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Valerie Bogard

TABB Group

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Valerie Bogard

16 January 2013

Where Is Wall Street’s Oprah Moment?

Lance Armstrong is just the latest star to admit his sins on Oprah’s couch in order to earn some good PR. If capital markets executives were willing to accept responsibility for the errors of their ways, maybe public opinion of Wall Street wouldn’t be so low.

Lance Armstrong will appear on Oprah this week to address accusations of using drugs while winning the Tour de France seven consecutive times. This addition to a long line of Oprah confessionals begs the questions: Why hasn’t anyone from Wall Street appeared on Oprah’s couch to atone for the evils of the 2008 financial meltdown?

For any guest who has asked pardon on Oprah, it’s clear that the show offers more than just a daytime interview. An Oprah appearance is a public purging of sins; it lets the public know you are sorry and regret doing what you did. And many public figures have taken advantage of this post-scandal media plea. Author James Frey after lying about many aspects in his book, “A Million Little Pieces”; Olympic athlete Marion Jones after admitting to using steroids; and actor/governor Arnold Schwarzenegger after revelations that he had a lovechild with the housekeeper all have used Oprah’s show as a rote pit stop during the PR apology tour.

[Related: How Banks Can Regain Trust: Quit Messing Up]

With her magazine, book club and her very own network, Oprah has a voice that reaches millions. What has been deemed the “Oprah effect” has already been shown to influence how people vote and what they buy. It isn’t a large jump to suppose it might garner some sympathy after a transgression. And sympathy is what Wall Street needs. Public opinion of Wall Street reached a 40-year low after the financial crisis, and many and are still calling for jail time for the major bank heads. Getting a one on one with the Queen of Compassion can do nothing but help these ratings, and it might even help ease the public’s distaste for their friends in finance.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine exactly who in the industry would raise his or her hand to serve as a face for the scandal. It’s difficult to picture a CEO sitting on that sofa and telling Oprah with remorseful tears the rationalizations for his wrongdoings. One reason this may be so difficult to envision is that we have yet to see any real public confession from any of the top CEOs responsible for the crisis. During the public hearings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission two years ago, many Wall Street execs hesitantly admitted to taking on too much risk, but none ever fully apologized. Even if Oprah is admittedly a little too soft of programming for them, they haven’t reached out to any news source to take accountability and deliver a heartfelt “sorry.”

This obvious oversight no doubt plays a part in the public’s lack of forgiveness. It might be just a PR move, but people want to hear some form of contrition before giving back their favorability ratings. Perhaps it’s strange to ask Wall Street to follow the footsteps of an athlete, but please, take a lesson from Lance and call up Oprah.

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11 Comments to "Where Is Wall Street’s Oprah Moment?":
  • Anon_avatar
    Anonymous

    16 January 2013

    Interesting thought! But everyone who sat on Oprah’s sofa has nobody to blame but themselves, unlike a more diluted corporate responsibility which isn't as personal and could attract lawsuits.

  • Anon_avatar
    Anonymous

    17 January 2013

    Silly article. The 2008 financial meltdown was a result of many different factors, and can't be attributed a single person. Wall Street's Oprah moment - isn't that Dodd-Frank?

  • Comment_mike_ross_s
    mikeross321

    17 January 2013

    Silly?  I don't think so.  A stretch?  Yes.  I agree that there was/is no one individual responsible and that makes an "Oprah moment" - one moment - impossible, but.... I have heard countless conversations, panel sessions, read countless opinion pieces etc. that simply defend, defend, defend.  What these pundits are representing is true -more efficient markets, tighter spreads, etc. when comparing to more manual markets in the past - but investors of all kinds and the general public are still angry.  People want to hear our industry take responsibility.  This will lead to less anger and forgiveness and that is when "the story" dies.  Otherwise, the media will continue to feed off the negative public sentiment and the cycle continues. 

    Broadly, two things are needed to reduce the negativity that continues to dog our industry - (1) stop fooling ourselves that by saying the same things over and over (more efficient market) and instead taking responsibility and - in effect - having many, many, many Oprah moments from many, many people in many, many forms, and (2) action - action in the form of fixing problems and increasing transparency and educating investors and the general public about the issues and the best ways to address those issues - and doing it in a way that doesn't sound like defend, defend, defend. 

