John Brady, co-head of MF Global Inc.’s Chicago office, was having a vodka cocktail at the Ritz- Carlton in Naples, Florida, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, on the day his company reported its largest-ever quarterly loss.
“Wow, the sun just set,” Brady said to his wife and two colleagues attending a conference with him, he recalled in an interview. “I hope it doesn’t set on MF Global.”
A week later, on Oct. 31, the firm led by former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) co-Chief Executive Officer Jon Corzine collapsed. Brady and 1,065 colleagues joined a wave of firings that has washed away more than 200,000 jobs in the global financial-services industry this year, eclipsing 174,000 in 2009, data compiled by Bloomberg show. BNP Paribas (BNP) SA and UniCredit SpA (UCG) announced cuts last week, and the carnage likely will worsen as Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis roils markets.
“This is something very different,” said Huw Jenkins, a former head of investment banking at UBS AG (UBSN) who’s now a London- based managing partner at Brazil’s Banco BTG Pactual SA. “This is a structural change. The industry is shrinking.”
Wall Street rebounded from the financial crisis of 2008 with the help of unprecedented government support, including loans from the U.S. Federal Reserve. Goldman Sachs posted record profit the following year, and bonuses paid to securities-firm employees in New York City rose 17 percent to $20.3 billion, according to New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Now, faced with higher capital requirements, the failure of exotic financial products and diminished proprietary trading, the industry is undergoing what Steven Eckhaus, chairman of the executive-employment practice at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, called “a paradigm shift.” The New York attorney, whose clients have included former Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Chief Financial Officer Erin Callan, said he has stopped giving his “spiel” about inherent talent leading to new work.
In interviews, a dozen people who have lost jobs at firms including Societe Generale SA, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc (RBS) and Jefferies Group Inc. (JEF) described a grim banking landscape that also includes Occupy Wall Street protests against unemployment stuck above 9 percent and income inequality.
“These are by far my darkest days,” said Scott Schubert, 49, who was dismissed in late 2008 as a mergers-and-acquisitions banker at Jefferies, a New York-based securities firm, and has been unemployed since. “It’s harder and harder to look for a job and feel that there’s nothing there.”
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