Last year, Goldman Sachs faced a significant amount of heat when internal emails — in which, bankers described a financial product they sold to clients as a “shitty deal” — became public. Goldman trader Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre became the face of a bank that cared more about its own internal trading profits than serving the needs of its clients, as shown by an email of his stating that he didn’t even understand the “monstrosities” he was peddling.
In today’s New York Times, Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith confirmed this characterization of the bank, writing that he resigned from Goldman due to its “toxic and destructive” environment which included managing directors referring to their own clients as “muppets”:
Today is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money…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….These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, “How much money did we make off the client?”
As Charles Elson, a professor of corporate governance at the University of Delaware, explained, “You make a much bigger buck on a transaction than on the long-term relationship…You have profiteers as opposed to advisers.” Goldman Sachs, of course, disputes Smith’s characterization of the bank, saying, “We disagree with the views expressed. … We will only be successful if our clients are successful.”
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has previously said that his firm is “doing God’s work.” However, it seems that the bank’s actual modus operandi is more akin to the description used by a former JP Morgan banker who lost faith in his industry: “I don’t say this lightly, but the consumer is simply an income stream and exploiting that is the purpose of the banking organization.”