Wall Street Workers Bank on a Federal Future

By Tomoeh Murakami Tse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 25, 2009

NEW YORK, April 24 -- The executives lining up early for an all-day job fair worked, or had worked, at investment banks, brokerages and hedge funds. Yet as they filed into the granite lobby of a midtown high-rise Friday, résumés in hand, they were not arriving to schmooze with representatives from Goldman Sachs or Blackstone.

No, these candidates -- some attending on the sly from their six-figure-salary jobs, concerned they might soon be out of work -- were eager to meet regulators and recruiters from 13 government agencies, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Such an early-morning turnout of several hundred people was emblematic of a single significant change: the degree to which financial power has recently shifted from Wall Street to Washington.

As thousands of New York's financial professionals have lost their jobs since the economic crisis began two years ago, many federal agencies -- backed by stimulus spending -- are in hiring mode for programs intended to help stimulate the economy. And the government increasingly is reaching into the private sector to fill its employment needs.

In hearings on the Hill, blame for the financial crisis has frequently been placed upon credit analysts, mortgage traders and MBAs. Yet now, instead of considering them part of the problem, government agencies hope they can be part of the solution.

Patrick Moynihan, a former junior trader on the mortgage desk at Citigroup before being laid off 10 months ago, listened intently to a recruiter from the FDIC.

"They're actually fixing problems instead of just looking at the next quarterly earnings," Moynihan, 28, said of the agency. "I think I would definitely get something out of that."

The government job fair, held by the New York Society of Security Analysts, attracted 500 people over two sessions -- the event's capacity. More job-seekers were turned away, organizers said.

Ken Laudano, 44, a director who dealt with complex securities at German bank WestLB AG until he was laid off last year, found the turnout both reassuring and daunting.

"In a weird kind of way, it was almost comforting that I was not alone," said Laudano, who has two young children. "It's also scary because there's so many other qualified people."

The longest lines snaked toward booths for the SEC, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC. Freebies included hand-size foam stress-relievers in the shape of the Capitol. The Social Security Administration offered nail files that read "Retiring? File online" and lip balms that said "Apply online."

"It's a good market to be hiring [in] right now," said Andrew Gray, a spokesman for the FDIC, which has been hiring steadily as it oversees bank seizures. "We want to leverage that and bring in qualified employees who have the necessary skills to help see the FDIC through this period of crisis."

Everett Lo, who was manning the booth at the Social Security Administration, was impressed with the talent pool. The agency is allocating part of its stimulus-package funding for hiring.

"There's a high concentration of multi-degree candidates," Lo said. "I've seen law degrees, MBAs, PhDs."

Many of the younger job applicants said they had not previously considered public service but had changed their minds after watching the Obama administration announce its government rescue programs.

"I just thought that with all the turmoil, it'll be exciting to be in government, where you can actually affect policy," said Anne Thimsen, 29, a business school student from Iowa who flew in for the job fair. "And, they're actually hiring."

Prakash Shahani, 34, said that although he is content with his job as an investment adviser at a major brokerage firm, he feels compelled to move on.

"I love what I do, but I want to do more," said Shahani, who is engaged. He is willing to take a sharp pay cut from his six-figure salary because "it's not the money," he says. "It's doing the right thing -- making sure this never happens again."

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