Posts tagged ‘conflicts of interest’

Ping Pong Vet Blasts Goldman

Source: Photobucket

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Greg Smith, former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) employee and ping pong medalist at the Jewish Olympics, came out with an earth-shattering revelation… he discovered and revealed that Goldman Sachs was not looking out for the best interests of its clients. I was floored to discover that a Wall Street bank valued at $60 billion would value profits more than clients’ needs.

Hmmm, I wonder what new eye-opening breakthrough he will unveil next? Perhaps Smith will get a job at Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) for 12 years and then enlighten the public that casinos are in the business of making money at the expense of their customers. I can’t wait to learn about that breaking news.

But really, with all sarcasm aside, any objective observer understands that Goldman Sachs and any other Wall Street firm are simply middlemen operating at the center of capitalism – matching buyers and sellers (lenders and borrowers) and providing advice on both sides of a transaction. As a supposed trusted intermediary, these financial institutions often hold privileged information that can be used to the firms’ (not clients) benefit.

Most industry veterans like me understand how rife with conflicts the industry operates under, but very few insiders publicly speak out about these “dirty little secrets.” Readers of Investing Caffeine  know I am not bashful about speaking my mind. In fact, I have tackled this subject in numerous articles, including Wall Street Meets Greed Street written a few months ago. Here’s an excerpt**:

“Wall Street and large financial institutions, however, are driven by one single mode…and that is greed. This is nothing new and has been going on for generations. Over the last few decades, cheap money, loose regulation, and a relatively healthy economy have given Wall Street and financial institutions free rein to take advantage of the system.”

 

As with any investment, clients and investors should understand the risks and inherent conflicts of interest associated with a financial relationship before engaging into business. While certain disclosures are sorely lacking, it behooves investors and clients to ask tough questions of bankers and advisors – questions apparently Mr. Smith did not ask his employer over his 12 year professional career at Goldman Sachs.

Reputational Risk Playing Larger Role

Even though Goldman called some clients “muppets,” Smith states there was no illegal activity going on. Regardless of whether the banks have gotten caught conducting explicit law-breaking behavior, the public and politicians love scapegoats, and what better target than the “fat-cat” bankers. With a financial crisis behind us, along with a multi-decade banking bull market of declining interest rates, the culture, profitability-model, and regulations in the financial industry are all in the midst of massive changes. As client awareness and frustration continue to rise, reputational risk will slowly become a larger concern for Wall Street banks.

Could the Goldman glow as the leading Wall Street investment bank finally be getting tarnished? Well, besides their earnings collapsing by about 2/3rds in 2011, the selection of Morgan Stanley (MS) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) ahead of Goldman Sachs as the lead underwriters in the Facebook (FB) initial public offering (IPO) could be a sign that reputational risk is playing a larger role in investment banking market share shifts.

The public and corporate America may be slow in recognizing the shady behavior practiced on Wall Street, but eventually, the excesses become noticed. Congress eventually implements new regulations (Dodd-Frank) and customers vote with their dollars by moving to banks and institutions they trust more.

I commend Mr. Smith for speaking out about the corrupt conflicts of interest and lack of fiduciary duty at Goldman Sachs, but let’s call a spade a spade and not mischaracterize a situation as suddenly shifting when the practices have been going on forever. Either he is naïve or dishonest (I hope the former rather than the latter), but regardless, finding a new job on Wall Street may be challenging for him. Fortunately for Mr. Smith, he has something to fall back on…the professional ping-pong circuit.

***Other Relevant Articles and Video:

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in FB, GS, MS, JPM, LVS, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

March 17, 2012 at 4:57 pm 1 comment

Investment Credentials: The Letter Shell Game

Photo Source: Imetco.com

In most professional industries – whether you are talking about a doctor, lawyer, dentist, accountant, or other respected field – a comprehensive and rigorous multi-year schooling and examination process is required to gain entrance into the club. Unfortunately for those working with professionals (I use the term loosely) in the investment and insurance fields, all that most advisors need to do is have a pulse and spend a few hours or days studying for an exam. Our structurally flawed and loosely cobbled together financial regulatory system is like a shell game that is constantly moving and hiding different conflicts of interest.

Left in the wake of the financial crisis, the public has been left picking up the pieces from the rating agency conflicts, Madoff scandal, Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, AIG collapse, Goldman Sachs hearings, golden parachute bonuses, billions in fees, commissions, and investor losses. Rather than watch the backs of investors, the system has favored financial institutions and penalized investors with fees, commissions, transactions costs, fine print, and layers of conflicts of interests. Andy Warhol described the amassing of fees like the prices of art – under both circumstances you collect “anything you can get away with.” So unless investors do their own thorough homework, there’s a good chance they will end up with a failing grade.

