A Leader for San Antonio: Mike Villarreal

mike_villarreal_best_candidate_for_mayor
Mike Villarreal studies the data

I have something to say about the San Antonio Mayor’s race. My friend Mike Villarreal is running and he is by far the best candidate. He supports data-driven financial policies (rather than platitudes and rhetoric), he listens and acts across party lines and for the good of the whole (not just one constituency), and he’s an SAISD dad who know how important educating the next generation is to ensure long term financial future of the city. Please bear with me a bit for a meandering story about my friend, New York City, and the movie Jerry McGuire.

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Unflattering picture of everyone. But you want the guy on the right

Fun with data analysis

Mike called me up one Saturday, about two years ago.

“Hey, can we meet for coffee?”

“Sure.” (Duh. I’m easy – a coffee addict.)

“I want to show you a project I’ve been working on with my laptop.”

We ordered coffee at Halcyon in the Blue Star Arts Complex. He proudly toured me through the statistical regression model he’d spent the week programming on his computer. He excitedly pointed to the results of his model, indicating pockets of properties where property taxes were higher or lower than average – statistical outliers. What if we could apply these techniques at the city, county, or state level?

When we get together with our families for lunch or dinner, my wife and Mike get into intense conversations about statistical techniques. I can follow the conversation for a short while. I get a teensy bit lost when their statistics chat turns to the z-score, chi-squareds, or p-value.

Prove your ideas

Personally, I prefer making sweeping declarations based on a few pieces of partial evidence. I’m good at that. I guess that’s why I enjoy this column-writing gig.

My wife – more of a scientist-type – accuses me of grandiose pontificating based on little data. My response to her critique (only when she’s out of earshot): “Whatever.”

But my data-oriented friend Mike also frequently (though more politely) challenges my sweeping declarations.

“I liked what you wrote in the paper, but couldn’t you get some actual data or evidence to see if you’re right or not?” he asks me.

Or, “So, how would you go about proving that?”

A mayor I admired

Speaking of public policy, I think fondly of a favorite mayor of my lifetime, Mike Bloomberg, who led New York City for eight years when my wife and I lived there.

Mike_Bloomberg_data_driven
I liked Mike Bloomberg’s disregard of political parties alot

Bloomberg was a Republican in a Democratic-dominated city. What mattered to me, however, was that he led New York for twelve years practically without reference to either party. Which is how a city should be run.

Bloomberg famously relied on data analysis and best business practices. He didn’t need to act out of ideology or loyalty to one party or another. Rather, when making decisions, he considered what worked best for the city.

Bloomberg showed that while Washington, DC stagnates with tired ideological gridlock, cities can innovate.

Why am I thinking of Bloomberg?

Mike Villarreal approaches policy as Bloomberg did. From the beginning of his campaign, Mike’s been fired up about the chance to lead the city in a non-partisan manner. “We don’t need a Democratic Party or Republican Party here, we need the Party of San Antonio” he told me last summer, when he focused one hundred percent of his efforts on running for this office.

To lead a diverse, growing, dynamic city, we need a leader who looks at all the evidence, weighs the choices, and makes the best decisions accordingly. We really don’t need a mayor who represents a limited party view, or a limited geographic base, or a limited identity.

Many talents

Beyond data-analysis, Mike has a number of talents that I admire.

I’ve watched him listen to people of all ideological stripes. He convenes alternate sides of an issue at the same table to listen to each other in search of common ground.

He takes political risks that more careful politicians would avoid, standing up to powerful forces – particularly in his own party – when it was in the public interest.

He understands first-hand the struggle of families pouring everything they have into raising children in this city. He grew here, his family did this for him, and he’s doing it for his own kids.

He’s a passionate competitor at board games, and a fired-up soccer dad.

But I guess what I admire most is his constant return to real, data-based evidence to back up policy ideas and ideals.

