What do top financial services employees think of the month-long protests headquartered in Zucotti Park, which took over Times Square over the weekend? So far the most vocal people have expressed support for the movement, like Jim Chanos, who said, “New York is so finance-centric that people here underappreciate the reaction of the rest of the country” and that OWS shouldn’t be underestimated; Larry Fink, who told reporters, “I believe we should not turn our backs on these protests…Maybe we will get some balance”; Jamie Dimon, who told those listening to the JPM conference on Thursday, “I do vaguely remember the First Amendment that it is legal to demonstrate and it is completely fine. You should listen and not just have a knee-jerk reaction”; and Vikram Pandit, who in addition to saying that “trust has been broken between financial institutions and the citizens of the US,” told protesters he’d love to chat over the phone. With the exception of John Paulson, however, who last week issued a statement telling protesters to 1) beat it and 2) thank their lucky stars that as the founder of a ‘most successful business‘, he chose to set up shop in New York, most financiers with less then charitable feelings have kept their feelings to themselves, fearing retribution from the anti-Wall Street group. Until now.
Over the weekend the Times caught up with a few money managers who can no longer hold their tongues. Despite being confident that the protests are simply “an entertaining sideshow, little more than flash mobs of slackers,” they chose to remain nameless but would still like their voices to be heard. Speaking to the protesters directly, they sent several messages. One, they’d appreciate a little gratitude.
“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.”
Two, they want the protesters to know that they know what this whole thing is really all about.
Generally, bankers dismiss the protesters as gullible and unsophisticated. Not many are willing to say this out loud, for fear of drawing public ire — or the masses to their doorsteps. “Anybody who dismisses them publicly is putting a bull’s-eye on their back,” one top hedge fund manager said…“Most people view it as a ragtag group looking for sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll,” he added.
Despite the notion expressed by the taxpaying money manager and the hedge funder/Woodstock expert that OWS’s beef is unfairly aimed at the industry, others aren’t sure there’s reason to be getting defensive. “I don’t think we see ourselves as the target,” Steve Bartlett, president of the Financial Services Roundtable told the Times. “I think they’re protesting about the economy.”