The earthquake that has devastated Haiti is not good news for anyone. But any financier worth his bonus knows that with crisis comes opportunity, and the devastation in Haiti presented just that to embattled financial institutions eager to prove they are doing "God's work," at precisely the right moment: just as the murmurings about the gargantuan size of this year's bonus pools have begun to reach a crescendo. And so it was that yesterday, a respectable two days after the initial earthquake in Haiti, all of our favorite Too Big to Fail institutions (quietly, demurely, in perfectly good taste) put out press releases detailing their good works in response to the crisis. Was part of reason they were helping out of the goodness of their hearts? Sure, but like anything else involving Wall Street, it's also a contest. So let's treat it like one.
Which financial institution comes off best? Let's review:
God's bank, Goldman Sachs, offered a total of $1 million to be spread out among the Red Cross, CARE, Doctors Without Borders, International Rescue Committee to Save the Children, and the World Food Programme. Cynics might say that's chump change — for instance, it's only 1/15th of the price of CEO Lloyd Blankfein's apartment building, for instance, or 1/70th of his 2007 salary, or 1/20,000th (I think) of the $20.2 billion the firm is expected to pay out in bonuses this year — but the firm is also matching employee donations, which, as you may recall, may be mandatory this year.
Bank of America is also matching employee contributions, and has pledged $1 million of its own money, half of which will go to the Red Cross and half of which will be earmarked for long-term recovery efforts.
Ditto for JPMorgan, although those employee contributions may not be as high as they would have been had the disaster occurred a few months ago: Despite their awesome earnings this morning, the bank has only set aside $549 million for investment-bank compensation, down 80 percent in the last quarter. Sorry, Haiti. McMortgages need to get paid.
Morgan Stanley threw $1 million in the pot since, we guess, they had to? "Our culture and history dictate that we, as a Firm, respond, new CEO James Gorman said in a weirdly mannered press release. "And we hope that today's donation will help provide a measure of comfort in the wake of such a catastrophic event." There's no mention of employee matching, but they do point out that this is in addition to the firm's annual $250,000 contribution to the American Red Cross's Annual Disaster Giving Program.
Wells Fargo, on the other hand, gave a mere $100,000, which is especially awkward considering the same press release notes that WF "is a diversified financial services company with $1.2 trillion in assets."
American Express has donated $250,000 to be spread out among the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, International Rescue Committee and the United Nations' Friends of the World Food program, will match employee donations for relief efforts, and, in response to barrels of criticism, has agreed to waive its fees on transactions to charitable organizations (Until February 2010 that is. We mean, they're nice but they're not that nice)
Oddly, it's ward of the state Citigroup, which has offices in Haiti, that appears to have one-upped everyone, at least so far. Tuesday, they chartered private aircraft and security teams to pull employees from the wreckage of the bank’s three-story office in Port-au-Prince, organized a shipment of prepackaged relief supplies through their partnership with the Pan American Development Foundation, and have pledged $2 million to relief efforts. "The people of Haiti are enduring an unthinkable loss," CEO Vikram Pandit said in a statement yesterday. "We continue to look for other opportunities to assist the people of Haiti." Maybe Sandy Weill could send his private jet?
Banks Set for Record Pay [WSJ]