Antidote to cynicism

The worst thing about politics these days is our cynical belief – often borne out by experience – that our leaders make decisions based on campaign contributions, a perpetual “Show me the money!” mantra on their lips.

show_me_the_data
Mike is like the Cuba Gooding or Tom Cruise character: Show Me The Data

In a goofy way, I picture Mike in future policy meetings as a better version of the Cuba Gooding Jr. character in the movie Jerry Maguire. I picture him shouting in response to city lobbyists:

“Hey Mike, can I talk to you about my group’s housing agenda?”

“SHOW! ME! THE! DATA!”

“Excuse me, what San Antonio really needs for economic development…”

“SHOW! ME! THE! DATA!”

“Mr Mayor, the school district would like to request…”

“SHOW! ME! THE! DATA!”

OK, OK, Mike is not a yeller, so the analogy is not a perfect fit.

But if Mike Villarreal is the Cuba Gooding character for public policy, I guess that makes me the Renee Zellweger-character of financial columnists:

“Shut up. Just shut up. You had me at data-driven financial analysis.”

I know Mike will be a great Mayor for San Antonio.

Early voting begins April 27th. Please vote.

 

Please see related post from blogger, Concerned Citizen:

There’s a better choice for mayor of San Antonio – Mike Villarreal

A version of this post ran in the San Antonio Express News

 

 

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City Direct Equity Investments – UGH

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A version of this post appeared in the San Antonio Express News.

I read with much interest the story last week of the San Antonio City Council approving a direct investment of $1.75 million in city funds to move three startup medical device manufacturing companies to San Antonio.

And by “much interest” I mean the story made me want to stab my own hand with a sharp pencil.

I hate this sort of thing.

Not because of straight up corruption

Let’s leave aside the obvious problem of ‘economic development’ schemes like this, in which public entities give targeted incentives to a specific, private company: You know, because private individuals who benefit may feel quite ‘grateful’ to their public sponsors. Public sponsors in turn – elected and appointed officials – may then have an incentive to direct public funds to private beneficiaries to keep the ‘gratefulness’ cycle going.

That’s all obviously just straight up corruption and not really what I’m aiming for here in my critique of city-directed ‘economic incentives’ for private companies. [1]

What I really hate about this is something quite different, having to do with three business concepts: selection bias, market efficiency, and the structural short-run conflict between entrepreneurial goals and public policy goals.

Taken together, they greatly reduce the odds that this type of economic development works out for the public good in the long run.

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I’ll address these in order.

  1. Selection bias

Would you like your city (or state, or county) to grow companies focused on wooing public investment and public ‘economic development’ incentives? Or would you like your city to grow companies that focus on profitability without a public subsidy or public investment? Because the way you attract companies to your city (or state, or county) introduces a real selection bias to the pool of companies you end up with.

In my experience, the kind of startup company that takes public money – with all the attendant scrutiny, ‘job creation’ requirements and ‘salary’ minimums – is a different sort of company than one that achieves sustainability without that public money.

  1. Market Efficiency

Private investors constantly scour the market for small but growing companies that provide a reasonable chance at future profits.

Small but growing companies in turn often seek direct investments from private investors known as ‘angel’ or ‘venture’ capitalists.

It’s not a perfect system, and market inefficiencies occasionally arise.

But when a company turns to public funds like this, what that signals to me is that private capital sources – the professional angel and venture capitalists – have already declined to invest in the growth of this company. That’s typically because professional angel and venture capitalists do not find the risk/reward profile of that investment sufficiently compelling.

risk reward

Now, professional investors may be wrong to have overlooked the growth and profitability potential of these medical device companies.

The angel investing market may be inefficient.

Who knows? Maybe the City of San Antonio Economic Development team may have a market-beating strategy for identifying a positive risk/reward formula that private investors have declined to take. I mean, it could happen, right?

But I doubt it. And I would never bet on it.

  1. The short-run conflict between entrepreneurship and public policy goals.

Look, here’s the biggest problem.

Public officials want to be seen to create “jobs.” At “good salaries.” That’s fine.

But entrepreneurs don’t seek to create jobs. At any salary.

Entrepreneurs, at least the good ones, want to create the least number of jobs possible. I’m not saying this because entrepreneurs are inherently mean-spirited, but rather, because hiring people is expensive.

