It takes a certain kind of person to maintain ethical integrity throughout their entire lifetime. Obviously, everyone wants to do the right thing, everyone knows the importance of following the rules – however, not everyone has the robust character to not only keep themselves on the straight and narrow, but those around them too. This is certainly the case when business and particularly finance is involved. In an industry that has done nothing but soiled its reputation steadily since the early 2000’s, it takes a distinct type of person to not only thrive in that environment, but police it as well.
Helane Morrison is that person.
From her beginnings in journalism to her years of government service, Morrison has worked steadily to prevent corruption and protect the vulnerable in the process. Whether her focus is the exposure of corrupt brokers or revolutionizing the financial work place, she is one of the most important players in the industry today. Determined, powerful and exceedingly influential, she has been making her mark on the industry for over thirty years and is still going strong.
Widespread Corruption Exposed
When the global economic crisis began in August of 2007, individuals nationwide were left in a state of shock as the institutions they had come to rely on crumbled around them. With banks having to turn to the government for bailouts and unemployment at an all time high, important questions arose. Questions that had been unasked for too long.
Who can I trust? Where does my money really come from? And perhaps most importantly, are my investments safe?
Widely accepted as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930’s, the crash of 2007-2008 not only sent America’s economy into a massive tailspin, but it effectively exposed the unethical behavior that was rampant throughout the entire financial sector. Seemingly every stone that was unturned revealed fraud, falsified records and a bevvy of underhanded dealings, which stood as testament to both the amount of corruption and how long it had remained unchecked.
Deeper and deeper it went – from destroyed documents to false audit claims. The obvious resulted – Stock markets collapsed, homes were foreclosed upon, unemployment soared and, most importantly, faith was lost in Wall Street, the banks and corporations in general. People began to feel more secure storing money in socks under their beds than in bank accounts. Stocks were rapidly liquidated to gold as everyone with sense realized that the institutions they had trusted for years were not nearly as infallible as they had once believed. Seemingly nothing was reliable and this crippling insecurity quickly spread not only across the country, but worldwide as well.
Headed for Further Chaos?
Even nine years later, this general feeling of mistrust hasn’t dissipated in the slightest. Everyday Americans have little to no faith in Wall Street and the overwhelming majority feel that those in the financial sector are about as removed from the actual economy of the country, as it’s possible to be. In fact, in a recent poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal/NBC, it was discovered that only 28% of Americans believe that the country’s economy is on the right track.
As the 2016 presidential election approaches, investors and economists alike don’t predict the widespread feeling of unease will improve in any way. In fact, many of them believe it will only get worse. Although a few political analysts maintain that there is only a tenuous link between stock market performance and the presidential race, those deeply entrenched in the industry feel differently. Yale Hirsch, founder of the Hirsch Organization and the much-referenced Stock Traders Almanac has been maintaining his theory of a direct correlation since the early 70’s. According to Hirsch, presidential elections “…have a profound impact on the economy and the stock markets. War, recessions and bear markets tend to start or occur in the first half of the terms and bull markets, in the latter half.” Apparently, investors take his advice seriously. The stock market historically slows down the prior before an election as investors wait to see how the next executive branch of government will organize fiscal policy. More taxes? Less? More laws? More spending? This kind insecurity only compounds the pre existing mistrust that anyone involved with the stock market has unfortunately come to see as a ‘part of the game’.
Wolves in Waiting – The Perils of Investing
With a history of scandal and the unrest of an impending election, now more than ever people are aware that there are simply no guarantees in the world of finance. This is particularly the case when it comes to investing. There is no certainty that any investment will be safe. What’s more those who are naturally cautious and turn to the advice of a professional financial planner/trader are no better off than those that attempt to do it themselves. That investment can just as easily disappear as it can blossom into a fortune. Not to mention, there is always the risk of having your investments exploited by a less than trust worthy broker.
