Weekend Reads for Finance Pros: Robo-Advisers, Wonder Woman, and Kasparov vs. Deep Blue
Once in a while, I come across a piece of writing so delightful, I simply can’t resist sharing it in full. That’s what happened when I heard Shaun Usher, the blogger and editor behind Letters of Note, read his favorite letter on a recent segment of NPR’s Morning Edition. The author was Robert Pirosh. It was 1934 and he was trying to land his dream job in the middle of the Great Depression — as a screenwriter. So he sent the cover letter to as many directors, producers, and studio executives as he could think of. It worked: he found a job and later went on to win an Academy Award for his Battleground script.
Now I know what some of you are thinking: What has this got to do with finance or my job as a financial adviser? It’s quite simple really: Words count. Choose wisely. Dreams matter. Think big. Reading is important. Consume voraciously. Creativity wins. Kindle new ideas and insights.
It really doesn’t matter what your profession is: The best conversationalists and raconteurs are the people who are the polymaths. So this is for the logophiles among you:
I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.
I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.
I have just returned and I still like words.
May I have a few with you?
385 Madison Avenue
Here are some other articles, tweets, and cartoons that caught my attention in recent weeks:
- It was a big week for the robo-advisers: The brokerage firm Charles Schwab said it would enter the online investment advice market early next year and would offer its advisory services to those customers without charge (The New York Times). So long robo-advisers? A mortal body blow? A flesh wound?
— Jim OShaughnessy (@jposhaughnessy) October 27, 2014
- And a day after the Schwab (SCHW: NYSE) announcement, Wealthfront announced a new $64 million round of financing and laid out its vision for the future in a blog post, “The $7 Trillion Opportunity”: “We don’t believe we’ll kill Charles Schwab. It is a great company, albeit focused on a different customer — the baby boomer. We do believe, however, that we’ll force Charles Schwab to become even better.” (Wealthfront Knowledge Center)
- “Wealthfront Responds with Force to Bettinger’s Schwab Robo Announcement” (RIABiz)
Investing and the Economy
- “The Lesser-Hedged Portfolio” (Investment Risk and Performance)
- I heard a funny line earlier this week from David Wessel, director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution and a regular guest on NPR’s Morning Edition. The segment was about quantitative easing: “I particularly like the line from Julia Coronado. She’s an economist at Graham Capital. She wrote what she called an epitaph to QE; Here lies QE, hated by its attracters, misunderstood, taken for granted. It lived a turbulent life and died before fulfilling its mandate.” (National Public Radio)
- Martin S. Fridson, CFA, and Paul Travers, CFA, have noticed ominous trends in high-yield bonds and leveraged credit investments, raising the question: “Who Will Suffer from a Leveraged Credit Shakeout?” (Enterprising Investor)
- Three blog posts on purging certain words and phrases from the industry: “Words and Phrases That Should Be Banished From Finance,” “Financial Independence in Lieu of Retirement, and Other Phrases That Should Be Banished from Retirement Planning,” and “Stupid Things Finance People Say.” (A Wealth of Common Sense, Nerd’s Eye View, and The Motley Fool, respectively)
- “Facts (and Minds) are Stubborn Things” (Above the Market)
- I don’t know if the comic series The Adventures of Tintin was big when you were growing up, but in South Africa, every kid worth his/her salt had a stash of Tintin books. Even if you don’t know who Captain Haddock is, you can probably still relate to Paul Theron’s reference to “The Captain Haddock method”:
Repeat (awesome). When clients worry about the state of the stockmarket, I use the Captain Haddock method: pic.twitter.com/YXMnrPj6Uj
— Paul Theron (@paul_vestact) October 17, 2014
Math and Statistics
- On Bayesian statistics: “The Odds, Continually Updated” (The New York Times)
- Yitang Zhang and the proof that cracked open a century-old problem in mathematics: the twin prime conjecture. (Nautilus)
And Now For Something Completely Different
I’m no chess player, but I’m fascinated by the level of skill it entails. Did you know that the number of possibilities in an entire chess game, played to completion, is so large that it is a significant problem even to estimate it? In “Rage Against The Machines,” Nate Silver quotes Diego Rasskin-Gutman as saying: “There are more possible chess games than the number of atoms in the universe.” That’s mind-blogging and just one of the bits of information I gleaned from this highly enjoyable excerpt. The chapter is about the birth of the chess computer and the match between Russian grand master Garry Kasparov — the world’s top-rated chess player from 1986 until his retirement in 2005 — and IBM’s Deep Blue. (FiveThirtyEight)
- On enabling innovation: “Getting People to Believe in Something They Can’t Yet Imagine” (HBR Blog Network)
- “The Steve Jobs of Beer” (The Atlantic)
- Do you tend to look on the bright side of things? Well, if the author of a recent Harvard Business Review article is to be believed, you need to stop. Yup. You read that right. “Research my colleagues and I have performed over the past two decades suggests that positive thinking doesn’t actually help us as much as we suppose,” says Gabriele Oettingen. “In fact, across dozens of peer-reviewed studies examining the effects of positive visions of the future on people pursuing various kinds of wishes — from health-related, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or recovering quickly from surgery, to the improvement of professional or academic performance (for example, mid-level managers wishing to reduce job-related stress, graduate students looking for a job, or school children seeking to get good grades) — we’ve consistently found that people who positively fantasize make either the same or less progress in achieving attainable wishes than those who don’t.” That’s a downer. Now, “Stop Being So Positive!” (HBR Blog Network)
- Sunday is a red-letter day for anyone who follows long-distance running: It’s the 44th running of the New York City Marathon. Many eyes will be on American runner Meb Keflezighi, who will try to become the first American since 1982 to win the New York and Boston marathons in the same year. As we learn in “Running Away With It,” Keflezighi is 39, and nobody that old has won the New York City Marathon. Will he succeed? (Wall Street Journal). And staying with running, a great article about how training with a group of runners who are faster than you will help you become faster: “Running Friends Are Friends with Benefits” (Runner’s World)
- “The Creative Gifts of ADHD” (Scientific American)
- “Neuroscientists have uncovered evidence suggesting that, when the pressure is on, women bring unique strengths to decision making.” “Are Women Better Decision Makers?” (The New York Times)
- A highly enjoyable book review: “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” by Jill Lepore. “A brainy Amazon. A Nazi-fighting feminist. A single gal. How Wonder Woman went from saving the world to searching for a husband.” See: Wonder Woman for President (Wall Street Journal). And if you would like to hear more about William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, Terri Gross spoke at length with Lepore for the segment, “The Man Behind Wonder Woman Was Inspired by Both Suffragists and Centerfolds.” (National Public Radio)
— Lauren Hansen (@myLaurenHansen) October 28, 2014
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Photo credit: @iStockPhoto.com/JLGutierrez