Bankers Behaving Badly Are No Black Swans

Agenda-Setting Financial Insight.
March 8 2012 5:20 PM

Bankers Behaving Badly Are No Black Swans

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As Morgan Stanley’s William Jennings andTCW's Gerard Finneran have shown, misbehaving bankers are no black swans. That said, workers in the high-stress profession cross the line less often than you might expect.

Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

It’s hard to feel too sympathetic for wealthy financiers caught behaving badly. But considering the stress of the job, and simple statistics, it shouldn’t be too shocking to hear of Wall Streeters stabbing a cabbie or defecating in public. More surprising is that such tales are so rare.

Some 170,000 people are employed in the securities industry in New York City, many of them working in high-pressure roles overseeing or advising others about vast sums of money. Traders, especially, seem prime candidates for becoming social miscreants. Academic studies have even mined the traits they share with psychopaths.

Throw in shrinking bonuses, job insecurity, egomania and easy access to mood-altering substances and it’s not hard to imagine these wannabe masters of the financial universe getting caught up by impulsive behavior.

Yet for all that, it’s remarkably uncommon - or at least it tumbles into public view less often - than might be expected. After all, “going bankers” hasn’t become the meme that “going postal” did following a spate of violent attacks by U.S. mail carriers in the 1980s.

It’s partly what makes the alleged actions by Morgan Stanley’s William Jennings such fodder for the gossip mill. The fixed-income boss stands accused of sticking a penknife into a cab driver’s hand during an altercation over a $300 taxi fare following a late-night, Christmas-time, 45-mile ride from New York to Connecticut. And pulling a Finneran never become part of the vernacular after TCW banker Gerard Finneran in 1995 protested being cut off from in-flight drinks by dropping his trousers and depositing an unwanted toxic asset on the food trolley.

Bankers or otherwise will understandably reason that but for the grace of some deity go they. And of course no committee or algorithm can hope to assess or much mitigate that kind of risk. But the stupid trades and dodgy deals in which investment banks engage all too often are a completely different story. It is on the job where they still need to do a better job of keeping employees from losing control.

Read more at Reuters Breakingviews.

Antony Currie has more than a decade of experience as a financial journalist, having worked with Euromoney since 1996, most recently as a US editor. He has worked on assignments in the major financial centres of Europe and the US and written stories on capital markets, global economies and the investment banking industry.