When you really need to know: “Open the Kimono” (photo: barbwire.com)
“Open Kimono” or “Open the Kimono”, verb phrase, to reveal tightly held information.
Usage Note: This sultry expression is one of the few financial phrases that is not over-used to the point of absurdity. It therefore carries a slight element of surprise when the big-time operator slings this verbalism from his word kit. The business and finance lot are often searching for an angle of advantage or edge (or just trying to not get screwed over) when it comes to their business dealings and transactions. Likewise, investors diligencing a potential opportunity desire deeply to know what the seller knows about the asset for sale. When dealing with counterparties in these settings, there are approved customs and norms that have been created so as to satisfy the “need to know”.
Bud Fox News has a mole at a large money management firm. More stealthy than your typical SAC analyst/insider-trader, he was able to film, in sub rosa fashion, his portfolio manager boss when he sat down with Father O’Callahan to review the local Catholic Church’s investment portfolio. In a moment of refreshing honesty, the PM confesses to the holy man that he hornswoggles most of his customers. The world-weary O’Callahan is unfazed by the PM’s avarice, patiently absolves him of his sins, and then teaches him a lesson about Satan’s return and the confusing nature of bankerspeak. Enjoy:
Bankers turned Lumbersexuals: This man worked at Lehman Brothers in 2008 (photo: thefashiontag.com)
“Wood to Chop”, noun phrase, as used in high finance and big business, this idiom is an alternative way to say “work” and nearly always has the descriptor “a lot of” preceding the phrase.
Usage Note: Smart finance and business types often put on a lot of show to exude confidence and display their intellectual horsepower. Using fancy and pithy phrases is one way they attempt to bedazzle their colleagues and customers; to cast a spell on them in an effort to maintain power in their relationships and interactions. But inside, they are often ill at ease with themselves and their lack of physical stature, having been chained to a desk and stuffed inside a cubicle for many years doing their time while hoping for an eventual payday. They have atrophied into hunch-backed, monitor-tanned zombies who couldn’t survive a week in the wild if the power went out. For the male homo sapien whose evolutionary DNA has wired him to be hunting for food, fighting and killing enemies, and moving giant boulders around to create some kind of calendar, this is rather emasculating. To compensate, these big shots hurl verbal abuse at their underlings, talk like jocks in the locker room, and use phrases like “wood to chop” in place of “work” because it sounds like actually doing work, as opposed to typing numbers in a spreadsheet which, well, isn’t very manly from an evolutionary perspective.
Using a cell phone camera as deftly as a selfie-snapping Kardashian and showing undercover ability that would be the envy of any drunk-driving, hooker-patronizing Secret Service agent, one of our readers secretly filmed two colleagues babbling away in bankerspeak. He was kind enough to send us the video, in which the poor sucker on the left appears to be getting set up for an all-nighter by his French-cuffed, Rolex-wristed boss. As you’ll see, there are unintended consequences to trying to sound like a big shot around those unfamiliar with Wall Street lingo (we wrote about the ghastly and baffling use of the verb “ask” as a noun here). And at the very end, you’ll notice that even the little dog walks away from these two.
They’ll never admit it, but managing directors love nothing more than a good dog and pony show. (Photo: silverdoctors.com)
Dog and Pony Show, noun phrase, according to Merriam-Webster: an often elaborate public relations or sales presentation; also, an overblown affair or event. Usage note: Although many senior bankers would never admit it, they all love a good dog and pony show. A catch-all expression, it aptly describes many of the silly presentations that bankers crank out and actually believe rank higher than brain surgery in importance and difficulty. A good example is a road show, which is a series of presentations given to professional investors by the management team of a company that is issuing securities (for example, an initial public offering). It gets its name because management and the lead underwriter (simply put, “the lead” in banker parlance) literally go on the road like a bunch of Bible-selling hucksters, hitting all major US cities (and Europe if it’s a real boondoggle) in attempt to drum up interest in their deal by rhapsodically talking up the company’s prospects while walking the truth/lie knife edge, a game that everyone involved- pitcher and pitchee- tacitly understands. They do big group breakfasts and lunches in fancy hotel dining rooms; they do “one-on-ones” every hour at investors’ offices that run the interior design gamut from Caligula-esque to monk-like affairs in strip malls (the range of offices stocked with everything from super model manqué secretaries to 300-pound bearded ladies who refuse to get coffee); they do small group dinners at high-end bistros; and they squeeze into low-end conference rooms during any down time for “calls” with investors who just can’t bear the prospect of seeing these people face-to-face. At a breakneck pace, they travel by plane, taxi, “black car” or rental, subway, railroad…whatever method will deliver them to an investor who’s got enough excess cash and a half hour open on his schedule. Continue reading
If you’re the portfolio manager who’s invested in a NCAA bond, call a headhunter. (Photo: pixgood.com)
“NCAA,” adjective, an acronym for “no coupon at all.” Usage note: When one considers that Wall Street is full of people with fancy educations, it’s disheartening that most finance lingo is so dreadful; one expects more from all those Ivy League degrees. Yet one must give credit where it’s do and admit that finance blowhards really caught lightening in a bottle when they coined “NCAA”; it’s an an exquisite piece of lingo. Continue reading
Financial storytellers captivate their audience with tall tales of success. (Photo: Library of Congress)
“Story”, noun, a narrative of incidents or events.
