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What Do Occupy Wall Street Protesters Want?


Occupy Wall Street is in its second month of protest, and the frustration with financial big wigs continues to grow. Tomorrow's protesters will track 11 miles from Upper Manhattan to Lower Manhattan, ending in Zuccotti Park, the place where it all started seven weeks ago. They're calling the walk End to End for 99%.

These events are becoming a familiar sight to bankers looking down from their high-rise windows onto the tent city below. But what's Wall Street really thinking about the so-called 99 percent just outside their offices?

I reached out to Mike Mayo. He's a bank analyst at Credit Agricole Securities and has worked at six different Wall Street firms. But don't be fooled by his resume. He's also a longtime critic of banking companies. Mayo recently made the trip to Zuccotti Park for a little informal research.

MIKE MAYO: And I wore my dark blue banker suit. They might remember me for that reason. I went to the anarchist information table and I had a conversation with the person on the other side of the table and learned a little bit about anarchy and that person learned a little bit about where I was coming from. It was a very pleasant conversation. I didn't feel threatened, and I didn't feel that capitalism would be threatened by the anarchy information table.

Having said that, I do think a greater threat to capitalism is from some of the behavior of the largest bank CEOs. In fact, I think some of the largest bank CEOs pay plans is more of a threat to capitalism than the anarchist I spoke to at the information table at Occupy Wall Street.

SULLIVAN: What are you hearing behind closed doors? How are bankers and those on Wall Street responding to the protest?

MAYO: As frustrated as many in the country are, I actually find many people frustrated on Wall Street too. And, in fact, speaking to several individuals, they were extremely upset about the behavior of the few on Wall Street who have painted the industry as a whole. So it's tough to paint all the bankers with the same brush.

SULLIVAN: Do you think that Americans are so enraged by the constant news of big bonuses and bailouts that it has somewhat masked the actual critical function that Wall Street does in the country?

MAYO: I held a survey and I went down to Occupy Wall Street, and I asked what percent of Wall Street do you think adds value to our economy? And the answers were around 10 percent to 20 percent. The protesters thought there was some function. Then I went around the office and talked to some investors in New York and asked them the same question, and they said 80 percent.

So there's a huge disconnect between the value perceived by the Wall Streeters that I talked to at least - it was an informal survey - and the people at Occupy Wall Street. And I do think that there's a disconnect here. I mean, the U.S. system still allocates capital very well. We still have the largest economy in the world.

Having said that, I feel as though the momentum we've had for the last few generations is waning to some degree, and that's ultimately my concern. So I don't feel like the banking industry is responsible for all the problems, but there's many chefs in the crisis kitchen.

SULLIVAN: Mike, do you think that Wall Street is the right target for these protestors?

MAYO: Wall Street and banks and the financial system have contributed to the problems. There's no question about that. But the problem is a lot bigger than the banks themselves, and the regulatory environment has, in some cases, gotten ridiculous. Instead of a whole lot of new regulations, let's simply enforce what's been on the books for a while and let's hold the CEOs accountable. And you've had prior laws and regulations that do that. They just haven't been enforced.

So in many ways, I can almost sympathize with a bit of the outrage expressed by Occupy Wall Street, but at the same time, maybe it should be termed Occupy Congress because that's where you've had a lack of leadership. And we all hate uncertainty, indecision and politics over economics, and that's what we have. So, yeah, I'm all for an Occupy Congress.

SULLIVAN: That's Mike Mayo. He's a bank analyst at Credit Agricole Securities and author of "Exile on Wall Street: One Analyst's Fight to Save the Big Banks from Themselves." He's been speaking to me from our studios in New York. Mike Mayo, thanks so much.

MAYO: Sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.