Belfast Telegraph

Proof that public image means nothing to bankers

By David Prosser

It seems the notion of “brand contamination” doesn't apply to the world of investment banking.

Despite being vilified by all-comers for its conduct during the credit crunch — and facing fraud charges from the US Securities & Exchange Commission — Goldman Sachs remains Wall Street's most wanted.

Yesterday's figures from Thomson Reuters confirmed that “the firm” is back where it feels it belongs — at the top of the league having regained its cherished position as the world's number one advisor on mergers and acquisitions from bitter rival Morgan Stanley.

A number of motorists steered clear of Toyota's forecourts after flaws in its cars came to light — and the company had to resort to offering juicy discounts to get them back. Influential figures in the US have talked of boycotting BP's forecourts for the misdeeds of that company in the Gulf of Mexico, a company which has been forced to inject $20bn into a compensation fund for those affected by its spill.

But despite spewing financial waste that is just as toxic to the world's economy as BP's product has been to the inhabitants of the gulf coast, banks like Goldman have so far paid almost nothing. They've gone cap in hand to their respective governments and asked to be paid and then lobbied furiously when politicians have suggested cracking down on their activities. There certainly won't be any compensation funds available to people who have lost their jobs because of the banks' misdeeds. And Goldman is the poster child for the banks.

Of course, BP is (nominally) British and Toyota Japanese. America doesn't always hold its own corporate titans to quite the same standards as it holds those headquartered in other countries.

And there has been talk of a Goldman PR offensive recently, in an attempt to respond to critics and convince people that “the firm” is not as nasty as it's recent publicity might suggest. An appearance on Oprah had even been rumoured for chief executive Lloyd Blankfein. It's hard to see Mr Blankfein relishing the idea of sitting on the sofa next to someone who makes more money than him before a bank of TV cameras. Well, you can understand that this would be rather beneath the dignity of one of the masters of the universe.

The problem with Goldman regaining its number one ranking with such apparent ease is the message that it sends out. It says that everything that has been said about Goldman, everything that has been written, all the problems that have been unearthed and highlighted, count for nothing.

And it's a message that will be heard loud and clear beyond Goldman's various lubyankas in financial centres around the world.

Every other investment bank will have taken careful note.

Goldman's attitude to public relations can usually be best characterised as resembling a single finger raised high in the air.

And why should it bother behaving otherwise? Corporate America (and corporate Britain, corporate Europe, corporate Asia, corporate just about everywhere) loves Goldman.

Whatever it does, executives still queue up outside its doors, only too happy to pay the exorbitant fees that keep Goldman bankers in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

The dollars will again be positively pouring into their pockets when it comes round to bonus time this year, just as they were last year.

Unless and until clients are willing to hit the firm in the only place that it feels real pain — its deep, deep pockets — nothing is going to change.

Nothing whatsoever.

Belfast Telegraph