Saturday, September 27, 2008


This year has been very strange. Beginning in 1976, I spent my entire working life in the financial industry: corporate librarian for Coopers & Lybrand, then computer technician for Bank of America. Always, keeping an eye on that entity called "Wall Street" or "the markets" - the brokerage houses, the investment banks, the New York Stock Exchange, the Dow Jones.

And now it's gone, or much of it. Coopers & Lybrand, of course, vanished in the '90s when it merged with Price Waterhouse to become PricewaterhouseCoopers, as the "Big Eight" dwindled to the "Big Five" (then the "Big Four", when Arthur Anderson imploded in the wake of the Enron scandal).

But in the last few months, "Wall Street" has - vanished. Earlier financial crises took their toll on firms that were merged or taken over, but the giants remained: Merrill Lynch. Lehman Brothers. Goldman Sachs. Morgan Stanley. Bear Sterns. They're all gone, or transformed. Merrill Lynch - sold to Bank of America. Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers - sold and dismantled. (In the case of Lehman, taking some of my money with them, damn them.) And Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, reorganizing as commercial banks. I want to be a fly on the wall at their first visit from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. I don't think their corporate culture will take it well. There are - no major investment banks left in the United States. Does that mean that what they did will never be done again? Or will new firms arise to take on the risks (and hopefully not come screaming to the taxpayers for relief when they fail)?

Even the commercial banks are going - IndyMac. Washington Mutual. At the national level there are what? Five banks left? No, four, offhand - Bank of America; Wachovia; JP Morgan Chase; Citi. Of course, there are dozens of local and regional banks left, all over the country, which are NOT falling apart - several of them are advertising actively in my local newspaper.

It's a very strange feeling. It reminds me of the strange feeling I got, earlier this year, poking around the University of California's web sites. I realized that my graduate degree (Master's of Library Science) no longer exists, and neither does the Library School that offered it. The Library School is now the Information School (I know - they still hit me up for donations), and the degree is now Master's of Library and Information Science, and the computers I turned to in my midlife crisis are now the basis of the graduate program in which I learned to type catalog cards on a huge, creaking manual typewriter (because the electric typewriters, which were available, didn't come with the appropriate bibliographic typeface, including the square brackets).

So my degree is obsolete, and the industry I worked in is gone. I guess I have to think of something else to do. I hope we're right that I don't need to find another job; it's an awful time to be looking.

1 comment:

  1. And, of course, this morning Wachovia bit the dust too. As the "bank across the street" from the former NationsBank (now Bank of America) headquarters in Charlotte, NC, Wachovia was always sort of a rival to BofA management, at least until they bought themselves up into the top league. I wonder if they're rejoicing to see it fall or wondering if they're solid themselves.