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Morning Coffee: The pathos of the egotistical banker in decline. Banker returns to girlfriend after being distracted by crypto

If Martin Scorsese ever wanted to make a film about something other than criminals, he could do a lot worse than dramatize The John Mack Story.  Although the memoir (“Up Close And All In”) has received what might politely be called “mixed reviews”, so did the book on which The Wolf Of Wall Street was based.  And as his latest interview with the FT shows, the life of Mack the Knife is absolutely rich in the great director’s favourite movie tropes – the American Dream, outsiders struggling to fit in, and a lot of the kind of hypermasculine behaviour that’s referred to these days as either “classic” or “toxic”, depending on which part of Twitter you’re reading.

Unfortunately, though, the specific themes that seem to come through are those of poignancy and pathos. For John Mack, this is a time of faded glory and even regret; having been the Raging Bull of the banking industry, Mack now seems to be well into his after-dinner anecdote years.  And he admits that the anecdotes are beginning to repeat themselves; he was recently diagnosed with a mild cognitive impairment which might be the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

And yet, of course, the last thing that John Mack would want is anybody’s sympathy.  In the book and in the interview, he seems determined that he should be remembered for the good times; the big deals, the sharp suits, expensive dinners and practical jokes.  He’s prepared to make some small concessions to the idea that you simply can’t behave like that anymore – he admits that James Gorman has done a good job as his successor and suggests that the financial crisis “made everyone a lot smarter”.  But at the end of the day, the quote that seems to sum up the Mack experience is most likely to be “If people think I have a big ego, I did have a big ego. I don’t care.”

It's interesting to compare Mack’s legacy with that of Phil Purcell, who would surely be portrayed as the nemesis in any Hollywood version of the story.  Mack doesn’t have much time for Purcell, who he thought was overly cautious and risk averse.  And he wasn’t alone in that assessment; a whole book has been written (also to mixed reviews) about the political machinations which forced Purcell out, brought Mack back to the Morgan Stanley CEO job and claimed the firm back for hard-charging martini-drinking risk-takers, rather than Midwestern squares.

Purcell was definitely not loved like Mack was (one commentator at the time referred to him as “hated for his intense arrogance by almost everyone”).  It’s unlikely that anyone would be particularly interested in reading the Phil Purcell Story.  But on the other hand, it’s not Phil Purcell that’s going around with a score-settling memoir trying to remind everybody exactly what a big deal he used to be.  They say that living well is the best revenge, but even on that basis (and even after all the great restaurants and expense-account booze), it’s not really clear which of the two men actually won. 

Elsewhere, bankers know better than most that it’s quite difficult to keep a relationship going when you have a high-pressure job that makes voracious and unpredictable demands on time that you ought to be spending with your significant other.  However, having to cancel a date because of a sudden “pls fix” or being caught checking the Asian market when you should have come to bed – these things are not good, but they’re at least comprehensible.  Letting your romance suffer because you’re into crypto, though?

Apparently it happens.  According to one life coach, once someone has seen you bouncing up and down with excitement because you’re about to buy an NFT of an imaginary worm, it’s hard for them to continue to respect you.  One banker with a long-distance relationship found that his girlfriend objected to having her videocall window minimised so that he could keep tracks on the bitcoin market.

It seems that the crypto winter is at least having the effect of making some of these people realise how silly they’re being.  There’s also been a viral song including the lyrics “I don’t care about your crypto boy / Not even one Bitcoin. / CEO of being unemployed”.  As a result, the banker has had a heart-to-heart conversation about “his investing will fit into their upcoming marriage”. If only something would happen to give the rest of the financial industry a similar sense of perspective.

Meanwhile …

If you told your family to get into crypto at Thanksgiving last year, here’s a handy list of excuses to deal with their recriminations this year. (Bloomberg)

Who leaves voicemails anymore?  Nobody except boomers … and private wealth managers who have to communicate with them.  As a result, “voicemail training” is still necessary for Gen Z graduate trainees at Goldman, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, along with detailed case studies of what financial products to put people’s boring uncles into. (Business Insider)

Fintech winter is here – payments giant FIS wants to make $500m of cost savings, so although the cuts will be “gradual”, they’re going to affect “thousands” of employees. (Bloomberg)

You might have thought the trend for senior financial regulators to show up in new crypto jobs was over, but there’s one part of that niche market where hiring is still hot – the liquidators of FTX have hired lawyers who previously worked for the SEC, CFTC and US Attorney’s office to conduct the inquiry into where the money went. (WSJ)

Always important to get the order right – Goldman Sachs Asset Management has paid a $4m fine after it was found to have occasionally done the screening for some of its ESG funds after the stock had already been picked, rather than before. (FT)

RBC Capital Markets have taken Thomas Hofmeister from BNP Paribas to be their new head of financial sponsors coverage in Germany. (Financial News)

Some people might be taking a bit of comfort from the fact that Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos has been recommended to serve her sentence at a relatively pleasant “Club Fed” minimum security prison. (WSJ)

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AUTHORDaniel Davies Insider Comment

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