That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.
Lately there's been a lot of hand-wringing on this site about the inevitable regulatory reforms that are coming down the pike. The almost universal opinion is that reforming and/or restricting certain markets or practices will be the death of the industry. What I don't think people are yet realizing is that the sort of reforms that have been proposed would only make Wall Street leaner and more efficient, and potentially restore those working on Wall Street to some level of prestige instead of the punch line status bankers enjoy today.
Very simply, financial reform is essential to the continued success of the banking sector, specifically the investment banking sector. The reforms put in place under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 were among the central reasons the U.S. enjoyed increased investment and unparalleled growth over the following six decades. The systematic repeal of many of the most common sense tenets of the Act in the late 90's brought us to the brink of economic extinction in 2008.
We all know shit got out of hand. And in the irrational exuberance that led to the collapse, many bright young men and women were enchanted by the siren song of easy money and ran their otherwise promising futures aground on the shoals of Wall Street. Rather than being repulsed by the greed and excess, they flocked to it. (I'm no different, by the way, so don't think I'm going all "Holier than thou" on you. It was all about the money for me, and never about anything else.)
If you're still wondering why reform is necessary, I'll let my good pal A.J. explain it to you:
If you work on Wall Street and that video makes you recoil in horror, chances are you belong there. If, however, the video makes you think about the good old days and sends you into a mental debate on the benefits of fake-a-bake vs. spray-on tan, then you're a pretender and you probably should have done something else with your life. Fear not: the coming regulatory reforms will ferret you out and you'll be shown the door soon enough.
The funny thing is, the average investment banking analyst would be good at almost anything else. The brains and tenacity required to get hired on the Street would benefit a wide array of other industries of arguably higher social utility than banking.
We've already begun to see the natural selection process in analyst comp. First years in 2007 pulled in around $150,000 all-in; today that number is closer to $100,000. I don't expect this trend to reverse itself. If anything, I see entry-level banking paying even less in the future (post-reform, obviously). The benefit to that is that there will be fewer analysts who are there just for the money, and more who really want to be there.
Tomorrow I'll go into some macro arguments in favor of reform (from Wall Street's perspective), but in the meantime I'd like you to consider that the sky isn't falling, Wall Street isn't going away and, as I said in the beginning, that which doesn't kill us only makes us stronger. The key is to position yourself in such a way as to attain maximum benefit from the coming reform. That might even include showing yourself the door if you know you don't belong there. Something to think about.