Successful small companies – and big ones too – have to constantly try to eliminate jobs to make a company financially sustainable. The market is too darned competitive to survive when you’re burdened with too many people on the payroll. If public officials get the chance to dictate the number of jobs, and the salary minimums of jobs, I guess I have my doubts about how that business is being run.

You show me an entrepreneur willing to be told by a city entity how many people to hire, when to hire them, and what to pay them, then I will show you an entrepreneur who isn’t going to make it in the long run.

A tangential, but I think illustrative, note: The biggest joke of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential candidacy was his claim to be a ‘job creator.’ Romney was no ‘job creator.’ On the contrary, he was one of the most successful job destroyers of all time.

Because that’s what Romney’s firm Bain Capital is good at. They buy a company, wring out expensive costs (all those “good salary” jobs!) and then resell. In the short run, the more jobs you eliminate, the better. I’m not saying this to besmirch Romney’s record. I’m sure he was a fantastic capitalist. Cutting costs is what capitalists, and entrepreneurs do, and often that means eliminating jobs. But Romney as “job creator?” Give me a break.

I mention this to illustrate the short-run differences in goals between entrepreneurs and public policy officials

Ok, now back to San Antonio.

Angel_VC_Entrepreneur_Gaps_in_Understanding

I hope I’m wrong

I hope to be completely wrong about this $1.75 million direct investment. Despite my misgivings, I will be thrilled when these three startup medical device companies spur innovation, trigger job growth, add to the ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ and even generate a positive return on public capital.

It could happen! I hope it happens!

But I would never, ever, choose to bet on it with my own money. And I’m sorry when the city chooses this for me.

 

Please see related posts on:

The “Economic Development” Catastrophe of Curt Schilling

The “Economic Development” deal with Nexelon Solar manufacturing

 

[1] That kind of obvious corruption is what the New York Times had in mind in pointing out in 2012 that Dallas-based tax consultant G. Brint Ryan worked to secure tax breaks for private corporations in Texas while personally donating $250,000 and $150,000 for the Governor and Lieutenant Governor respectively. I don’t mean all that, since it’s all too obvious how each group benefits there at the expense of the public good. I mean, who could deny it with a straight face?

 

 

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New HUD Secretary – The Good and Bad So Far

Editor’s Note: A version of this post ran this morning in the San Antonio Express News.

I can’t remember any speech Mayor Julian Castro ever made to which I paid much attention.

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Shouldn’t be pushing Subprime Mortgages

Decade of Downtown?
Meh. I had just moved to San Antonio’s downtown and I didn’t have any context.
Democratic National Convention?
I missed it because I was recovering that day from a blowout wedding in the Yucatan.

But last Tuesday’s speech introducing his priorities at HUD?

Did somebody say mortgage and housing policy?

Now you’re in my wheelhouse, Secretary Castro. As a former mortgage bond salesman, I’ve got some strong opinions about federal mortgage and housing policy.

Two things stood out for me from his speech, one bad, and one good.

First, the bad:
HUD Secretary Castro named increasing access to mortgages for borrowers with low credit scores a top priority of HUD.
I cringed.

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Home Ownership Rate Comparison, 2011

Do you know another name for increasing access to mortgages for borrowers with low credit scores?
That’s called sub-prime mortgage lending.

Restricting mortgage loans from people with bad credit scores is not housing discrimination or lending discrimination.
Rather, restricting mortgage loans from people with bad credit is prudent practice for both borrowers and lenders.

People with low credit scores are people who have not previously paid their bills on time. That’s just the definition of bad credit.

People can fix their bad credit over time, and government can play a positive role in encouraging financial education, for example, or by regulating credit reporting and consumer protections.

But most importantly, people with bad credit are people who should probably wait a bit longer before taking on the largest loan generally available to them – a home mortgage.

Encouraging more people with low credit scores to take out mortgages is a bit like breaking out the champagne at the AA meeting to celebrate a month of sobriety. Bad things can and will follow.

 

Look, I get it, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when you’re HUD Secretary, more home ownership is always better.

I guess my larger problem with Castro’s stated HUD priority is that home ownership isn’t always better.

