Compliance and Liar’s Poker

Michael Lewis has written some great stuff on our most recent financial crisis: The Big Short, Iceland’s Meltdown, Greece and Corruption, and Popping the Irish Bubble. This was not his first rodeo. Lewis had a brief career in finance working as a London-based bond salesman for Solomon Brothers during the mid eighties. His finance career came to crashing halt in 1988 just after the big stock market crash of 1987. He tells his tales of finance and the excesses of Wall Street in Liar’s Poker.

Lewis covers the birth of the mortgage securitization market and trading of mortgages at Solomon Brothers. The firm dominated the market for a few years. They helped shepherd through the regulatory changes and convinced the bankers at S&Ls to buy and sell their mortgages. They essentially created greater liquidity in the American housing market. This would grow tremendously over the next twenty years, leading to the events Lewis later documents in The Big Short.

As a young, inexperienced, and mostly incompetent bond salesman, Lewis mostly screws his customers selling them bad products. But it was good for Solomon Brothers. It was good for his wallet. Wall Street greed is on full display.

It’s eerie reading this book, realizing that it was not 2008, but 1986. The book is not as good as The Big Short, but is still a very good book. I think it’s important to look back to make sure we don’t keep making the same mistakes.