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In the red

  • Jon Kelly
  • 2 Oct 08, 04:40 AM GMT

ST LOUIS, MO: In the last few days, the world's media - this blog included - has invited the American public to vent its anger against Wall Street.

But as the US Senate voted on the hugely unpopular $700bn bailout, I wanted to hear the other side. Bankers are real people, too. It can't be nice when everyone's ganging up on you.

I didn't even have to travel to Manhattan to find any. St Louis, Missouri, is one of the major US financial services centres, with the industry employing some 81,700 people locally. And as luck would have it, a business expo was under way.

Joshua LewisSo I thought I'd wander along. Conference centres always make me feel uneasy - it might be their soulless air of functional anonymity, or something to do with the air conditioning - but the mood inside this one was especially subdued. It wasn't, after all, exactly a great time to be closing deals.

Still, it didn't take me long to find a banker keen to make his case. Joshua Lewis, 29, wasn't the flash New York yuppie of popular imagination.

A banker with Frontanec, a locally based finance house, he shared the same concerns with most working Americans I've encountered. With daughters aged two-and-a-half years and two months, he was anxious about the effect of the crisis on his family and his job.

For Joshua, though, the division of America into Main Street and Wall Street was a false one. You couldn't have one without the other, he believed.

"After being confronted with terrorism, natural disasters and the economic situation, Americans are feeling vulnerable for the first time," he told me.

"Wall Street and Main Street have always been intertwined. It just becomes more visible when a local bank can't finance your business because of what's happening on the markets."

Joshua was relieved that the Senate bill had passed: doing nothing, he said, would be "catastrophic". But not every financial professional I spoke to agreed

Larry FousieLarry Fousie, 38, was a financial adviser who specialised in building up investment portfolios. He was worried, too: customers were edgy at the moment, he said.

He understood as well as anyone that the country was entering a bear market. But he was bullish at the suggestion that only bankers were to blame.

"The blame does lie with the government for relaxing regulation, and with the banks for pushing sub-prime mortgages," he admitted.

"But it also lies with consumers who took out these loans because they wanted to keep up with the Joneses and ended up in houses they couldn't afford. People do have to take personal responsibility."

He wasn't happy with the bail-out. It was just be a sticking-plaster, he said, which failed to tackle the problems which caused the credit crunch in the first place.

All Larry knew was that he wouldn't be voting for Barack Obama. "He just doesn't have the experience. That's what we need right now."

An air of pessimism clung to the room like gel to a stockbroker's hair. But I did meet someone who was quietly confident she emerge unscathed.

Amanda KerleyAmanda Kerley, 27, worked for Community South - a modest Tennessee-based bank that specialised in loans to small businesses. It had so far avoided the turmoil faced by its grander rivals, she said.

Ultimately, she believed, Wall Street had been burned because it had been too remote from the reality of life in the heartlands.

"Of course I'm concerned - the same as everyone else," she said.

"But I think banks like this one understand what's going on in our communities better than those Wall Street do. And that's why we haven't been so badly hit."

For her sake, at least, I hoped she was right. If so, perhaps America's banking giants will return to small-town values after all.

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