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Another financial collapse more possible than you’d think

Nearly five years to the day since Lehman went belly up, everyone is asking the same question: Can a similarly catastrophic financial collapse happen again? Wall Street says no. Pundits aren’t so sure.

MarketWatch contributor Mark Hulbert, who keeps a stockpile of client communication from financial advisers, dug through more than 200 files and found that the discourse is as upbeat now as it was just two months before the 2008 financial collapse. “With very few exceptions, they were remarkably complacent at that time — if not downright upbeat.” Sounds rather similar to the current environment.

Obviously Hulbert’s argument has some holes. Wall Street was generally blindsided by the collapse, with few big names fully acknowledging how overleveraged and under-capitalized banks truly were. Dodd-Frank and other regulations have fixed some of those problems, forcing banks to carry more capital and curbing risky maneuvers like prop trading. But several warning signs still exist.

One, banks aren’t getting smaller. In fact, they’re growing. The six largest U.S. banks have seen their combined assets increase 28% since 2007, according to Bloomberg. And while leverage on Wall Street has subsided, governments continue to print paper.

Another key barometer of stability on Wall Street is transparency. Yes, things have improved incrementally, but the markets still operate in a rather opaque fashion. Banks have been rather successful in hiding risk since the crisis – just look at the “London Whale” derivatives bets. The bets weren’t just hidden from regulators, but also from top J.P. Morgan executives. As much as $5 trillion in derivative assets are still kept off balance sheets at U.S. banks.

Finally, there’s a lack of teeth and timing when it comes to Wall Street regulations. Several aspects of Dodd-Frank have been softened while their implementation has been delayed numerous times.

Now that’s not to say that another collapse is in our near future. But to say there is a near zero percent chance of something similar happening again, well that seems like hopeful thinking. There is still plenty more to be done.

Bankers: Beware Big Brother (eFinancialCareers)

Global investment banks like Goldman Sachs say they ban social media and mobile devices at work because of strict regulations. But are big firms going too far in infringing upon employee privacy and quality of life?

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad (WSJ)

Employers laid off fewer workers in July than any month since 2001. Great news? Not really. Hiring numbers are sluggish and competition for jobs is actually increasing. The quitting rate is on the rise though – outpacing layoffs and terminations combined – so it seems workers are becoming more confident in the economy. Either that or a lot of people really hate their jobs.

More Mortgage Cuts (Bloomberg)

After several years of adding headcount during the refinancing boom, mortgage units at big banks are cutting staff at quicker pace than originally expected. Bank of America will reportedly follow in the footsteps of Wells Fargo by eliminating as many as 2,100 jobs and closing 16 offices by Oct. 31.

Top Universities for Banking (eFinancialCareers)

Want a high-paying banking job right out of school? You’ll need a degree from a top university. Here are the top twenty university courses globally for economics and econometrics, ranked according to employer reputation.

Philanthropy (CNBC)

Former Citigroup Chief Executive Sandy Weill is giving back, yet again. He and his wife Jane donated another $100 million to Cornell University’s medical school. The couple has now given more than $600 million to Weill’s alma mater.

Blue Chip No More? (

Bank of America will get the boot from the Dow Jones Industrial Average next week. It will be replaced by Goldman Sachs. Ouch.

New MD (FIN Alternatives)

New York investment management firm Clearbrook Global Advisors has hired Leslie Billet as managing director. Billet, a former exec at Gallagher Fiduciary Advisors, will work with Clearbrook’s high-net-worth clients.

Buzz Around the Office

Festivus For the Rest of Us (MSN)

What do Seinfeld and a local Kentucky sports news broadcast have in common? Five minutes of rather unnecessary yet enjoyable television programming.

List of the Day: Being a Man

Famed Goldman insider @GSElevator and CNBC blogger John Carney put a list together of what it takes to be a man on today’s Wall Street. Here’s a sampling.

  1. Forget business casual. Wear a suit or jeans.
  2. Time is too short to be doing your own laundry.
  3. Buy a tux before you are 30, and stay that size.

(Source: Business Insider)

AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor

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