Goldman Sachs (GS)
emerged from the financial crisis as one of the strongest financial institutions still standing but also one of the most scrutinized villains to the outraged public, Congress and even its own clients.
"I know I could slit my wrists and people would cheer," Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein famously told The Times of London in 2009.
Last July, Goldman agreed to pay
the Securities and Exchange Commission
a $550 million fine for charges of withholding information on the subprime mortgage products backing securities investors flocked to during the housing bubble. It was the largest fine ever levied by the SEC, and yet, Goldman skirted ever having to admit wrongdoing.
The fallout from the collateralized debt obligation ABACUS 2007-AC1 and lavish compensation to executives includes continued public outcry, litigation from investors
and more investigations
. Goldman's reputational damage is overshadowed only by the latest scandal in other realms of the mortgage universe from robo-signers
. And the financial giant faltered there, too, when its subsidiary Litton Loan Servicing suspended foreclosures
to resubmit affidavits.
But Tuesday, Goldman unveiled a plan to salvage its reputation. Some who measure such things in dollars and cents would argue it didn't have to considering it earned another $1.9 billion in the third quarter of 2010.
Pageantry or not, the plan (found here
) is the culmination of an eight-month review by Goldman's own business standards committee into "every major business, region and activity of the firm." It hired two consulting companies to help, and the end result is a 63-page report with 39 recommendations for changing how Goldman operates.
One of the highest priorities was given to strengthening client relationships by implementing a new committee to focus on how it treats its accounts and evaluating current employees who interact with them. It is even "desegregating" its trading and principal investments division into two segments, separating those who do handle the clients and those who handle the investments.
To improve its reputation, the committee recommended strengthening standards for reviewing and approving documentation of secured products and how they are evaluated for their clients. Another is to enhance the disclosure of how each unit originates securities.
The committee also made recommendations for training and professional development and even how employees are evaluated for incentives.
"The firm must make clear the link between the behavior expected of its people and the recognition used to encourage it. This is critically important because it signals broadly the way we expect people to behave and conduct business," the committee recommended.
Goldman said the recommendations will strengthen its culture, and even attempts reconciliation with its clients going forward:
"In particular, our approach must be: not just 'can we' undertake a given business activity, but 'should we.'"
Write to Jon Prior
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