INVESTOR: Wall Street's Masters of the Universe are now just 'service providers'

There was a time when Wall Street’s activities made up one of the most dynamic parts of the U.S. economy.

Fortunes were made. Young traders secured multi-million dollar bonuses. Banks regularly made, and then lost, billions of dollars.

The dynamism has been hampered, in part, by post-financial crisis regulation requiring banks to reduce debt, stop trading with their own money, and cut down on risk across the board.

Now, in the words of OppenheimerFunds chief investment officer Krishna Memani, Wall Street banks have become nothing more than service-providers. OppenheimerFunds manages more than $US220 billion.

“Effectively, it has made more financial institutions more utility-like,” Memani told Business Insider, referring to financial regulation like the Dodd-Frank Act.

“It’s a service that you’re providing, rather than a really dynamic part of the economy.”

That is, the banks are still doing what they’re supposed to do — advising on deals, raising capital, selling bonds — but they’re no longer full of the risk-taking, money-making superstars they once were.

By disallowing banks from trading securities, derivatives, or commodities with their own funds — and by limiting the amount of debt banks can hold in relation to capital — the new rules have pushed risky activity out of investment banks.

“They have made capital markets the source of risk capital rather than banks as the source of risk capital.”

That has ultimately made the banking system safer, though there is some debate over whether that might have made financial markets riskier.

What isn’t in question is that Wall Street is a whole lot less sexy than it once was.

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