Eric Cantor and the New Revolving Door

After an astonishing defeat in June’s Republican primary, Eric Cantor found himself out of a job. This September, Cantor, the former House Majority Leader from Virginia’s 7th District, finally landed a new gig: on Wall Street.

One of President Obama’s fiercest critics, Cantor, long beheld as a dear friend to the financial industry, has found his way to the small boutique firm Moelis & Co. His new position as Vice-Chairman and Managing Director comes with hefty compensation, something to the tune of $3.4 million over the next year. While some view Cantor’s move as “cashing in,” Wall Street has a long history of attracting former Washington officials, but few have made the move to a firm like Moelis.

In the past five years big investment banks have deconstructed their trading business, causing Wall Street to see a surge in the power and influence of small boutique investment banks. Firms specializing in mergers & acquisitions attract impressive clientele with the promise of individualized attention at the highest level. As they bite off bigger chunks of market share from big banks, these small boutiques are increasing their stature and presence at a shattering rate. One can see why Cantor chose Moelis. 

Since the early 80s, Wall Street has been a premier destination for former Washington officials. Most recently, former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner joined the less known Warburg Pincus, a private equity house that manages $35 billion in assets. Perhaps the most infamous and successful example of this “revolving door” effect is former Senator Phil Gramm. In 1999, Gramm co-authored the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, overturning the Glass-Steagall Act, making it legal for commercial banks to merge with investment banks. The Swiss Bank UBS famously hired Gramm in 2003. Tasked with beefing up the bank’s lobbying presence, Gramm played an influential role during his time with the firm. 

Cantor’s move to Moelis makes for an interesting insight into the newest trend in finance. Whereas hedge funds and private equity houses used to be the ex-Washington hangout, small investment banks are now regularly drawing high-profile former statesmen through their doors. It’s no secret why. In 2006, boutique M&A firms accounted for just 9% of U.S. advisory revenues. In 2013, it increased to upwards of 20%. Boutique bankers experience less regulation and serious increases in compensation. The most recent data shows that the average salary increase for a banker at a large bulge bracket firm was 3%. Bankers at boutique firms averaged 14%. With fewer employees, CEOs like Ken Moelis find it inexpensive to lock down top Washington talent, while the rewards of Cantor’s services run high. 

As Vice-Chairmen and Managing Director, Cantor will be a huge draw for new clientele. His experience on Capitol Hill and his near-youthful exuberance should fit in nicely with Moelis’s ambition. Cantor will continue to live in Virginia, opening up a new branch of Moelis in Alexandria, offering clients backstage access to DC heavyweights. His connections with politicians, lobbyists, and fundraisers on both sides of the aisle are seldom matched in the realm of boutique banking. 

Although Cantor admits he has “a lot to learn,” he and his wife are no strangers to the financial services industry. Before his time in Congress, Cantor ran his family’s real estate business. Cantor’s wife, Diana, served as Managing Director of New York Private Bank & Trust, a Vice President at Goldman Sachs, and is currently a partner at Alternative Investment Management, LLC. 

Looking past Moelis, there is widespread speculation that Cantor would consider a run for the Virginia governorship in 2017. While he maintains that he is “focused on the task at hand,” referring to his new gig at Moelis, it would be unsurprising if Cantor were to re-enter politics in the future. Over his thirteen-year tenure in the House, Cantor made it clear that he knew how to lead. On the one hand, his experience and confidence in the political arena make it hard to say “that’s it” for Cantor’s political career. On the other hand, there is the matter of money. As a Congressman, Cantor made about $174,000 annually before taxes. As governor, he would more than likely make less. This author can think of 3.4 million reasons why Cantor might be on Wall Street for good.