The Last Honest CEO on Wall Street

by Derek Loosvelt | May 31, 2011

You may have never heard of Robert Wilmers or of the company that he runs (M&T Bank), but he might be the only chief executive officer of a large American bank who will tell you the truth about what the emperors on Wall Street are wearing below the waist.

robert wilmersWilmers, who has grown M&T from a $2 billion in assets bank into a $68 billion in assets bank, and who has turned M&T's stock into one of the best-performing bank equities in recent years, says that how the giant financial institutions in the country (think Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley) make the majority of their money these days has "nothing to do with the underlying purpose of banking" and has more in common with a casino than a bank. And, of course, he's absolutely right.

In M&T's 2010 annual report, in which Wilmers addresses shareholders, the CEO uses as much space to speak about M&T's financial results as he does about his profession: that is, banking.

According to Wilmers, banking had been (a decade or two ago) one of the more upstanding professions in the nation, with bankers taking an active part in their communities and largely being the folks responsible for local commerce to thrive. More recently, though, in the age of derivatives, deals known as Abacus, and firms known as vampire squids, the banker has become one of, if not the least of all upstanding professions. And this, as you can imagine, has seriously ticked off Wilmers.

What the 77-year-old banker would like to see, in hopes of earning some of that reputation back, is the reenactment of Glass Steagall (which would again separate commercial and investment banking and thus separate trading revenue from lending revenue) and a return to what banking was created for in the first place: "find ways to continue to attract deposits, make sound loans, and grow in accordance with our historic credit quality standards."

Of course, this would also mean a return to what your friendly banker used to earn, in annual compensation, a generation ago: well below seven figures.

And so, Wilmers is gonna have a rather tough time getting colleagues in the profession, such as Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, on board.

(NYT: The Good Banker)

(Related: Who's the Highest Paid CEO on Wall Street?)

Filed Under: Finance


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