It's no secret the general public is furious with Wall Street. What's more surprising is the vitriol coming from big clients who've traditionally buttered the financial industry's bread.
The ire was on full display at the CFA Institute's annual conference in Boston, where about 1,600 executives from mutual funds, pension funds and other big investment outfits gathered. Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of Grantham, Mayo van Otterloo & Co. LLC, which has $106 billion in assets under management, set the mood with remarks titled “The Ethical Hole in Finance.”
“It has become a rogue industry,” Mr. Grantham said in slamming the banks and brokerage firms who execute his firm's trades. “Today, the ethical standard is: Don't go to jail if you can possibly avoid it.”
Mr. Grantham, long known for his pessimistic views about the market and its participants, called on his fellow investment professionals to direct more business to the “most ethical firms,” which he defined as banks or brokers that don't exploit information gleaned from clients by trading for their own accounts.
Still, Mr. Grantham said he understood why such a change may be difficult to achieve. For one thing, the more ethical firms may charge more than their less scrupulous rivals, which could raise questions about whether investment managers trying to do the right thing are, at least in the short-term, doing best by their clients.
“Shame on us,” Mr. Grantham thundered to a hushed audience. “We have allowed the deterioration in ethical conduct to take place. We have made no fight as we slid down the rathole.”
The anger at Wall Street banks even has some of the street's more successful alumni thinking about whether to tout their backgrounds.
For example, a CFA board member dryly asked Clifford Asness, a well-known hedge fund manager and speaker at the conference, whether or not his background as a mortgage trader at Goldman Sachs should be included at his introduction.
“You know what the world is coming to when he asked me if I'm comfortable mentioning that I worked at Goldman Sachs,” Mr. Asness observed.
Aaron Elstein is a senior reporter with Crain's New York Business, a sister publication of Pensions & Investments.