However, owing that basic financial necessities like securing retirement, planning for higher education, or even just keeping a roof over one’s head are becoming increasingly difficult to make happen on today’s salary, it’s no wonder that investing has maintained its popularity. In some cases, it can be the only choice a person has to accrue wealth.
The average investor however, is a vulnerable creature. Stocks, trading and all things financial can seem like another language entirely and the chance of experiencing significant monetary losses is extremely high for the uneducated. The everyday investor needs someone to help navigate through the inevitable corruption and scams that populate any industry where big money is involved. For every naïve first time investor that wants to get rich quick, there is a savvy wolf waiting to take a bite…even swallow him or her whole.
It is up to the investors to educate themselves as much as possible. However, that is more difficult than it seems. Much of the time, the information just isn’t available. In order to make the most of their investments, people need to have access to accurate, up to date information in order so that they can make the best decision possible. On top of this, there needs to be sound regulation of the investment process.
In essence, someone needs to be the watchdog – ensuring that both sides are acting in accordance to security laws and trading regulations.
Fire in the Belly – Dedicated to the Cause
Enter Ms. Helane Morrison – a self made pioneer and undisputed major player who’s impossible to intimidate attitude is quickly changing the face of finance.
Assertive, unflappable and with the kind of sharp mind that leaves men and women in her wake, she has made an impression from the very moment she stepped on the scene and continues to do to this day.
Brooklyn born and bred, Morrison decided to strike out on her own and complete her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism at Northwestern University, Illinois. She then moved farther west to continue her education at the University of California Berkeley School of Law. As she worked toward her Juris Doctor degree, she put her journalism knowledge to work as the Editor in Chief of the university’s law review.
After passing the bar and being successfully admitted to practice, Ms. Morrison gained valuable experience working as a law clerk at the US Court of Appeals for the 7th circuit. After a year gathering experience, she moved on to work with Supreme Court Justice, Harry A, Blackmun from 1985-1986. A famous champion for women’s rights, this extremely liberal judge made massive changes to outdated abortion laws and those governing sexual behavior and the age of consent. Although he received numerous death threats and was harassed by opposing groups throughout his career, Blackmun was committed to the overturning of harmful and discriminatory institutions created in the name of justice. Under his tutelage, Morrison began to develop her own passion for equality, which would become a recurrent theme throughout her career.
After only a few short years as a clerk, it was obvious that Morrison’s skills were such that she was ready to enter into a private practice. In 1986 she moved on to the law firm of Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk and Rabkin. For ten years, she worked ceaselessly in businesses litigation and defense of private securities. Whether it was internal corporate investigations or class action suits, Morrison found that exposing violation to security laws and defending those affected was quickly becoming the main focus of her career. In fact, during those years at the firm, she was made responsible for overseeing a staff of over one hundred employees. Not surprisingly, they elevated her position to full partner in 1991. Together with her team, Morrison successfully supervised a series of major investigations against corrupt traders, three of which resulted in enforcement actions. Some of these cases were so memorable that she even published them in a book format for Google – further ensuring that the public had access to the knowledge they needed to keep their investments safe. Clearly, she had found her stride.
Changing How and Whom We Trust
It wasn’t long until the government took notice of her abilities and invited her to take a position at the San Francisco office of US Securities and Exchange. In this position, Morrison was given full power to protect corporations and individuals against fraud, while ensuring full disclosure of information and maintaining high standards of fair dealing when investing. It was as a part of this organization that she would begin to have the opportunity to make a massive difference in the level of corruption throughout the trading and securities sector. Using her skills in both journalism and law, Morison effortlessly took on the position of SEC office head of enforcement. Representing clients in legal, financial and business communities, she ensured that all dealings remained ‘above board’ while at the same time collaborating with the media and government agencies.
