Goldman Sachs steps back from casino banking

The Vampire Squid launches a private bank for wealthy clients

Liz Rappaport, the Wall Street Journal:

Goldman Sachs is building an in-house bank to lend money to wealthy people and companies, in a significant shift that underlines the harsh business climate facing Wall Street since the financial crisis.

The New York securities firm, known for its aggressive trading and big corporate deal-making, is ramping up its activities to become a private bank to serve wealthy customers around the world. The new unit will also lend more directly to corporations, some of whom already make investments and do business with Goldman. Executives have set a goal of $100 billion in loans, up from $12 billion at the end of March.

Ever since the financial crisis, so-called "casino banking" has been a very unpopular area to be in. The actual practice itself was frequently condemened, for causing unsustainable booms in food and oil prices, as well as leading to the sort of attitude which caused the crash, where complex financial instruments were traded with little regard to fundamentals causing spiralling valuations which eventually got out of control.

But as well as casino banking being unpopular for what it is, it's unpopular for its relationship to regular banking. The idea is similar to that of "too big to fail", but the fear is that casino banks which also take consumer deposits are thus underwritten by the taxpayer, in the form of deposit insurance. It is for this reason that there are calls, in both Britain and the US, to split the former from the latter, or to allow banks to gamble, but not with customers' money. This latter requirement, the Volcker Rule, is what JP Morgan is suspected to have been bending in their disastrous "London Whale" trade.

Goldman Sachs' private bank is unlikely to fall on the retail side of any such divide, however. It's customers' deposits will be well in excess of the amount covered by insurance, so there will be little incentive for it to hamstring its activities. But its a long way to go to rehabilitate the Vampire Squid.

A vampire squid.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Why Theresa May is a smuggler's best friend when it comes to child refugees

Children prefer to disappear than trust the authorities.

On Monday, Theresa May abolished the post of minister for Syrian Refugees. On Tuesday, a House of Lords select committee report found there were 10,000 migrant and refugee children missing in the EU, of which Britain is still technically a part. And smugglers across the continent raised a glass.

Children do not stay still. In 2013, Missing Children Europe reported that half of unaccompanied children placed in reception centres vanished within the next 48 hours. One explanation is that they fall prey to the usual villains – pimps and gangs. 

But there is another explanation. Refugee and migrant children have so little trust in the authorities that they would rather disappear and put their faith in the underworld. 

One reason for this is that under EU law, asylum seekers are returned to their first point of entry, which is likely to be an overcrowded Greek port rather than a city with education facilities and job prospects. 

Children will go to extreme measures to disappear. The report noted:

“We were particularly troubled to hear of children in Italy and Greece burning or otherwise damaging their fingertips in order to avoid registration, in many cases because they were afraid of being detained or forcibly returned to transit countries having reached their final destination.”

Children are also desperate to find their families. The EU’s Family Reunification Directive should in theory reunite families who have successfully sought asylum, but the UK has opted out of it (and now the EU altogether). Other EU member states have moved to restrict it. The UK has opted into the Dublin Regulation, which allows for family reunification. 

This is partly due to a suspicion that family reunification acts as an incentive for families to send children first, alone. But the report found no evidence of that. Rather, it is usually a case of parents trying to protect their children by sending them out of a dangerous situation. 

The process can be achingly uncertain and slow. Smugglers understand how impatient children are. Two MEPs told the select committee about the port in Malmö, Sweden:

"Traffickers await the arrival of minors, telling them that: 'Well, we can get you to your family much quicker than if you go through the system here' and that 'Getting a guardian will take ages, and then they do the age assessment, which is intrusive. Don’t do that. Just go there, call this guy, take this mobile and they’ll take care of you.'”

In his brief time as Syrian Refugees minister, Richard Harrington brought the topic of unaccompanied minors to MPs again and again. He promised to improve the speed at which applications under the Dublin Regulation were processed. On 13 June he told MPs: “We are doing our absolute best to speed it up as much as we can.”

His role has now been absorbed into the Home Office. No. 10 described it as a temporary position, one no longer needed now the resettlement programme was underway. When the UK finally triggers Article 50 and begins Brexit, it can also leave its EU obligations behind as well. May, the former Home secretary, voted against allowing in 3,000 child refugees.

This does not bode well for asylum policy in Brexit Britain. Meanwhile, with no fast legal route to family unification, smugglers can look forward to the kind of bumper profits they enjoyed in 2015

The consequences can be fatal. Masud, a 15-year-old unaccompanied Afghan, travelled to Calais in the hope of reaching his sister in the UK under the family reunification rules. 

As the report put it: “Masud died in the back of a lorry while trying to reach the UK just before the New Year, having lost hope that his claim to join his sister would ever be heard.”