While almost everyone over a certain age talks about “the good old days,” bankers may have a more rightful claim to the phrase than anyone else. Yes, many still make a lot of money and regulatory change was indeed necessary. But, from a selfish perspective, banking just isn’t near as sexy as it was in, say, the 1980s.
There are plenty of reasons why, most of which are too obvious to detail. But one possibly underrated reason was illuminated in an old New York Times article that we recently stumbled across. Gone are the days of being an outwardly pompous braggart who publicly makes it rain in newspaper articles.
Titled, “New Yorkers and Co.; The Street’s Well-Paid Upstarts,” the piece was published on March 1986. It is, at its essence, a podium for young bankers to brag about how much money they make. And it includes names. And the names of banks.
“There isn't anything I see in a store that I can't buy,'' said Jim Cramer (yes, that Jim Cramer), then a 31-year-old retail broker at Goldman Sachs.
“It kind of piles up in the bank account,'' Steven Gruber, then a 28-year-old investment banker at Lehman Brothers, said about his pay. Gruber also offered up a little bit about his lifestyle. He owns an Alfa Romeo, takes ski trips to Telluride and Sun Valley and, at the time, was looking for an apartment “just steps off Fifth Avenue.”
Tom Bernard, a 29-year-old trader at Solomon Brothers who touted his custom-made suits, did have one complaint though. Buying a second-home can come with headaches. He and his wife were renting a weekend home in Connecticut rather than buying “because they did not have the time to deal with leaky pipes,” according to the article. Cue the violin.
What’s truly amazing about the piece isn’t as much what was said, but rather the fact that they all went on record. Can you imagine a Goldman Sachs PR rep signing off on those comments today? Talking with the New York Times about your Alfa Romeo post-crisis is likely a crime punishable by death, or at least a pink slip. The BSDs of the world have to keep it in their pants today.
Another point of interest is where all the characters wound up. Cramer is the face of investing on CNBC while Gruber is one of four managing partners at Oak Hill Capital, a $7 billion private equity firm, according to his profile.
Bernard might actually have the most interesting past. He acknowledged being the "Human Piranha” in Michael Lewis's "Liar's Poker,” the infamous Wall Street book that chronicled all the cultural absurdities that surrounded banking in the 80s and particularly at Solomon Brothers, where they both worked. He reportedly earned that nickname for constantly using the word “f*%k,” among other things.
Bernard ended up writing his own book, “Wall and Mean,” in 2007 after 30 years in the industry. All the royalties went to autism charities, according to his website.