Her list of accomplishments during her time with the SEC is more than impressive. During her eleven years of service, she headed a wide variety of important, high profile enforcement actions. For example, Morrison headed numerous financial fraud cases over the years involving so-called ‘untouchable’ top executives from high visibility clients such as Google, Hewllet Packard, NextCard Inc. and HBO and Co. Working closely with her investigators, she also exposed the deceptive sale of false securities to over 50,000 military personnel by the insurance company American Amicable. She also exposed corrupt auditors such as a major partner at Ernst and Young who was found to be altering and destroying audit work papers illegally. In addition to these larger, notable cases, Morrison was also deeply involved in the protection of senior citizens against fraud and the abolishment of insider trading and market manipulation. Only recently she took particular interest in online trading sites and warned interested parties against them – citing their capacity for harm when used without proper knowledge or training.
Helane Morrison’s drive and list of accomplishments were so impressive that it the SEC did not hesitate to name her Head of Commission and Regional Director, making her the first woman in history to be given that title. Responsible for security enforcement, litigation and regulatory matters in both Northern California and an additional five North West States, she continued her mission to defend and represent those affected by fraud and seek out those who would take advantage of the complex world of trading even after her move to her new work place.
Equality in the Work Place – A New Cause for Morrison
After years of government service, Morrison decided a change of direction in her career was in order. Having made an arguably historic mark on the SEC, she found herself driven by a new cause – The need for equality in the financial work place.
Although there is an equal ratio of men to women interested in business and attending various programs at the college and university level, there is a shocking lack of female leadership when it comes to financial service. Largely, the upper management of financial corporation is something of a boy’s club, with very few women taking the initiative to ‘break into’ their ranks. In fact the segregation can become so extreme that many companies hold separate meetings for women, insolating them even further from their male counterparts. Appalled by this apparent lack of female representation in an industry she’d practically made her own, Helane Morrison began to develop a drive to change it.
One of the most important moves of her career came when she joined Hall Capital, the largest and most successful investment advisory firm in San Francisco.
Although it has over 24 billion in assets and manages the finances of many of America’s most affluent families, it isn’t the healthy returns that tempted Morrison away from he work at SEC. Unsurprisingly, it was the pioneering spirit of the organization.
Hall Capital is one of the only financial companies in the country that is completely run by women. President Sarah Stein, Co-Chief investment officer Kathryn Hall and managing director and chief compliance officer Morrison make up the power trio that are working together to revolutionize the typical financial workplace. Attracted to what Morrison describes as a “very ethical culture”, she was more than ready to take the responsibilities offered by this outstanding firm.
As a team, they put a high emphasis on the two main qualities that a woman needs to succeed in the industry – flexibility and resiliency. They have created a workplace ‘culture’ around these qualities, emphasizing these values through incentives and behaviors. For example, the offices at Hall Capital are all open concept – a design almost unheard of in a community of office meetings behind closed doors and private club functions. Employees are encouraged to collaborate with each other and interact as much as possible in order to both bring a higher level of success to the clients but to keep the process as honest and transparent as possible. In addition, the employees of Hall Capital are also given the opportunity to buy into the company, thereby deepening their commitment to its success and, most importantly, the happiness of the client.
Hall explains her reasoning for this unconventional working method by citing the financial crash of 2008. During that time, Hall describes how “the industry as a whole squandered the trust of clients in an epic way.” People became far less apt to place their financial future in anyone’s hands but their own, resulting in any number of disastrous outcomes. Morrison, Hall and Stein however, are working to regain that trust by insisting on accountability, integrity and regulatory compliance from all their workers and in all of their dealings. Their reputation has become such that a whopping 20% of their overall focus is on the protection and investment management of major foundations and endowment funds.
Not surprisingly. Helane Morrison is integral in insuring that each and every investment they make on behalf of their clients is a solid and ethical one. As chief compliance officer, Morrison has assembled a team known as the ‘examination staff’. This group of focused, like-minded individuals work together with Morrison to painstakingly study the records of all registered entities collaborating with Hall Capital. This means that every brokerage firm, financial advisor or mutual fund the firm’s advisors choose to utilize must go through the team’s rigorous investigations before they are trusted with the client’s money.
