Traditionally, finance professionals on Wall Street have gotten a bad rep. They’re the greed-filled, money-hungry, soulless types who exist only to make the rich richer. They embody Gordon Gekko and the ruthless, shadowy banker from Deal or No Deal. They’re the ones who work eighteen hour days, order limo service for their mistresses, enrich nudie clubs and liquor stores, and spend thousands on a night out…just because they can. They’re coke fiends, adulterers, anti-humanitarians, and scums of the earth…
This is the negative perception of Wall Street as a whole–which doesn’t lead to much sympathy when thousands of bankers and traders and brokers are on the brink of losing their jobs.
Many of us may feel little compassion for those who are now clearing out their cubicles and polishing their resumes. After all, they chose this field–and the risks and rewards that come with it. We have come to denigrate the Wall Street types because of their enormous salaries and lavish lifestyles. We typically assume that people who chose the finance life embody all the negatives that we associate with the heartless Gekko. But like any other career path, we all choose our profession based on what it will yield us, either personally or financially. Not everyone is suited to becoming a teacher, or a doctor, or some other “noble” occupation–and not everyone can afford to take a low-paying job either, because of their family background or other personal situation. Some may go into finance because they truly love making DCF models and calculating IRRs on a daily basis. Some may do it because it’s a springboard to other opportunities within the private or public sector. Some may look at their job as a temporary means to an end–more hours now, but a better life in the future. And then there are some who are just good at it… and who can blame someone for wanting to be in a career that they’re good at?
Of course, there are many dirty i-bankers who make all finance professionals look bad–and perhaps there are more jerks per capita on Wall Street than in the nonprofit sector. But for all the greed-mongers that pass through the field of finance, we may find a great philanthropist (Warren Buffett) among them. So when thinking about the shocking fall of Lehman and Merrill, consider all the good, non-scum people you know at those firms… even though Gekko may have no sympathy for them, we should.