Usage Note: More than simply a tale of history, in High Finance a story can be either backward- or forward- looking and is often used to justify an action taken or that should be taken; an investment, a trade, or a sales pitch looking for a buyer. It becomes a construct used to convince one’s self and others that a decision being made will not result in the loss of money.
Every corner of finance has it’s own story it likes to hear. The amazing thing is, the desired story for any given subculture is so predictably similar, that after a while it doesn’t take much intelligent or creative thought to deliver the story people want to hear. The same six or eight bullet points (surrounded by flatulent big-talk and fancy words) will usually satisfy the requirements of the supposedly discerning audience. Continue reading
In Finance land, there’s no such thing as a good haircut unless you’re the barber (Photo: galleryhip.com)
“Hair Cut”: verb phrase, in business and finance, to receive less than the amount due or expected on a financial obligation or investment (i.e. application of a discount to an amount owed or return anticipated).
Usage Note: Sharing some similarities with the gem of a phrase “Take a Hit”, this well-worn financial idiom is more versatile, and more widely used. When you think about it, the haircut is a strange behavior unique to the human animal. Humans share 97% (or whatever) of our DNA with chimpanzees and although you’ll see a lot of people acting like monkeys, particularly in finance, you’ll never see monkeys getting a haircut. But we humans just love getting our haircut. Something very relaxing and rejuvenating about someone tugging on your mane and snipping at it in tiny increments with a sharp pair of scissors.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with financial lingo, “haircut” has become an overused substitute for “discount” and as such has made its way into all forms of conversation where it really has no business being. Finance geeks throw the term around for anything from a sale at Barney’s to short-changing a friend when repaying for last weekend’s bender. Continue reading
Like Maxwell Smart’s concealed phone, the spying deal-man will conceal his “project”
“Project Falcon”, noun phrase, a characteristic code name for any confidential proceeding, such as a potential merger, take-over, leveraged buy-out, or other financial transaction. Usage Note: When bankers are working on their latest deal, rather than talk about the companies involved directly, they like to make up a code name to use in lieu of the actual situation. So on their computer hard drive when they’re working on a deal for say, Sears acquiring Target, they’ll name that engagement and file, for example, “Project Falcon”. In the rarefied world of private equity, investment banking and even asset management, the protagonists like to think of themselves as tough, street smart, military-like combatants. They fancy themselves generals on a field of battle with troops arrayed and lives at stake. One manifestation of this pathology comes in the form of project code names. Not unlike Military Operation code names, project code names have a sophisticated, covert ring to them. The primary difference is, there’s nothing so serious at stake as the financiers would like to believe. Continue reading
When a banker says, “That’s a big ask,” don’t be confused. (Photo: popopics.com)
“Ask,” noun, a request. Usage note: Upon being asked by an unreasonable client, at say 5 p.m., for 23 hours worth of work to be delivered at 9 a.m. the next morning, an investment banker might say to the “deal team,” “Wow, that’s a really big ask.” This simple example, that is, the use of the verb “ask” as a noun, beautifully exposes the pathology and just plain weirdness of finance lingo and the workaholics who embrace it.
According to Constant Agony, the Jesse Jackson Professor of Linguistics at State Normal School for Women at Harrisonburg, who has served as a a translator in countless insider trading cases: Continue reading