Macaskill on markets: Lights, cameras, bankers

By:
Jon Macaskill
Published on:

If the movie version of The Big Short does prove successful, it could spur the commissioning of other banking-themed films.

lights-camera-bankers

When Rich Herman, Deutsche Bank’s head of fixed income, announced that he was leaving the firm, he framed his departure with a movie reference. "For a short period of time at least, to quote Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction, I’m going to 'walk the earth,’" Herman said in a note to employees.

His former colleague Greg Lippmann, best known for aggressive derivatives bets against US mortgages before the 2008 credit crisis, will soon upstage Herman when he is portrayed in a movie version of the book The Big Short by none other than Ryan Gosling.

The film version of the Michael Lewis book about the mortgage crisis, which will also star Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Steve Carell, is not due for release until 2016. Former co-workers at Deutsche will therefore have to wait to see whether Gosling can make the character of Lippmann at all sympathetic. 

Lippmann had a reputation for obnoxious behaviour, even in a firm that was overflowing with unpleasant traders, and at a time when Wall Street was at its manipulative worst. 

So Gosling will have his work cut out. But he is a versatile character actor who relishes a challenge and this role could be an Oscar contender if he can keep viewers interested in the trader who handed out T-shirts that read: "I’m short your house" and kept a spreadsheet of his ratings for the relative value of different sushi restaurants in New York.

Bunker

While bankers are waiting for the big screen version of The Big Short, there is surely room for another internet take on the bunker scene from Downfall, the Second World War film, this time featuring Anshu Jain, a former boss of Lippmann and Herman at Deutsche who recently resigned as the increasingly beleaguered co-CEO of the firm.

Deutsche employees have at times been unwilling to deliver bad news to Jain, who is both thin-skinned and irascible, which may help to explain why successive attempts to restructure the firm have been so poorly received by external shareholders.

Jain took greater control of the latest restructuring from his nominal co-CEO Jürgen Fitschen – who stepped down alongside Jain – just hours before Deutsche’s annual general meeting was scheduled to begin in Frankfurt on May 21. This came too late to stem the dissatisfaction of shareholders, including significant stockholder Hermes, which had already indicated that it would not back the latest reshuffling of priorities at Deutsche.

This all contributed to an air of impending disaster for the current management at the bank and would fit well with a reworking of the bunker scene, as tremulous employees deliver the news to Jain that cost-cutting measures are hurting revenues, risk-weighted assets are actually edging up not down, and shareholders are campaigning openly for new leadership at the top.

If the movie version of The Big Short does prove successful, it could spur the commissioning of other banking-themed films. Remakes are always popular in Hollywood and an adaptation of Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winning film The Departed (itself a reworking of a Hong Kong thriller) would be one option. 

Instead of Matt Damon’s character playing a criminal who infiltrates the Boston police department, a banking version could feature a lead role based on Sajid Javid, the former Deutsche banker who is now the business secretary in the UK’s Conservative government.

Could a banker who was once responsible for selling complex structured credit products that went disastrously wrong for investors really end up in charge of business policy and supervision for a major national economy? Spoiler alert: yes!

Of course, there is no reason to confine film commissions to stories based on the thrills and spills of staff from Deutsche Bank, past and present.

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JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon already does a passable impersonation of Michael Douglas in one of his roles as a man who just can’t take it anymore.

A film might work where Dimon receives one complaining phone call too many from a spotty regulator 20 years his junior, then rampages down Park Avenue kicking over falafel stands, while his driver follows slowly behind him in a limo, wondering what to do. Eventually vice-chairman Jimmy Lee is flown in from the golf course to remind Dimon that he is the Greatest Banker of All Time, and everyone gets back to work.

An Ocean’s Eleven-style heist movie featuring the lead partners of Goldman Sachs would be another option. Quick-witted charmer and specialist in sleight-of-hand magic tricks Lloyd 'The CEO’ Blankfein finds an ingenious way to carry on making outsized trading profits, even though the casino regulators in Las Vegas think they have designed a foolproof new system to curtail activity.

Little do the regulators know that Goldman has worked out how to co-ordinate its crack teams of traders without ever leaving a trace in the form of incriminating e-mails, phone calls or instant messages.

If George Clooney agrees to take the role of Blankfein he would no doubt make his own decision on whether to wear the hipster beard that Blankfein sported for a while. He would probably also decide which of his Hollywood friends to cast as his fellow heist pullers. Brad Pitt and Matt Damon might feature, though there would not be an obvious role for Julia Roberts, given that Goldman, like many investment banks, does not have any women in its ranks of senior managers.