Wall Street has a big image problem, of course, so the industry's largest trade group has hired a bunch of makeover artists to come up with ways in which the financial community can be seen as wearing the white hats. Bloomberg got a hold of the memos of confidential meetings with top financial executives, and the conclusions from the sessions, while not all that surprising, are a bit depressing. They still seem to think that telling us is the same thing as showing us.
The board meeting minutes and staff-written papers, obtained by Bloomberg News, outline the program crafted by polling, lobbying and public relations companies paid at least $85,000 a month. The memos provide a glimpse, in often candid language, into how Wall Street is grappling with its pariah status. "It is imperative that in this historic period of reform, the industry be recognized as playing a positive role in seeking change and providing solutions to the problems we face," one of the documents said. "There is currently widespread skepticism about the industry's commitment to this needed change."
The high-priced consultants and pollsters did all kinds of surveys and analyses and finally concluded that - drum roll please - Americans really do dislike anyone having to do with Wall Street. How about that for a revelation?
The securities industry "must be perceived as part of the solution, which will allow it to better defend against populist overreaction," the documents, prepared for a June 17 meeting of the [Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association's board], said. The internal papers call for using regional securities firms, many of which have escaped notoriety in the financial crisis, to push the industry's message with their local members of Congress. The plan notes that brokers across the country can also be used.
"Populist overreaction," eh? That well may be true, but I'm not sure it's something they would want to memorialize in a memo. And the bit about using regional firms sounds like the sort of cheap political trick that could be expected out of Washington or L.A. City Hall. A little like parading a black guy in front of the cameras at the Republican convention. But heck, never mind all that. Where do we sign up to get one of those consulting jobs?