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Personalizing the Banker’s Fate: Jake DeSantis Resigns from AIG

By Brian | March 26, 2009 | Share on Facebook

Jake DeSantis, an executive vice-president in AIG’s Financial Products Unit, has resigned from the company. Rather than giving back his retention bonus (as requested by CEO Ed Liddy and many members of Congress), he has decided to donate all of the after-tax proceeds to charities that will help those disadvantaged by the Current Financial Crisis(TM). He also sent his resignation letter to the New York Times, who printed it in their Op-Ed section.

Here’s a pull quote:

I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in

Topics: Money Talk | 12 Comments »

12 Responses to “Personalizing the Banker’s Fate: Jake DeSantis Resigns from AIG”

  1. jason says at March 26th, 2009 at 4:30 pm :
    Brian, I was going to say this on one of your earlier AIG entries, but, me being me, I procrastinated and never got around to it.

    As you know from the issue we’ve been discussing over at my blog, I share your irritation with the torches-and-pitchfork mentality, the failure of our news media to explain the nuances of big stories, and a news culture that seems to subsist on one ginned-up outrage after another. (There were some good comments on that subject at Time.com the other day; if you missed it, go here.)

    But there’s something I think you’re failing to take into account, which is that the way Wall Street people get paid is completely foreign to the vast majority of Americans, and that, as much as anything, is what’s at the root of the anger over AIG. It’s not that “the court of public opinion” is cavalier so much as it is that it’s functioning under a different paradigm.

    You recently wrote “I know I have the opportunity to earn more than my expected salary if I (and my firm) exceed expectations.” But that’s not how it is for most people. Barring either a raise or termination, the average working joe doesn’t see that much variation in their pay. They don’t have negotiated contracts (unless they’re union, which is less and less of a factor in this country) or sliding scales based on goals and conditions. The only way they can earn more than their “expected amount” is to work overtime (assuming their employer plays fair and pays overtime, which many find ways around, in my experience) or take a second job. So the idea of pay tied to corporate performance is an alien concept for many people. Even the fact that you get a salary as opposed to a wage is a disconnect. Most folks I know are paid by the hour. (Fair disclosure: I’m salaried myself, but it’s strictly a set amount — I don’t get any kind of performance bonus, or any other kind of bonus either.)

    There’s a language problem in this equation as well, especially when it comes to the word “bonus.” Wall Street, like any other industry, has a very specific lingo that doesn’t jibe for people outside the industry. Average people don’t talk about “compensation”; they get paid. And when they hear the word “bonus,” they understand it to be either a reward or a gift, not simply “another part of salary.” When they hear that banking execs are getting bonuses, they’re not hearing “contractually agreed-upon, non-sinister, honestly earned pay.” They’re hearing something very different, and very infuriating, according to their definitions.

    Don’t misunderstand; I’m not trying to antagonize you. I agree that the bonus issue has been misunderstood and way overblown. But I think it’s important to consider that one of the big contributing factors to this mess is a clash of cultures (some would use the term “class war”; I don’t know that I’d go that far). It seems to me that people in the financial industry don’t understand how different they are from everyone else in certain key respects, and in their ignorance, they keep antagonizing the mobs by just doing what they do and speaking the way they speak.

  2. jason says at March 26th, 2009 at 4:30 pm :
    sorry for the blog-entry-length comment. :)

  3. Brian says at March 26th, 2009 at 9:21 pm :
    Jason, first of all – your thoughts are very much appreciated, so feel free to say as much (or as little) as you like.

    As to the content of what you said, I think you make a very good point. In fact, I think your point is a direct outgrowth of mine. If the media’s job is to inform the public, and the public has such a strong misperception/misunderstanding of how Wall Street works, then I’d submit that the media is doing a really lousy job.

    I should also add: under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t expect most of America to know or care how Wall Street compensation works (just as I have no idea how the proofreading industry works). But if it’s front and center in the media spotlight, and Congress is passing laws to change the tax law specifically for bankers, and senators are suggesting that bankers commit suicide, then it might be time for a public tutorial on what we’re talking about here, no?

  4. jason says at March 27th, 2009 at 12:05 am :
    “it might be time for a public tutorial on what we

  5. Brian says at March 27th, 2009 at 5:13 pm :
    Agreed, Jason – I’d love to see him do the same. The thing is, we need to remember that President Obama’s goal is not to make us understand these things, but to get the policies he believe will solve our problems through Congress and enacted into law.

    I don’t say this as a criticism of President Obama, mind you, but more of a criticism of our ADD culture, where everyone talks in soundbytes, and everything needs to be over-simplified so that it happens quickly, preferrably within a single news cycle.

    There simply isn’t enough time, interest or attention to go into detail about what happened, how it happened, and why. That used to be the job of the media (remember the five W’s – who, what, when, where, why?) Today, it’s the job of bloggers like us…

    Now, I’m off to watch my site stats and see if I reach 300 million…

  6. Jeff Porten says at March 30th, 2009 at 1:56 am :
    Wow. I expect to hear opinions I don’t agree with when I come here, but it’s rare that I get to hear so much whining.

    Regarding the Op-Ed: it’s nice to know that he has come up with a suitable set of rationalizations that makes him the aggrieved party, and that he’ll be able to sleep at night.

    No, not really. Not at all surprising, though.

    Here’s the basic problem that you’re overlooking: here’s a guy whose resignation letter can get published on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. The millions of people who have lost their jobs, and whose blood is boiling when they get to the $740,000 paycheck, do not have such access.

    That’s the essential problem, Brian: the anger you’re seeing is a rebellion against the privileged class. The fact that you don’t question DeSantis’ ability to be read by millions when he voluntarily leaves his job because he feels abused, is precisely the differentiation between the way you see this problem, and the way most people do.

    (And having spent most of my political career out of the mainstream, yes, it sucks. Welcome to the club.)

    Meanwhile, as I see it, considering Obama’s constituencies, and who the people were who were out door-to-door for the man, I think he’s been remarkably even-handed in his public statements. If he wanted to sell policy, it would be far more effective if he were out in front leading the crucifixion parade, and scaring the hell out of rebellious Democrats with his massive political capital.

    Instead, he’s charting a course which is much more moderate (and which I thoroughly disagree with), attempting to prop up the system and steer through the crisis with minimal change.

    You want to believe the media isn’t telling the truth? Again, welcome to my world. The fact that anyone who cares to learn can now describe how a sub-prime mortgage pool can get sliced into differently rated investments, indicates to me that the problem is not in the reporting. What you don’t like is that they’re no longer selling your point of view, and you’ve gotten a bit too used to having the world see it your way.

    Again, welcome to the wilderness. If you’re lucky, you won’t spend as much time on the fringe as I have. If not — well, that’s why we blog.

  7. Jeff Porten says at March 30th, 2009 at 2:11 am :
  8. Brian says at March 30th, 2009 at 11:48 am :
    What you don

  9. Jeff Porten says at April 2nd, 2009 at 10:29 pm :
    Sure – I

  10. Brian says at April 3rd, 2009 at 10:48 am :
    A world where every cable news outlet obsesses on the Dow is not the only possible world to live in, and if we switch away from that kind of thinking, we

  11. Jeff Porten says at April 4th, 2009 at 1:42 am :
    These stocks are traded by institutional investors, yes, but also by the mutual funds in the 401(k)

  12. Brian says at April 5th, 2009 at 1:44 am :


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