Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon conceded defeat Tuesday on the bank’s once-grandiose plans for a Main Street offering. Speaking at the bank’s second-ever investor day, Solomon said Goldman is “considering strategic options” for its consumer platform business. That includes specialty lender Greensky and credit-card partnerships with Apple Inc and General Motors Co Solomon, and shares of the bank fell 3.8% on Tuesday.
Goldman began experimenting with consumer finance as a way to smooth out the up-and-down returns of those Wall Street businesses and began using customer deposits as a stable source of funds. Marcus, Goldman’s consumer bank, launched in 2016 when Solomon was a top executive, but before he was CEO. Almost from the outset, investment bankers and traders complained that the new consumer push would waste resources and damage Goldman’s brand. It was difficult for middle-class customers to compete, as many already had long-term relationships with banks that, unlike Goldman, could offer them mortgages, checking accounts, and multiple credit card options.
Goldman’s ambition to launch a Marcus mass-market checking account never materialized, and the bank has already said it is reducing the number of personal loans it offers. Goldman announced Tuesday that it is selling a portion of that portfolio. Solomon began publicly telling investors about its plans to divest the consumer business several months ago. A comprehensive restructuring announced in October aimed to reduce the bank’s reliance on investment banking and trading, with a greater focus on asset and wealth management. On Tuesday, Solomon called asset and wealth management a “key driver for growth.” Those businesses can produce stable fees. Some investors and analysts say the problem is that several banks, including Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co., have already given priority to them, potentially leaving Goldman less room for growth.
Some investors are disillusioned, saying that Goldman doesn’t know what it wants to be. Shares are up about 2.4% for the year, while rival Morgan Stanley is up about 14%. “I think it was expected or hoped by the investment community that management would announce a more drastic plan to bring back the consumer business, but that didn’t happen,” said Michael Farr, chief market strategist at Hightower Advisors. A Goldman shareholder. Mr. Farr praised Goldman’s overall performance, including growth in book value over time.
Ed Wachenheim, CEO of Greenhaven Associates and a Goldman shareholder, said he views Goldman’s consumer lending as “a pimple on a beautiful woman – the whole world is focusing on the pimple”. Instead, he said, the focus should be on global banking and markets, which account for the bulk of Goldman’s earnings power in a typical year.
While working to make niche lender GreenSky and its credit-card relationship a success, Goldman Sachs is looking to other options. Solomon’s comments are prompted by the significant amount of money Goldman receives from credit cards and other consumer-facing businesses. The bank said the division it calls Platform Solutions reported a loss of $3.8 billion on a pretax basis as of the start of the year in its 2020 earnings report, which was made public in January. Platform solutions often called consumer platforms, include GreenSky and Card partnerships. It also includes a separate function known as transaction banking, which provides payment services to businesses and banks. The business claimed that the unit is currently profitable. By 2025, Goldman Sachs’ Platform Solutions expects to break even before taxes.
Solomon’s remarks differed significantly from comments made during Goldman’s Investor Day in 2020. Later, the corporation announced that it was setting up a flagship digital consumer bank that would serve consumer banking and lending needs.