Optimism runs deep with young Wall Street

College students aspiring to work on Wall Street will be flocking to Dayton, Ohio this week for the RISE student-investment conference (Redefining Investment Strategy Education), where they will get to put their investment savvy to the test and meet some experienced Wall Streeters and other financial professionals. Before the conference, we asked them what they thought of Wall Street's reputation as "evil" and why they still wanted to work there. Here are some of the answers we received, loaded with optimism, aspiration and drive.

A scene from "The Wolf of Wall Street" starring Leonardo DiCaprio
Source: Thewolfofwallstreet.com
A scene from "The Wolf of Wall Street" starring Leonardo DiCaprio

Between the financial crisis, insider trading and other scandals, Wall Street has developed a reputation as "evil." Do you think that's fair? Why do you still want to work on Wall Street?

Wall Street isn't evil

I don't believe evil is a good description of Wall Street. Have there been problems? Absolutely. But the fact is that the stories that sell, the movies that get watched ("Wolf of Wall Street" for instance) are the ones with drama.There is no drama in a good man doing a good thing like every other day. The story about the one guy who made millions by doing bad things (Madoff for example) is a far more interesting story that's going to be blown up by the media. Not to call out the media on this — writing the stories that sell makes sense.

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I still want to work on Wall Street for two reasons. The first is that the work excites me. M&A, venture capital, strategic transactions — those excite me. I nerd out about it. The second is working on Wall Street means I can best reach my goals for the future. As a professional, I want to spend time in investment banking and all it has to offer. As for a personal goal I hope to carry on my father's charity. I was brought up to help people, I believe Wall Street will best help me carry out these goals.

— Mike Brienza, Rowan University

Being on Wall Street? That means success to me

Wall Street, like any industry, may have its bad apples, but it's wrong to assume the entire batch is infested with worms. Wall Street allows companies to turn international overnight, while dually supporting our economic growth. Because of Wall Street, banks are able to securitize their debts and liabilities, and provide loans to help businesses start and develop. With our country's recently amended Dodd-Frank regulations, we can use this process without the catastrophic results of the 2008 collapse. Just recently, the Federal Reserve issued mandatory stress tests on banks to test their resilience in a faltering market. Out of thirty banks, only one bank failed the test. As long as our economy doesn't fall victim to, "irrational exuberance" in any extreme sort, Wall Street is promoting the essence of capitalism, not destroying the American dream.

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Working on Wall Street has always been part of my dream. Waking up at 6 a.m. in themorning to check the futures, and following my trades up until the opening bell has been part of my routine since my junior year in high school. Wall Street contains some of the nation's brightest minds, most of which I look up to and follow. Working alongside these traders, and eventually becoming that role model is my view of success.

— Casey Barry, Fairfield University

Investors have a responsibility here, too—to be informed

Popular media has definitely been portrayed as evil. I am torn on the fairness of the allegations. On one hand, there have been unethical activities on Wall Street, but hasn't every industry faced its share of scandals? Under those circumstances, we tend to place the blame on the company and/or the individual at fault, but Wall Street has been blamed on the aggregate for every mistake or misrepresentation that has taken placed within the broader "industry." The financial crisis was an economy-wide tragedy, buts its blame falls solely on Wall Street.

It is true that many innocent individuals were hurt financially by the crisis and the individual scandals, but I believe it is the public's responsibility to be informed in their investments. If I am investing in a security, it is my duty to understand exactly what that security is and how it functions. Throwing money at a wall and hoping to stick more than you threw is unreasonable. Investing is more than just an infusion of money; it also requires time and resources.

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Additionally, I think we must hold individuals and firms responsible for their actions, as opposed to assigning Wall Street as a scapegoat.I still want to work on Wall Street, because I don't blame the institution. I think Wall Street is a necessary instrument, and a great one if used correctly.

— Morgan Lewis, Ball State University

I hope to bring a 'more ethically'-minded approach to Wall Street

Wall Street has a bad reputation. The economic crisis of 2008, insider trading, and other scandals have tarnished the financial command center's image in the eyes of its stakeholders. It is easy to assign blame to an entire system, rather than the perpetrators who belonged to it. We live in a world where there is a louder call for business, financial and industrial, to adhere to the triple-bottom line. It is important to understand that, while there are unethical professionals in a sector, this does not mean the sector itself is unethical.

American business, as an idea, is transitioning. There have long been issues with companies,or rather executives within companies, prioritizing short-term profit over long-term prosperity. More and more, organizations like the SEC are taking measures to promote long-run financial solvency of a business. What is commonly associated with favorable financial performance, as well as greater investor loyalty, is corporate social responsibility. As new regulations develop to promote decision-making that favors long-term growth of a business, as well as effective stakeholder management, every industry is going to have to re-evaluate its practices. Wall Street, as the heart of global finance, will be subject to greater legal and social scrutiny going forward. Despite this, it does not deserve the bad reputation it gets. Rather, it can bethought of as a part of an industry adapting to new legal and social norms.

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As an aspiring professional, I hope to bring a more ethically and socially-minded approach to global finance practices. Businesses and economies depend too heavilyon Wall Street to have their finances jeopardized by irresponsible decision-making. By doing my part to keep the firm in the black regarding its triple-bottom line, I hope to foster the success of global finance, and its stakeholders.

Shane Kennedy, University of Michigan-Dearborn

It's just like Warren Buffett said

I truly believe that a few bad men can ruin the perception of an entire industry overnight. As Warren Buffett says, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it." I think that equally applies to an entire industry. Whether it's BP's oil spill and the negative impact it had on the entire oil exploration industry, or the recent financial crises and the impact it had on the perception of Wall Street. Banks have always faced harsh criticisms for appearing greedy, but it has certainly gotten worse in recent years. Many people forget that they're living in a home and driving a car that they would be unable to afford had it not been for a bank willing to lend them tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I think taxpayers are more than justified in having a critical view of Wall Street, and subsequently of their government, after the recent financial meltdown. When the government steps in to bail out failing companies, they are essentially rewarding them for assuming too much risk, and do so at the expense of taxpayer dollars. It also sets a nasty precedent going forward where the government will be expected to bail out "too big to fail" companies the next time they are in trouble. With the current environment of arbitrarily low interest rates over a prolonged period with moderate growth, the next bubble may not be too far off the horizon as investors look for riskier securities to attain a "reasonable" return.

I still want to work on Wall Street because I think there is still room left in this world for ethical decision makers to have their voices be heard. It's easy to throw in the towel and shrug off Wall Street as being evil, but that won't accomplish anything. Change has to come from each individual worker.

— Thomas L. Carr, Loras College

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