For some, the show must go on

January 30, 2009

Just as interesting as the absence of many of the bankers who would normally be expected to be at the WEF meeting in Davos is those who are here.

Leaving aside the home team of Credit Suisse (which has maintained a relatively high-profile) and UBS (which hasn’t), the most senior bankers in town – at least the ones still putting on a show – are Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, and Stephen Green, chairman of HSBC Group.

Both are among the very few bankers who have appeared on panels at the event.

It should be no surprise that the Jamie and Steve show has gone on. Their institutions are perhaps the two best placed survivors of the mess that is the global financial system and their high-profile attendance in Davos sends out a particular message: “for us, it’s business as usual”.

More than that, their presence tells the world not to lump them together with the debt beats and Davos deserters who didn’t dare show their faces for fear of how it would look on the front page of the New York Post or the Daily Mail.

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I can’t imagine it being “business as usual” for any commercial banker in 2009, and perhaps beyond. While the U.S. government has yet to make any private bank a fully public owned entity, many of the survivors are still in business directly due to generous government loans.

Any notion that these people are in control of their business fate is clearly a facade to assure those who need assurance. If history has taught us anything, it’s that people believe what they want to believe — even in the face of evidence that obviously proves otherwise.