It’s fine with me if banks or private lenders want to take extraordinary risks and lend to people who won’t pay them back in the future, but I really don’t think the federal government should be encouraging more of that activity.

Back in the pre 2008-Crisis days, mortgage giant Fannie Mae used to run constant radio advertisements proudly proclaiming “We’re In The American Dream Business!” and at the time, who could argue with them?

Home ownership traditionally fell somewhere between Motherhood,
Baseball, and Apple Pie on the spectrum of unimpeachable good things.
Well, since 2008 we’ve gotten wiser:
Apple pie causes obesity.
Baseball is full of PED cheaters.
And Mothers are the direct catalyst for about 50 percent of all of the adults who seek psychotherapy. (Since you’re curious, scientific studies show that Fathers are responsible for the next 25 percent of all therapy-seekers, and scary, scary clowns make up the final 25 percent. In my case, it was the clowns.)

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Housing as an investment tool

And home ownership? Well, it’s both an incredibly powerful tool for building middle class wealth, as well as the cause of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

While I would advocate home ownership for many people, pushing home ownership to excess – like Apple Pie, Baseball, and Motherhood – also leads to terrible outcomes.

We don’t need more subprime lending, and we don’t need government agencies encouraging more subprime lending.

Speaking of Fannie Mae and the American Dream Business, I really liked a different part of Castro’s speech.

Castro advocated passage of a bi-partisan Senate bill (sponsored back in March 2014 by Tim Johnson D-South Dakota, and Mike Crapo R-Idaho) currently languishing indefinitely in the Senate purgatory between Banking committee passage and the Senate floor.

The GSEs worth killing
The GSEs worth killing

The bill would set broad guidelines for mortgage lending and securitization in the future. Most importantly – from my perspective – the bill would kill former mortgage monstrosities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which themselves currently languish indefinitely in conservatorship purgatory.

Why were they monstrosities?

To me, the definition of a monstrosity is a company that enriches private investors and its executives, all the while enjoying a government guaranty, and therefore represents a massive public subsidy of private enrichment.

And yes, I understand that all of Wall Street briefly earned monstrosity status by that definition in 2008.

But the difference between Wall Street and the mortgage monstrosities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is that the latter companies always had this monstrosity status, from their very inception.

Technically, they were described as “Government-sponsored entities” and government officials occasionally tried to point out that their debt was not explicitly guaranteed by the Federal government.

In practice, Fannie and Freddie bond investors always assumed that when push came to shove Fannie and Freddie would be bailed out by the Federal government. Of course, push did come to shove in 2008, and bond investors were proved right.

Would you like an example of the kind of private enrichment and public liability I am talking about? Fannie Mae’s CEO Franklin Raines earned $90 million in compensation between 1999 and 2004. Their next CEO, Daniel Mudd, earned $80 million between 2004 and 2008. And then the federal government (that’s you and me, fellow-taxpayer) assumed all of the liabilities of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2008, up to $800 Billion.

I don’t know. That just seems like a lot of money to be paid to run a government sponsored (and guaranteed) entity. There’s no flies on that pair of Dickensian-named CEOs, Raines and Mudd, despite SEC investigations of both of them for securities and accounting fraud, and a paltry settlement with Raines.

The Senate bill supported by Castro would not eliminate federal government subsidies for the housing and mortgage markets, but it would greatly reduce the future taxpayer subsidies for the enrichment of quasi-private monstrosity entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and their investors and executives.

The bill would replace them with a much more narrowly-functioning government entity – modeled on the banking deposit insurance agency FDIC – to provide mortgage insurance and a taxpayer-protection fund against mortgage losses.

That would lead to much less private enrichment with a public subsidy.

That would represent great progress.

 

Please see related posts

Mortgages Part I – I am a Golden God

Mortgages Part VIII – The Cause of the 2008 Crisis

Book Review – Edward Conard’s Unintended Consequences

On Housing Part II – The Risks

On Housing Part III – The Opportunity

 

 

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On Selling – Sell Solutions Not Features

Editor’s Note: A version of this post appeared in the San Antonio Express-News.

