New technology might help rein in big banks — Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson


After nearly a decade of crisis, bailout and reform in the United States and the European Union, the financial system — both in those countries and globally — is remarkably similar to the one we had in 2006. Many financial reforms have been attempted since 2010, but the overall effects have been limited. Some big banks have struggled, but others have risen to take their place. Both before the 2008 global financial crisis and today, just over a dozen big banks dominate the world’s financial landscape. And yet the ground is shifting beneath the financial sector, and big banks could soon become a thing of the past.

Few officials privately express satisfaction with the progress of financial reform. In public, most of them are more polite, but the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Neel Kashkari, struck a chord recently when he called for a reevaluation of how much progress has been made on addressing the problem of financial institutions that are “too big to fail” (TBTF).

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This is your fund manager’s secret weapon to fight high-frequency traders — Haoxiang Zhu

MIT Sloan Asst. Prof.  Haoxiang  Zhu

MIT Sloan Asst. Prof. Haoxiang Zhu

From MarketWatch

Mutual-fund and other asset managers trying to get the best price on a stock purchase or sale face a formidable challenge from fast-moving high-frequency traders — but managers are not defenseless.

To be sure, it’s difficult to execute large trades when HFTs deploy sophisticated pattern-recognition software in search of order-flow information that they can use to their advantage. When an asset manager unintentionally leaves footprints that tip its hand to these HFTs, the price is often impacted to the detriment of the asset manager.

So what can an asset manager do to prevent this from happening? By answering this question, we can help institutional investors improve their execution, reduce transaction costs, and ultimately deliver better investment returns.

In a recent study, my colleague and I looked into this issue. Our goal was to provide a realistic analysis of the strategic interaction between investors trading for fundamental reasons, such as pension funds, mutual funds, and hedge funds, and traders seeking to exploit leaked order-flow information, such as certain types of HFTs.

We find that asset managers have a powerful weapon against HFTs that exploit order flow information: Randomness.

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Resurrecting Glass-Steagall — Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson

From The New Times

A major shift in American politics has taken place. All three of the remaining mainstream Democratic presidential candidates now agree that the existing state of the financial sector is not satisfactory and that more change is needed. President Barack Obama has long regarded the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation as bringing about sufficient change. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Governor Martin O’Malley want to do even more.

The three leading Democratic candidates disagree, however, on whether there should be legislation to re-erect a wall between the rather dull business of ordinary commercial banking and other kinds of finance (such as issuing and trading securities, commonly known as investment banking).

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Credible financial statements help firms raise financing and increase investment — Nemit Shroff

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Nemit Shroff

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Nemit Shroff

From Columbia Law School Blue Sky Blog

One of the primary purposes of financial statements is to facilitate the exchange of capital between investors and companies. The extent to which investors rely on the information reported in financial statements depends on the credibility of those financial statements – that is, the trust or faith investors have in the financial statements presented to them. Typically, companies establish the credibility of their financial statements by having an independent auditor verify the accuracy of those disclosures. However, the effect of auditing on financial statement credibility depends on the independence of the auditor and the rigor with which the audit is performed. An increase in reporting credibility can increase the degree to which investors rely on financial statement information for both writing debt (and other) contracts that govern the terms under which capital is exchanged and informing investors about companies’ operations and performance. As a result, an increase in reporting credibility can increase the company’s access to external finance, which can increase its ability to invest in new projects.

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Why banks fear Bitcoin — Trond Undheim

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer Trond Undheim

From Fortune

Bitcoin heralds a new age more disruptive than that of today’s Internet. Disruption can be a good thing, especially when it affects banking, a failing set of business models which, for all the tweaks, have been virtually unchanged for millennia. Paradoxically, some banks are afraid of Bitcoin because it would force them to innovate.

Bitcoin is but the most famous example of an emerging technology network with the potential to improve banking. It belongs to the new type of financial animal called crypto currencies, i.e. decentralized, secure money storage and money transfer enabled by the Internet. What Bitcoin, and the even more promising Ripple network do, is not to poke a hole in banking’s basic business models—lending, deposits, trading, and money exchange—but to create the embryos for entirely new markets typically referred to as the Internet of Value. That is, a way for regular folks, as well as specialists, to potentially monetize everything, regardless of location, traditional market access and jurisdiction.

Cryptocurrencies have been with us for over five years, an eternity by Internet time. Using the elegance of mathematics they enable almost instant transfer of value at almost no cost between two parties without the need for a trusted third party. The disruption lies exactly there: in disrupting the intermediaries.

For a few years already, we have been talking about the sharing economy. Companies like AirBnb and Uber have enabled previously untapped, idle assets such as your empty bedroom or your second car to be mobilized for financial gain. Liquidizing such stale assets has added convenience in the utterly inefficient markets of room rentals and transportation services.

Read the full post at Fortune.

Trond Undheim is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management.