The following is a guest opinion on Goldman Sachs by Lior Arussy, president of Strativity Group, a global customer experience research and consulting firm. Arussy also is author of "Customer Experience Strategy -- The Complete Guide From Innovation to Execution."
The media circus surrounding last week's testimony of
chief Lloyd Blankfein and his cadre of lieutenants on Capitol Hill would be comical if the absurdity of it weren't so profound.
The senators who questioned them and the American public that watched seem to have placed the blame for the mortgage meltdown on the shoulders of the bankers who sat impassively before the cameras.
The Goldman Sachs contingency believed otherwise...and they should have.
Goldman Sachs is in the business of creative packaging. It pulls together financial instruments to sell to people who can afford them.
Some of the products the firm 'packages' are more complicated than others -- certainly a collateralized debt obligation meets that criterion -- but Goldman Sachs is in the business of packaging and selling.
For the senators on the committee to huff and puff (and curse) in an effort to coerce Goldman's executives to admit culpability for selling toxic packages is disingenuous. Granted, taking a short position against the housing bubble was a surefire money maker and on the face seems ethically questionable, but Goldman Sachs is not a charitable organization -- nor should it be treated as one.
The first rule of positive customer relationships is the notion of mutual trust. Goldman Sachs' assertion they did everything by the book may be factual, but how many of its customers actually understood the book in the first place? The burden here lies with Goldman. The "old school of customer relations" would have cried "caveat emptor," but here
does not apply. The products Goldman sold were too complicated for the majority of its customers to understand and the firm should be held accountable.
Additionally, Goldman Sachs did not welcome the millions of new customers (the American people) it acquired when it sold the former mortgages (aka toxic assets)
when it accepted a loan of $10 billion from the American people. If we want to be upset about something, let it be this.
Goldman Sachs executives won't see it that way because they've already repaid the loan with interest -- but they should.
The negative perception being foisted upon the firm by its new and infinitely more egalitarian customer base is partially due to the arrogant behavior of the executives who testified last week. The soft shoe responses to the profane email queries and the banal demeanor clearly did not endear the firm to the public. On the contrary, the executives gave the senators exactly what they wanted - a target.
The Many Faces of Lloyd Blankfein
All of this could have been avoided. Mr. Blankfein could have nipped this customer perception nightmare in the bud by first acknowledging that the American public was a new and welcomed member of his firm's clientele and then admitting accountability for the short position his firm took on the toxic assets.
Yes, Goldman found a nifty way of betting against the market but the average American didn't see it that way. On Main Street, it looked like greed.
The rarified ecosystem occupied by Goldman Sachs, where $10 million gets you a seat at the table, has changed. Affable arrogance works only when everyone belongs to the same club. It works less well when the new club members were forced to join to keep the affably arrogant afloat.
Furthermore, accountability is required of those to whom much is given. The American public demands this first and foremost...and they deserve it.
Here is my suggestion to Mr. Blankfein -- be accountable.
Take ownership for the confusion. Apologize for the behavior of your employees and recognize the newly expanded customer ecosystem. Avoid confusing and complex products or set clear guidelines to ensure customers fully understand the risks involved with the products.
Let the American people, who are now a part of the firm, know they made a wise decision in agreeing to the bailout. A little humility goes a long way. Who knows? Maybe they'll even forget about the short position on the housing bubble.