From there, Morrison implemented what is known as an enforcement staff. If the examination team discovers anything suspicious during their research, the enforcement team proceeds with disciplinary action. This can range from something as mild as a written request to correct practices or as extreme as an in depth investigation and eventually, criminal charges.
It takes more than an open floor plan and honesty to make a thoroughly equal workplace happen however. On top of encouraging diversity in education, gender and background when selecting their employees, Morrison and the women of Hall Capital ensure that there is the proper balance of work and life for each employee. There is an exceptionally high value placed on the time spent out of the office as well as in. Employees are encouraged to be a vital part of non-work commitments such as community groups or charity foundations so that they can approach their daily lives with more fulfillment. “At the firm level, “Hall explains, “ it’s better to have people with broader perspectives – better problem solvers” Employees are encouraged to spend the time with their families and on top of impressive maternity/paternity benefits, benefit from a flexible schedule that allows them to meet important commitments outside of the office.
An Expert at Balance
Helane Morrison, although dedicated to her work, is an excellent example of the work/life balance that Hall Capital encourages. On top of her commitments, she also serves on the board of many important organizations. She served as a member of the Bar Association of San Francisco judiciary committee in the early 2000s only to become its director from 2001-2004.
Currently, she sits on the board of the hedge fund subcommittee of the American Bar Association. Backed by other committed legal professionals, Morrison volunteers her time to ensure the transparency of all hedge fund managers. A highly exclusive type of investment fund, hedge funds have always attracted the very wealthy and very experienced. Not surprisingly, a few such managers have taken advantage of the previously lax rules governing these investments. In typical style, Morrison works to ensure that all hedge fund managers are required to provide the exact same information in regards to their practices as any other investment manager.
Her passion for the environment and animal rights also makes her very active on the board of the Regional Parks Foundation. Composed of over 119,000 acres of land throughout the Alameda and Contra Costa Counties in California, the district includes 65 regional parks, over 40 miles of shoreline and an impressive total of 1,250 miles of trails. The Regional Parks Foundation consists of a select group of corporate leaders active throughout the East Bay area. Working together, Morrison and the other members are committed to providing public access to the areas and preserving their beauty for generations to come. One program that they have implemented is what is known as a ‘campership’. Combining vacation and education, camperships were developed to exposed high risk or disabled youth to the joys and challenges of camping. They have also successfully implemented weeklong immersive experiences for underprivileged children in grades 4 – 5 in order to raise awareness of environmental issues and create a commitment to preservation.
There is little wonder that Morrison, with her commitment to justice, is now contributing her impressive skill set to this trailblazing group of women at Hall Capital. After all, it’s one thing to create an innovative, transparent financial workplace, but it’s another entirely to keep it safe for the clients. She is a proud (and tireless) advocate- defending Hall Capital clients against the often-treacherous twists and turns of financial world. She has worked to ensure both legitimacy and success both for her company and for its impressive roster of clients.
Never one to back down, she has become known for her passion, strength of conviction and peerless devotion to ethics. Known as the ‘voice of change’ in some circles, she has become an inspiration for those struggling to regain trust in the wake of the crisis of 2008 and with the stresses of the impending election.
There is a reason why Helena Morrison has been awarded the title Most Influential Woman in the Bay Area Business and Public Sector on four occasions. She earned it. One of her many admirers, colleague and former co-worker SEC chairman Christopher Cox has described her potent personality as a mix of ‘Dedication, integrity and passion for protecting investors”. An impressive combination indeed that many in the industry strive to develop daily. However, in Helane Morrison’s case, these traits are the natural result of a long and impressive career marked by industry firsts and courtroom successes.
Learn more about the fascinating life and work of Helane Morrison by checking out her Wikipedia page or following her on her Crunchbase.