One of the most frequent answers you would get if you were to ask my peers at university what they wanted to do with their lives would be “Make the world a better place.” My response, if you asked me that same question four months ago, would have been something along the lines of “Not sure, dude.’’ That’s not because I didn’t want to make the world a better place but because I was unsure of how realistic of a goal that could be.
To me, making the world a better place entails change from bad to good. I could never really see myself volunteering at a soup kitchen every week because I wouldn’t feel like I’m impactfully changing anything. I think I see the world in this way because I’m extremely obsessive. When I was younger I didn’t nonchalantly play random video games; instead, I obsessed over one game for years and aim to be the best. Because I know these things about myself I thought that the odds of me ‘making the world a better place’ in any kind of a professional way were minimal. That was until my internship at Ritholtz Wealth Management.
Quick background: I was born in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1996, just a few years into its transformation from bedroom community for Fortune 100 executives to hedge fund capital of the world. I was a lifer at what has become one of the most prestigious and exclusive boys schools in the country. As such I had a front row seat to the unfathomable excesses of the early 21st century finance industry; the puppies that sold for $70,000 at school auctions, the “fundraisers” where Dave Matthews and the Allman Brothers entertained, the charity banquets at which insurance underwriters required special security for Table 9 because of the jewelry that Mrs. X would be wearing to the event.
But much of that turned out to be an illusion. I was in sixth grade when Bear Stearns was sold for $2 a share to JPM and just starting seventh when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Just before Christmas break of that year I heard the name Bernie Madoff for the first time, and a year after that some guy named Rajaratnam was hauled off in handcuffs. The actions of those criminals devastated the families of kids I knew, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising when you are in an environment in which 90+% of your friends’ households are directly reliant on Wall Street for their livelihoods.
Fast forward eight years and you’ll forgive me if working in finance wasn’t at the top of my agenda as I finished my junior year of college. Among the reasons I couldn’t see myself in the field was that I really didn’t want to work with people who were so shamelessly out for themselves. And then, at my father’s urging, I read this book.
“... I don’t own a single one of those blue shirts with the white collars.”
It’s hard to imagine how much those words, and the entirety of Backstage Wall Street, hit me. Whereas I had viewed so many of these figures as villains, Josh recast them as clowns.
“Merrill Lynch lost $40 billion or so of its own money in 2008, and it wants to manage yours?”
As a rather hard-core libertarian (give me a break, I’m 21), I view freedom as the absolute pinnacle of human accomplishment. And this summer I got to watch people who I always assumed to be cantankerous, selfish, arrogant “Wall Street” guys work their butts off to give clients the thing I valued the most; namely, freedom. To watch the advisors at Ritholtz collaborate with their clients to establish goals, plans, and strategies which were designed to maximize positive outcomes for the client, and not for the advisor, was mind-blowing. I honestly didn’t know finance guys could be like that. The Ritholtz team were working, and working hard, to make families as comfortable and secure as they could.
Barry, Josh, Kris, Michael, and the rest of the team at Ritholtz are Friday casual warriors on a crusade against wealth management malpractice and perverted incentive structures. It was an absolute privilege to have aided them on their march.