When I interviewed for my first bond sales job on Wall Street, half-way through the conversation the guy at JP Morgan sat back, held up a yellow #2 pencil, and said “Sell me this pencil.”

At that point, age 24 or so, I hadn’t yet read about this classic interview question. Nor, for that matter, was I a natural salesman.

I wish I had a recording or transcript of the interview, because I know I was terrible. He let me fumble around for about five minutes, completely flubbing the question. Afterwards, he told me what I should have said. [For the record, I got the job offer, but took the competing job at Goldman instead. In retrospect, though, my flubbing of the sales pitch should have been a clue. Anyway.]

The art of selling does not come naturally to me, but teaching does.

When given the opportunity to teach “the art of sales,” I’ve got plenty of confidence, not because I’m a great salesman but because I know how to teach concepts.

On the gap between my sales ability and my teaching ability, I’m reminded of the phrase “Those you can, do. And those who can’t, teach.”

Anyway, I mention this because a friend recently invited me to visit his startup business called Codeup, housed in San Antonio’s startup-incubator Geekdom, in order to teach his class sales concepts over an informal lunch.

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Not my preferred sales method either…

Codeup is such a cool business that I should take a moment to explain my friend’s concept before returning to today’s main topic, “How to Sell.”

At Codeup, 30 adult students — post-High school, post-College, post-first career, whatever — pay tuition to enter a 12-week “Learn to Write Computer Code” bootcamp. The program promises the opportunity to go from beginner to well-compensated web programmer in just three months.

At the end of the 12 weeeks, Codeup students prepare a portfolio of programming work, including a start-up pitch, to present to prospective employers. I attended the first Codeup presentation at the Briscoe Museum downtown last spring, a science-fair type scene in which teams of newbie techies stand in front of their screens and explain their web solutions.

The art of selling matters to the students, who either need to find a job after Codeup or who need to win support for their startup. I noticed a few things about the sales pitches during that first portfolio presentation. I visited the second Codeup cohort to pass on some sales tips that could help them.
Here’s my No. 1 piece of advice on how to sell: Don’t sell me features. Ask me about my problems.
One of the most common mistakes in sales – especially by techies – is to describe the unique features of their product without figuring out first what the customer wants.

A bad pencil salesman: “See this pencil? Look, it’s a pretty mustard yellow. It has smooth graphite gliding action on the page and feels firm and wooden in your fingers. Would you like to buy it?”

sell_me_this_pencil
Sell my this pencil

“No. I need something in blue ink.”

“Ah, sorry.” Whah-wah-waaaaaa goes the sad trombone of bad sales.
A good pencil salesman asks me up front what problems I’m seeking to solve.
“Have you ever used a writing tool, and if so what’s worked and not worked for you in the past? What are you looking for when you write?”

When I walked into the presentation at the Briscoe, I occasionally got the hard sell on the features of the apps, rather than a question about what I’m trying to solve.
I recall one very cool app, but one of the guys needed help with his sales skills.

He was breathless with all the features. My (paraphrasing) recollection of his sales pitch:
“See this app on the big screen here? Our new app is programmed in JAVA Wargames XYZ machine language and displays food-safety data on restaurants in San Antonio, ranking them in reverse order by number of health citations, and coding them for food safety risk by red, yellow and green. This map uses OS Skynet 2.0 software to show all the restaurants in the city, and you can zoom in and out.

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Excessive technology turns me off

Then you click on the Hal9000 interface to see the actual citation on record with the city health department in a PDF format if you want. You search by food category of restaurant. Also, pretty soon we will try to link this to Yelp. Also, in the meantime, we hope to be able to get customer comments.”

Wrong approach. Too many features.

The better sales approach would start by asking me questions. Something like:
“When you eat out at restaurants, is food safety something you’ve ever considered when choosing a place to go? Have you ever tried to figure out for yourself the food safety of any restaurant? How have you tried to do that in the past?”

