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Can One Earn an Honest Living on Wall Street?

Posted by Larry Doyle on November 13, 2009 8:29 AM |

You have the reputation you deserve.

While there are certainly instances where individuals are misunderstood or situations that are construed differently, a reputation is neither determined nor changed based upon one event. A reputation is ultimately a compilation of data points. That data does not belie what some individuals and industries may like to project.

That said, an industry’s reputation can often be largely determined by the high profile and influential behaviors of a small subset, especially if that minority is not properly regulated. Such is the world of Wall Street.

Does the fact that Wall Street has an awful reputation implicate a majority or even a significant percentage of individuals in this industry as being morally bankrupt? That is not the Wall Street on which I worked for 23 years. To that end, I take serious exception to an article written by Bloomberg’s Alice Schroeder, Wall Street Makes It Hard to Earn a Legal Living. Ms. Schroeder writes:

A group of university students I spoke to recently asked if it was possible to make a living on Wall Street without compromising your values. I had to tell them no.

How uncanny. I spoke to a group of college students last evening at my alma mater, College of the Holy Cross, and I shared with them the exact opposite. I highlighted that embracing core values and spreading them was both necessary and possible for developing a long-term, successful career.

I will readily admit that questionable trade practices – if not outright fraud – have grown on Wall Street over the years. There was certainly plenty of this activity when I went to Wall Street in the early ’80s and there will be thirty years from now.

The problem is not and never has been the industry. The problem is and always will be the individual.

I would maintain that people who seemingly forsake values and principles for profit most likely never had many values or principles in the first place. Do people go bad? Of course. Can people be reformed? Of course. Do people rationalize behaviors in terms of ‘everybody else is doing it?’ All the time. Does this mean that one can’t earn an honest and legal living on Wall Street? Please, anything but.

There will always be bad seeds in every pot. To deal with those, it is imperative that the regulatory crowd is beyond reproach and aggressive.  On that front, I will readily admit that Wall Street regulation has been exceptionally deficient.

In light of all this, can one earn a legal living on Wall Street? The overwhelming population on Wall Street is doing it everyday . . . and that message comes from one who is willing to call Wall Street out for all its shortcomings.

High five to RG for bringing this article to my attention. Now you want to talk about principled and upstanding, RG and all the Gs are exactly that.

Comments, questions, constructive criticism always appreciated.


  • Mike

    Well I do think it’s true that one guy or a few guys can ruin it for everybody.

    I read Ms. Schroeder’s article and I thought she brought up some good points. Specifically the struggle to keep your firms ‘number’ higher than the very competitive market average. Also how she made a point that while cheating and insider trading may not be the moral way to do things, it is effective and advantageous over those who do not..Assuming you don’t get caught of course. The money that comes along with it tends to wash away the guilt, and I think that statement hit the nail on the head. I don’t work in Wall St. but it makes sense from my point of view.

    Keep on fighting for real transparency, integrity and honest regulation, I’ll keep reading.

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