Boutiques Feast on Talent Stampede

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The picture of Wall Street's new order emerging to replace the tottering giants of investment banking continues to fill out.

New boutiques have hired "several hundred" bankers away from former bulge-bracket institutions since the summer of 2007, the New York Times reports. Boutique firms cited in the Times story include Aladdin Capital, Broadpoint, Pinetum Capital, BTIG, Moelis & Co., and Research Edge. Each was launched since 2007.

Broadpoint alone has hired more than 240 people since the fall of 2007. "We have the opportunity to step into the shoes of a Bear Stearns or a Lehman," Lee Fensterstock, Broadpoint's chief executive told the Times.

The reason for the shakeup is no mystery: layoffs, government bailouts, forced mergers, compensation limits, and a dour long-term outlook for the shrinking handful of titans that dominated Wall Street until the past year. The upstart institutions are largely free from such constraints. So are established firms like LaBranche Financial Services that concentrated in one or another niche but see the industry's overhaul as an opportunity to expand into others. Foreign-based institutions that avoided government bailouts, such Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse, are hiring many Wall Street stars too.

"Top bankers have been leaving Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and others in rising numbers to join banks that do not face tighter regulation, including foreign banks, or start-up companies eager to build themselves into tomorrow's financial powerhouses," the Times observes.

Michael O'Hare, who moved to LaBranche from JPMorgan, says the new cash equity sales and trading operation he's building there is attracting "the cream of the crop" from firms such as Merrill, JPMorgan and Bear Stearns.

The ongoing migration of talent worries executives of remaining full-service institutions like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. It should also worry U.S. taxpayers, who have extended hundreds of billions in aid to those institutions and so hold a major stake in their survival, if not prosperity. On the other hand, some financial experts say a less concentrated financial industry will help the country avoid another crisis in the future.