Now I feel like he could solve a problem of mine. Now I’m interested in the solution. Now the sales pitch works.
Incidentally, speaking of my friend’s Codeup business, how’s the job search going for you?
Have you ever wondered how to get into computer coding? Have you wondered how to get training for a good-paying job in just three months?

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Real Estate and the Efficient Market Hypothesis

Editor’s Note: A version of this appeared in the San Antonio Express News. Dignowity Hill is a historic neighborhood in San Antonio balanced precariously – for the moment – on the cusp of hipsterism, about to fall into the ‘gentrified’ category. For anyone who has strongly held opinions about gentrification, let me assure you this post has nothing to do with Dignowity Hill, or gentrification. Thank you.

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My friend recently asked me what I thought about his idea of buying a small plot of land he saw for sale in Dignowity Hill, as a short-term investment. Less than $10,000.

“The East Side is getting ready to boom,” he tells me. Agreed.

“Dignowity Hill has so much charm and a ton of new investment activity nearby, with the Hays Street Bridge and Brewery, and prices will be going up.” Yup, probably.

“I like the idea of investing for a couple of years, then cashing out.” Ok, now I knew he was on the wrong track, and I told him so.

Markets are more efficient than you think

What I believe my friend did not take into account is the idea that he has hundreds – actually make that probably thousands – of competitors for that single parcel on Dignowity Hill. Those competitors mean he will not likely get a bargain.

Most middle class people, certainly most homeowners, understand the basics of real estate investing. That means hundreds of thousands of people – in San Antonio alone – have the knowledge necessary to buy that parcel, and certainly tens of thousands of people in the city have available cash to pick up a plot of land at less than $10,000.

Of those tens of thousands, I’d estimate many hundreds to a few thousand San Antonio residents actively look for real estate opportunities. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that hundreds of San Antonians have seen this exact parcel, and up until now, have not made a bona fide offer to purchase it, at, or very near, the listed price.

This is not to say definitively that the parcel is a bad investment. Frankly I have no idea. I never looked at it. But I do know that markets with hundreds of potential buyers are pretty efficient at price discovery, and the parcel will not be a screaming bargain for my friend.

Will the East Side boom? Sure. Is Dignowity Hill totally cool? Yeah. Could prices double in a few years? I wouldn’t be surprised.

But the current offering price of the parcel will take into account all of these factors. Any reasonably efficient market aggregates opinions and is forward-looking – meaning my friend would have to pay now for the likely boom, the coolness, and the chance of doubling.

My entire point with this anecdote is this: although we may not see the competition in front of us, many markets are extremely efficient at reflecting all the unseen competition for investments. Real estate is less efficient than some markets, but it’s really not so inefficient that a part-time speculator like my friend will grab a great bargain.

Before concluding, I want to point out two other reasons my friend should be cautious.

Short-term time horizons

If you need to sell any investment within five years, then I don’t call that an investment, that’s something like a speculation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with speculating, only that it tends to work up until the point when it doesn’t any more, and then it ends up looking a lot like gambling in retrospect.

Real estate inefficiency

Real estate – as a speculation or as an investment – is terribly inefficient to buy and sell. Most real estate transactions require you to get an appraisal, do a title search, pay a realtor, and possibly an attorney, all of which add up quickly.

To invest $10,000 in the stock market, for example, will cost you less than $20 to do the transaction at an online discount broker. To invest $10,000 in real estate – unless you have distinct professional discounts or built-in advantages – might run you 1,000 in fees, easily.

dognowity_hill_property

I’m not saying I don’t love real estate as a long-term investment. I love real estate. Most of my non-retirement net worth comes from real estate ownership, of my home. But for small, short-term investments, I would rarely recommend real estate, much less real estate speculation.

Even in wicked cool Dignowity Hill.

 

See related posts:

Nate Silver’s 7 Levels of the Efficient Market Hypothesis

Guest post by Lars Kroijer – The Simplest Investment Approach Ever

 

 

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Introducing…Me!

Editor’s Note – I started a weekly column today in the San Antonio Express-News, and I plan to repost them here for the vast majority of you who neither live in San Antonio nor read newspapers. I expect the major difference between the newspaper columns and the blog posts will be:

1. saltier language and

2. more random hyperlinks.

