) hobnobbing with former Wall Streeters as well as aspiring future Wall Streeters at the height of the Global Financial Crisis, I became rather familiar with Wall Street’s dress code and always had my eye out for a nice pair of cufflinks. For as anyone in the industry knows, you can’t get a proper job on Wall Street above the role of janitor without a properly gaudy pair of links.
Leading up to 2008, the cultural DNA of the financial crisis wore bespoke suits. In 2018, they still do.
One thing I can say from my vantage point now 10 years in the future is this: Despite everything that happened in 2008–including the fact that it got us to the brink of a total economic collapse and caused both lawmakers and Wall Streeters to promise that this would never ever happen again–Wall Street’s culture hasn’t changed.
Wall Street continues to groom financiers to be predators while lobbying Congress to groom Main Street to be its victims.
One thing you’ll notice about the “dress code” of Wall Street–its bespoke suits, hand-embroidered neckties, gaudy cuff links–is that it’s the same dress code as Congress. That’s because the denizens of both Wall Street and Congress use the same tailors. And that’s because they’re the only ones who can afford it. And they’re all from the same packs.
The members of these “packs” are groomed by similar institutions–Wharton, Harvard, and the handful of other business schools that are historical “prerequisites” for working on Wall Street. It’s pure tribalism that engenders and encourages Wall Street’s risk-loving culture and sense of entitlement.
Is it shocking then that Wall Street feels entitled to take whatever risks it desires, expecting you to bail it out every time it fails? It shouldn’t because it’s the manifestation of their tribal ideals.
For there to be a shift in the behaviors and the appetite for risk in our financial markets and economy, there has to be a cultural shift WITHIN the financial industry. But how do you change human behavior that has a history and expectation of being handsomely rewarded regardless of its failure? If total global financial meltdown wasn’t enough to to get the industry to wake the f*ck up, what else could possibly do it?
Personally I think any serious conversation on the topic is bound to end up in a discussion about the redistribution of wealth, which in turn seems to get everyone’s underwear in a bunch, because you can’t talk about that…
So instead, let’s think of it this way – what if the culture of risk never changes.? If what is the “norm” and socially accepted and expected within financial businesses (e.g.: bonuses large enough to buy beach houses and golden parachutes that seem to only encourage and incentivize risky behavior) never changes, how can we expect a different outcome after each crisis? The way of thinking, acting, of incentivizing behaviors doesn’t change. Why do you expect the outcome to change? Actually, why would we think that a culture of wolves, would do anything other than prey on the flocks of Main Street?
10 years after the 2008 Crisis, Wall Street hasn’t changed its dress code. It’s still a wolf in red bottoms, with a penchant for Bugattis. They, Congress and regulators, all still shop at the very same tailors. So what does this mean to you? Stay tuned. Wall Street’s culture didn’t change, just the systemic risk. But in the next and upcoming market correction, prepare for not just an economic correction, but a “cultural correction”. What does a cultural correction look like? If the suits aren’t working, maybe it’s time to unbunch the underwear and have that conversation that no one wants to talk about.
For more insights into Wall Street’s culture checkout @GSElevator on Twitter (@GSElevator = Goldman Sachs Elevator). I “discovered it” in 2012 while at Fannie Mae. It has brought such classic Wall Street cultural lines as the ones below and you can see the most interesting ones here:
– “Each comma in your bank account adds an inch to your dick.”
– “If people never trust a skinny chef, they shouldn’t want their bankers to be poor.”
– “You don’t feed wild animals because they become dependent and can’t fend for themselves. How’s it any different for poor people?”
Samson Williams is a human and an anthropologist at Axes and Eggs. If you like what you read, share it! If you hate it, drop some knowledge in the comment section below. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter or Instagram @HustleFundBaby or connect with me on LinkedIn. Finally, I typically would say thoughts are my own but I probably stole them from a woman. But in this instance they came from some predatory assholes on Wall Street. Love you guys. #LifeGoals?