“Most people view it as a ragtag group looking for sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll,” said one top hedge fund manager.
“It’s not a middle-class uprising,” adds another veteran bank executive. “It’s fringe groups. It’s people who have the time to do this.”
“Who do you think pays the taxes?” said one longtime money manager. “Financial services are one of the last things we do in this country and do it well. Let’s embrace it. If you want to keep having jobs outsourced, keep attacking financial services. This is just disgruntled people.”
“The top 1 percent of New Yorkers pay over 40 percent of all income taxes, providing huge benefits to everyone in our city and state,” he said in a statement. “Paulson & Company and its employees have paid hundreds of millions in New York City and New York State taxes in recent years and have created over 100 high-paying jobs in New York City since its formation.”
Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase & Company, typifies the conflicting messages coming from Wall Street. In a conference call with reporters after third-quarter earnings were announced Thursday, he struck a sympathetic note. “I do vaguely remember the First Amendment that it is legal to demonstrate and it is completely fine,” he said. “You should listen and not just have a knee-jerk reaction.”
But in a later conference call with analysts, Mr. Dimon’s remarks were more offhand when asked about the protests and the negative perception of his industry. “Most of our clients like us,” he said. Besides, changing the industry’s image now is a tall order, he told the analysts, before adding, “If you have any great ideas on the phone you guys can write them up and send them to me. We’ll take them into consideration.” Without a coherent message, the crowds will ultimately thin out, Wall Street types insist — especially when the weather turns colder. They see the protesters as an entertaining sideshow, little more than flash mobs of slackers, seeking to lock arms with Kanye West or get a whiff of the antiestablishment politics that defined their parents’ generation.
“There is a view that it will be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing,” said one financial industry official.
“When I tell people I went down to research the protests, they’re shocked, they literally laugh,” said Michael Mayo, a veteran bank analyst at Crédit Agricole Securities. “It’s just not a location they frequent.”
Citigroup’s chief executive, Vikram S. Pandit, even said he would be happy to talk with the protesters any time they wanted to drop by. Mr. Pandit, onstage Wednesday at a Fortune magazine conference, said that the protesters’ “sentiments were completely understandable.”
“I would also corroborate that trust has been broken between financial institutions and the citizens of the U.S., and that it’s Wall Street’s job to reach out to Main Street and rebuild that trust,” Mr. Pandit said. The protesters should hold Citi and others “accountable for practicing responsible finance,” he said, “and keep asking us about how we’re doing.”