One of the major deception components is the creation of many worthless, pathetic lettered credentials that in many cases are worth less than the paper or business cards they are written on. Now, I’m sure some of these multi-letter credentials are worth more than others, but as a practicing professional in the industry for more than 15 years, it feels like I come across some new three letter designation every week. I know I am not alone with my sentiments, because respected professionals and colleagues I work with chuckle at many of these lettered credentials, and like me, have no clue what they stand for. When receiving a new business card with some of these strange letters, I often don’t know if I should cover my mouth while I burst out laughing, or if I’m supposed to be genuinely impressed?

Perhaps for hardworking parents, like a Joe and Mary Smith, it may mean something, but unless a multi-year curriculum (for example, the CFA Chartered Financial Analyst or CFP® – Certified Financial Planning programs) is put behind the alphabet of letters on a business card, please do not be offended if I yawn. Investors deserve better and fairer representation from someone managing their life savings, much like they get from a MD performing a surgery, a JD protecting a proprietor’s business, a CPA shielding a tax return from the IRS, or a DDS performing a root canal.

While it may sound like I am demonizing the broker/salesmen/advisors that are swimming around in the investment waters looking for commission opportunities (see Financial Sharks article), I understand some of them have genuine intentions and do not purposely misrepresent their credentials. As a matter of fact, many of the brokerage firms that hire these individuals require them to add funny letters to their business card for marketing purposes.

Here is a list of finance-related credentials other than the aforementioned:

  • AAMS (Accredited Asset Management Specialist)
  • AFC (Accredited Financial Counselor) 
  • AWMA (Accredited Wealth Management Advisor)
  • CAIA (Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst)
  • CASL (Chartered Advisor for Senior Living)
  • CCFC (Certified Cash Flow Consultant)
  • CFS (Certified Fund Specialist)
  • CIMA (Certified Investment Management Analyst)  
  • CIMC (Certified Investment Management Consultant)
  • CMA (Certified Management Accountant)
  • CMFC (Chartered Mutual Fund Counselor)
  • CMT (Chartered Market Technician)
  • ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant)
  • CCFC (Certified Cash Flow Consultant)
  • CDFA (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst)
  • CEBS (Certified Employee Benefit Specialist)
  • CDP (Certified Divorce Planner)
  • CLTC (Certified in Long Term Care)
  • CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter)
  • CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter)
  • CRPC (Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor)
  • CTFA (Certified Trust and Financial Adviser)
  • FRM (Financial Risk Manager)
  • MSFS (Master of Science in Financial Services)
  • PFS (Personal Financial Specialist – awarded by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA))
  • QPFC (Qualified Plan Financial Consultant)
  • REBC (Registered Employee Benefits Consultant)
  • RFC (Registered Financial Consultant)

When it comes to these and other industry credentials I am open to being enlightened on the relative merits…I’m all ears. And even if you trust the CFP® and CFA designations as the gold standards in the investing field, holding those credentials alone are not sufficient to make someone a good adviser. However, until I gain a better understanding of the dozens of other confusing credentials, I will continue to scratch my head and wonder which ones are worth more than the others, and which ones are not worth squat.

Healing the Wounds

It will take a long time for the financial industry to gain back the trust of investors, but it will require a multi-prong effort from regulators, financial industry executives, and investors themselves (who need to do better homework). If we want to more specifically dissect the professional service industry, then why not form one certification for each segment –not dozens.

What’s more, rather than pulling the wool over the public’s eyes with meaningless titles and credentials, let’s establish a fiduciary duty and designation that is demanded of all investment professionals. Moreover, let’s make the filtering process more rigorous in weeding out the dead-weight before handing the precious keys over to a professional. Unless changes are made, the corrupt system will remain structurally flawed, ripe with conflicts of interest, and aggressive salesmen calling themselves professionals –even if meaningless credentials are flaunted around to garner fees and commissions from the unsuspecting public.

Not everyone in the industry is a crook, but make sure you follow the ball very closely, so you do not lose in the investment shell game.

Read the Partial List of Financial Service Credentials on the CFP® Website

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®    <— Don’t worry if you are not impressed by these letters…my wife and friends are not either!

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in Lehman/Barclays, GS, or AIG (but do own derivative position in subsidiary) or any security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

August 9, 2010 at 1:23 am Leave a comment


Receive Investing Caffeine blog posts by email.

Join 1,774 other followers

Meet Wade Slome, CFA, CFP®

DSC_0244a reduced

More on Sidoxia Services

Recognition

Top Financial Advisor Blogs And Bloggers – Rankings From Nerd’s Eye View | Kitces.com

Wade on Twitter…

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share

Subscribe to Blog RSS

Monthly Archives