Updated Friday, October 31, 2014 as of 12:32 PM ET

Wall Street Seeing Biggest Return Since 2003 as Employees Suffer

The industry’s lack of popular support was evident at the polls this year. Wall Street employees gave more money to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign than to President Barack Obama’s, only to see voters re-elect Obama. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who has championed tougher oversight of banks, defeated Republican U.S. Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts. In France, voters elected as president a Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande, who said “my enemy is finance.”

Shareholders expressed some sympathy for those who have lost jobs at banks or are being forced to adapt lifestyles to new pay levels. The biggest U.S. banks are cutting at least $30 billion of expenses, and “I shudder to think how many people that is,” said Kevin Conn, a financial-stock analyst at Boston- based Massachusetts Financial Services Co., which managed $310.8 billion in mutual-fund and institutional accounts worldwide as of Nov. 30.

Shifting Environment

“The environment has shifted probably a little bit toward shareholders,” Conn said. “I’m not sure that there’s specifically shareholder pressure to cut compensation, but there is shareholder pressure to raise returns.”

Bankers such as Dean and his two Morgan Stanley colleagues who started Dean Bradley Osborne LLC this year say they got out just in time. He said he sees the misery on Wall Street when friends at big firms tell him how lucky he is to have left.

It’s not luck, said Dean, 49, who has hired three other former Morgan Stanley bankers. It’s about understanding that the best jobs in finance may not be at the banks anymore.

“I was just talking with my wife about this last night,” Dean said. “I look back on this year, and this is the happiest year I’ve had in 20 years. It’s just starting fresh. Being able to do it the way we know it should be done is so liberating that I actually look forward to coming to work. I can’t say the last five years at Morgan Stanley I felt the same way.”

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