Value investor Guy Spier, a Warren Buffett disciple and founder of Zurich-based Aquamarine Fund, said that he might have served the world a lot better had he studied something else in school.
“I think that I might have served the world a lot better if I had gone and done engineering because I would have ended up maybe making something,” Spier said, “And instead all I do is manipulate claims of society.”
Speaking to a room of students at the MIT Sloan Investment Conference on Friday, he posed a question to the room of students:
“Do we need as many people in finance as we have and would the world be better served if we could make half of the minds that are in finance and have them go build bridges and do things in the real world?”
“Quite possibly,” he said, “But that’s now how the world works.”
In other words, people have a choice where they want to go and what they want to do. That’s capitalism. Yes, there may be an oversupply of talent in certain sectors, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice to go into finance.
“It is what it is,” he said.
In the wake of the financial crisis, financial services has developed a bad reputation in the eyes of the average citizen, and justifiably so. That said, it’s important that those going into the industry bring real value to their profession.
He said (emphasis ours):
“I’ll leave you with this point — Anybody who comes into the financial world, I don’t feel like I caused the financial crisis…I’m certain that I didn’t. I wasn’t bundling up CDOs, I wasn’t giving triple-A ratings….But you know what? From the perspective of the average citizen in the United States or all over the world, they did not make the distinction. As far as they’re concerned, I am just another one of those people who caused the financial crisis. I am just another one of those people who received bailouts from central banks. And I think that we have lost some kind of sense of moral responsibility the financial industry should feel towards the country or towards the people that make it possible. And I think that I would like to believe that enough people like me say what I am saying, that the next generation of people who participate in the financial markets will constantly be thinking, ‘In what ways is what I’m doing serving the broader society or is this important for society or am I worsening the civilisation?‘ So for example…I can at least try and charge lower fees than the other people who are participating in this industry or I can do my very best to help people who might have never invested in equities to invest in equities…That is a very very small and minor way, but it’s still some effect. And I will tell you, there are many people who participate in the financial markets today who have no freaking interest in what they’re doing to serve the public good. They’re just greedy Gordon Gekkos, I guess. And I’d like to believe that we can take the world to a place where there’s less of that.”