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Jeremy Balkin Headshot

Kick the Wolf Out of Wall Street

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I was lucky enough to get tickets to an advanced screening of Martin Scorsese's latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street.

It was three hours of no holds barred hedonism, debauchery, misogyny, drugs and money, representing the very worst of finance.

Finance has been through a checkered period over the last 20 years‎ including the fall of Long Term Capital Management, Savings and Loans‎ crisis, Dot Com Crash and The Great Recession. Let's not forget the‎ LIBOR rigging or London Whale in addition to the appalling behavior glorified in‎ The Wolf of Wall Street.

Reflecting on the era we've lived through, I suspect Marcus Goldman and Samuel Sachs, John Pierpont Morgan and Andrew Carnegie would be‎ turning in their graves.

The great Chinese political reformer Deng Xiaoping once said "to get‎ rich is glorious" and I believe all human beings share an inherent aspirational desire for a better life. This desire manifests itself in‎ different ways, whether it be a baby born with HIV in Botswana, coal miner in Australia or stockbroker in Manhattan.

However the "greed is good" mentality implying my profit is‎ your loss or that clients are "muppets" is flawed because we live in a world‎ that is so interconnected, our prosperity is inextricably linked. The world today is one where we rise and fall together.

Five years since The Great Recession or Global Financial Crisis of 2008 (depending on your level of optimism) many are still scratching‎ their heads figuring out what lessons have actually been learned. After muddling through this period, The Wolf of Wall Street serves as a reminder to the bad old days where the stereotypical "white male" in finance is solely driven by money and excess, not the best interests of the client. Furthermore this film depicts such a scene of depravity, sadly‎ offering idol worship of the negative past rather than any glimmer of hope for a bright future inspired by role model behavior guided by values and‎ ethics.

Banking is a metaphor for trust in society and it is sad that there is such a trust deficit in the world since the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008. In a functioning civil society we need a robust banking sector where people can safely store their money at night and retrieve it in the morning. We don't want to live in a world where we pile cash under the bed or cart around wheelbarrows.

I've been to places where this actually happens!

Therefore it is incumbent upon us all to shine the light on those who are upholding the values of this great industry and positively influencing the allocation of capital. We need the best and brightest minds to enter finance and not be deterred based on the ills of the past. Likewise we don't wish to attract those who are solely driven by hedonism and debauchery.

It's time to kick the wolf out of Wall Street and embrace The Noble Cause.