The Old Pay System of Wall Street

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Last weekend, we discussed issues of Wall Street compensation and liability in placing a natural limit to excessive risk-taking: Delay Pay? Try Partnership Liability.

This week, Floyd Norris received an email from a retired investment banker regarding what Wall Street compensation used to look like, and why that curtailed excessive behavior, and private gains, socialized losses:

“The old pay system (era of John Whitehead): you work at an investment bank for 30 years, have a reasonable draw and cash bonus, build up stock in the firm as most of your bonus, and when you decide to retire you request of the partners their permission to go limited. If they assent, you get to withdraw your money over five years, all the while continuing to expose the balance to the risks of the enterprise.

The new pay system post-Donald Lufkin Jenrette’s original I.P.O.: you’re a young 29-year-old punk playing with OPM (Other People’s Money), taking huge risks for which you get huge bonuses, while the outsiders shoulder the losses on your bets. You make all the money you’ll ever need in three years, stay around 15 years to pile up five times as much as you need, and then you retire with your cash hoard, buy a winery in Napa/Sonoma or a huge farm in Connecticut, living above the fray for the rest of your life.

Which system, do you think, makes people consider the downside of their actions?”

Note once again the impact of partnership liability — a negative incentive towards speculation — on banker behavior.

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Source:
Old Wall Street Discusses the New
Floyd Norris
Notions on High and Low Finance June 21, 2010
http://norris.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/21/old-wall-street-discusses-the-new/

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