  • Comment_230146_210851315613283_100000652474653_678322_2285980_n
    crammond1964

    17 January 2013

    harsh BUT we must stop the cheaters from constantly breaking our markets ....... Large fines to big companies are not working then perhaps suspending their trading licence would ! Our industry is fed up seeing the guilty prosper under failed regulation and non surveillance mkts .

  • Missing
    gcrawford

    17 January 2013

    Apologize? Good idea but why? Banks (well ones that aren't already basketcases) are making more money than ever.

  • Comment_tabb_-_larry_tabb_hi-res_wo
    ltabb

    17 January 2013

    There should be a bunch of Oprah moments for our industry. Dick Fuld, Corzine, Peregrine, Madoff, Chuck Prince, Reed, Weill, Blankfein, Dimon, Diamond... All of these guys should be doing their mea culpa on Oprah's couch. There is plenty of blame to go around in each and every existing and defunct organization. I wrote a piece "A Colossal Failure of Leadership" http://www.tabbforum.com/opinions/a-colossal-failure-of-leadership back in 2009 talking about this. And this problem still exists today. As for why these guys should or shouldn't confess - well of course they shouldn't - why should they? Jamie Dimon's bonus was only cut in half - but half ($11.5m) because of the London Whale. But that is still more than I would guess .0005% of the US population makes and is $46,000 a working day. So why would any of these guys confess no matter how much guilt they have. With $46k a working day, I think I could get over a whole lot of guilt.

  • Comment_tabb_-_will_rhode1
    williamrhode

    17 January 2013

    The only reason to appear on Oprah is to market something - mostly books. Unless its the Da Vinci Code or 50 Shades of Grey, no way these guys are going to make more money out of books than finance. I  know - I used to be in the book biz  and never hit the jackpot ;-( To that point, it annoys me that a Lance Armstrong might profit out of tonight's interview. So I'm not going to watch it. Bah Humbug!

  • Missing
    groenfeldt

    17 January 2013

    She'll need a longer couch.

  • Comment_tabb_-_larry_tabb_hi-res_wo
    ltabb

    17 January 2013

    Did you guys see that the new Barclays chief just issued a letter on ethics. The FT said of the release "performances and rewards would be judged against a set of core values, including integrity, respect for others and quality of customer service." And apparently this is their quote from the letter.

    “[T]here might be some who don’t feel they can fully buy into an approach which so squarely links performance to the upholding of our values. My message to those people is simple: Barclays is not the place for you,” Mr Jenkins wrote. “The rules have changed. You won’t feel comfortable at Barclays and, to be frank, we won’t feel comfortable with you as colleagues.”

    Now - who's to say that they are serious but just the same - its nice to at least see these guys are giving ethics at least lip service - here is the article

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6210327c-609f-11e2-a31a-00144feab49a.html?ftcamp=published_links%2Frss%2Fhome_europe%2Ffeed%2F%2Fproduct#axzz2IH0v60WP

  • Anon_avatar
    Anonymous

    17 January 2013

    People without ethics can work at hedge funds or PE firms and make them a lot of $ instead of Barclays,UBS or wherever.  The rules have changed for now but history tends to repeat itself.  It is our culture to look for the edge or ways to give ourselves (business) an advantage.  Hope that's not too cynical.

  • Missing
    eville

    18 January 2013

    What's not too cyncial (see above) is the fact that, other than the many thousands of good, honest, hard-working back-office people who work on Wall Street to earn a living, pay down a mortgage and put their kids through college only to be tossed out on the curb first when there are losses, you don't go to work on Wall Street for the betterment of mankind. For the past 20 years, it's been about the big money, not creating new companies, innovating products or, heaven forbid, curing cancer.  

    As for the Barclays chief, action will speak louder than words and only time will tell. And of course it looks and sounds good. Then again, it's not like he was going to say publicly, mimicking Gorden Gekko, that "Bad ethics...are good."   

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