The original column appeared in (largely) similar form here.

Michael_taylor_personal_finance

I feel like I just arrived in San Antonio, although it’s been five years since my family and I moved here from New York City.

“New York City?? Get a Rope!” for those of you who remember the Pace Picante ads.

I heard that line above dozens of times in my first few months living in San Antonio. Eventually I realized that’s not funny in the least. So please don’t write that in the comments section of this paper. Thank you.

Ok, back to me.

I used to work on Wall Street for Goldman Sachs & Co., selling mortgage bonds. Yes, that Goldman Sachs, and yes, those mortgage bonds. I even sold a few CDOs and credit default swaps in my day so, yes, you may blame me personally for all the bad things that happened to the economy over the past decade.

I also started – and eventually closed – a distressed debt hedge fund. If those four words together make no sense to you then: Congratulations! You are a normal person.

My friends – none of whom tend to actually work in finance – have been asking me for financial advice ever since I started in the industry. What’s always struck me as curious is how super-smart people – like my friends – feel confused and overwhelmed by the finance industry.

In 2012 – inspired by what I knew and what all of my friends kept asking me about, I decided to get into the simplifying-and-explaining-finance business. I started a blog I cheekily named “Bankers Anonymous” (Bankers in Recovery, get it?).

I’ve also co-taught a personal finance course at Trinity University here in San Antonio for the past two years, consulted for Accion Texas and ran a workshop on personal finance for San Antonians.

I’m an ardent Show Me The Money capitalist who also thinks we should have been tougher on the Too Big To Fail Banks. I am still mad about the bonuses paid to Wall Street executives in 2008 after we the taxpayers bailed them out. Don’t even get me started on that because I became a mumbling and then raving angry man, and nobody wants to see that.

But at the same time, I instinctively cringe every time a financial regulator talks about “fixing” Wall Street. Even though I’m originally from Massachusetts, I do not trust Senator Elizabeth Warren to do the job right.

“New York City and Massachusetts? Now, living in Texas? Whoo-boy we’ve got a live one.”

Anyway, back to my contradictions.

I’m an entrepreneur who has worked within the most rigid corporate culture imaginable. I founded a hedge fund, but I advise almost everyone I know to avoid hedge funds.

I studied nothing about finance or business in college. Heck, I avoided business completely in those years.

Now, however, I think the colleges and universities fail a basic duty to their students, and society, by not requiring students to take and pass a rigorous course in personal finance. Students graduate with an average of $33,000 in debt, and they’ve never learned about interest rates and compound interest!

I_am_Alanis_morissette
What It boils down to: I’m an Alanis Morissette lyric

Basically what I’m trying to say with all of these contradictions is that I am an Alanis Morisette lyric.

And what it all boils down to, my friends, is that no one’s really got it figured out just yet.

I’m here to help us figure it all out.

My primary advantage over your other sources of financial opinion is that I’ve got nothing to sell you.

Think about it: The experts and practitioners of finance typically have a product or service to market to you. They may be experts on bonds, or private equity, or asset allocation, or merger arbitrage but they’re experts because that’s what they sell for a living. You may be forgiven for being a teensy bit skeptical about their motives. In fact, if you are not skeptical of their advice, you’re not thinking hard enough about it.

I’m writing this column because I believe most people will benefit from disinterested – but interesting! – opinions on finance.

In this column you should expect some rants about Wall Street finance, some rants about Main Street finance, some rants about Texas finance, and some rants about San Antonio finance topics. You might even expect some columns not to be rants, but that might be getting ahead of myself.

I particularly enjoy answering questions on my friends’ minds, so please, be a friend and send me a question. If you don’t know the answer to your money problem, it’s probably something that other people have wondered about as well. Let’s all help each other figure it out.

My name is Michael and it’s been 3 years since I ran a hedge fund. Thank you.

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Michael Taylor is a former Goldman Sachs bond salesman, hedge funder, and now writes the finance blog Bankers-Anonymous.com.

Twitter: @bankeranonymous, facebook: https://www.facebook.com/home.php

 

 

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