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The CEO of J.P. Morgan and the COO of Goldman Sachs speak out about hiring, firing and pay

Jamie Dimon

Two of Wall Street's most out-spoken bankers recently offered their insights into the future for compensation and hiring. Gary Cohn, COO of Goldman Sachs, gave an interview to London's Sunday Telegraph yesterday, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, spoke during the conference call accompanying J.P. Morgan’s results.

To share their pronouncements, we’ve summarized what each said and looked at the implications.

What Gary said:

1. Goldman Sachs is not just cutting salaries -- it is likely to cap salaries

As we were the first to report last year, Goldman Sachs has cut salaries for its staff in London.

Now, Cohn appears to have told the Telegraph that the bank is also capping salaries for “many Goldman Sachs employees earning over $200,000.”

What’s not clear, however, is at which level salaries are being capped.

2. Goldman is paying its staff the least it can get away with

In an echo of Marcus Agius at BarCap in 2009, Cohn appears to imply that Goldman is paying its staff as little as it can.

“I walk in every day and say, ‘How can we pay our people enough that they will stay?'” he informed the Telegraph.

3. Goldman is not about to leave London and may even increase its presence here

“We are highly committed to London,” Cohn informed the Telegraph. “We have a big footprint, we have two buildings, we have the opportunity to build a third building, we’ve got a major hub, we’ve got a major capital commitment, we have a major human commitment.

“We are cautiously optimistic that from a regulatory and government standpoint, London will be the right place to be.”

4. Paris and Frankfurt may wish to watch out

While London looks safe, the aspirations of Paris and Frankfurt to become financial hubs look shaky.

“I think those countries [Germany and France] have at some point tried to entice people in, with different incentives,” says Cohn. “Right now I would say it is so unpredictable what is happening in Europe that it is better off to do nothing and stick with where you are.”

This also implies, however, that Goldman will be doing limited hiring in Europe until the regulatory situation is clarified.

5. The really big danger is that banks downsize their presence in Europe altogether

“The bigger long-term risk to me is that many of the financial firms leave Europe completely – whether it be the UK or continental Europe – because it is such a tough regulatory environment that you move to other places in the world and try and cover Europe from a third location,” Cohn said.

6. If the Volcker Rule goes through as currently described, there are going to be many more jobs in hedge funds and smaller brokerage firms

As we have mentioned previously, the Volcker Rule as outlined in October is incredibly punitive.

Cohn says it would be especially disastrous for the sovereign debt market, where market making rarely occurs as smoothly as the rule currently envisages and it’s normal for banks to take positions.

“Someone is going to find a way to fill that void,” he said, adding: ”I look at all the broker dealers that are out there in the US – shadow banking, quasi-unregulated and not affected by Dodd-Frank because they are too small. They will find this too profitable not to be in. It will move from the highly regulated to the unregulated.”

7. Face it: no one is going to buy RBS’s equities business

“I see three or four banks trying to sell their equity business. No one is going to buy it, those guys are just not going to be there,” Cohn pointed out.

8. Sarkozy wants BNP and SocGen to get out of derivatives

“Sarkozy is clearly telling SG and BNP that they don’t want them in the derivative businesses they have been in,” Cohn thinks.

9. If you want to work at Goldman Sachs, you’ll need to ignore all the squid-talk

Anyone displaying any deficit of enthusiasm in Goldman interviews seems likely to be dismissed. Best to emulate Cohn: “Am I ashamed of where I work? Absolutely not. Am I proud of Goldman Sachs? Absolutely.”

What Jamie said:

Meanwhile, in last week’s conference call, Jamie Dimon iterated:

1. Media types are overpaid compared to bankers

Dimon appeared to imply that compared to other "knowledge workers," bankers aren’t paid too much. “We get an awful lot of pressure for our bankers and traders to increase our payout ratio to about what newspapers and media have, which is a little bit higher,” he said.

2. Asia isn’t looking great, and J.P. Morgan won’t be building there for the next quarter

In the fourth quarter, Asian revenues in J.P. Morgan’s investment bank were down 47 percent. “We’re not building Asia for the next quarter,” said Dimon, although there has been no change of outlook for the region longer term.

3. Ignoring the Volcker Rule, banking is a long-term growth industry

Dimon says it’s best to ignore the Vocker Rule in its current state: “I’m going to put Volcker aside, okay, because that really hasn’t been written yet,” he said.

With this caveat, he reiterated his message that investment banking is a long-term growth industry: “If we have 16,000 clients around the world, the amount of money they’re going to need to invest in the next 10 years is going to double,” he said.

4. The ECB’s pre-Christmas big bazooka has made all the difference to the EU’s banking system

Before Christmas, the ECB deployed its "big bazooka" and lent $620 billion for three years to 523 banks at an interest rate of 1 percent, without being particularly stringent about the collateral.

Dimon said this has made a big difference to the state of the European banking system – implying the risk of a meltdown and consequent evisceration of employment has been avoided.

“What the ECB did was a very, very powerful thing, okay?,” he said. “So powerful, in fact, I think you could probably make the statement that eliminates bank liquidity or funding problems for at least next year.”

5. J.P. Morgan is still hiring private bankers

Last December, J.P. Morgan said it had increased its private banking salesforce by 13 percent in 2011. Last Friday, Jamie Dimon said they’re still “adding private bankers.”

6. J.P. Morgan is doing big business in syndicated loans

Also last December, J.P. Morgan declared its intention to keep growing the corporate bank. Last Friday, it revealed record syndicated loan fees and a $40 billion increase in non-interest bearing deposits over the previous three months. Dimon didn’t say so, but additional hiring in the corporate bank looks very justified.

This article first appeared on our UK site.

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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