Practical analysis for investment professionals
25 April 2017

A Paean to The Epicurean Dealmaker

The Epicurean Dealmaker ran during a financially tumultuous period from early 2007 to around April 2015, when its pseudonymous investment banker author appeared to have signed off for the last time.

It remains online for the thoughtful reader’s consumption. The blog — a variegated recollection and rumination — is a treasure of erudition, wit, recalcitrance, irreverence, and self-deprecation. The anonymous writer explored the cultural mores and dealings of the global market for mergers and acquisitions.

The author’s journey is rich in anecdotes exploring civilization and the humanities through the lens of rough-and-tumble capitalism. It evokes the full palette of emotions, from amusement to rage. The writer endeavors to keep that lens clean, the better to peer into “what remains for many a murky area best left to investment bankers, corporate lawyers, and other such terrifying bogeymen.”

Like the Schott’s Miscellanies, the author’s observations are to be savored, rather than gormandized.

Here I parse some valuable lessons from the blogger’s musings for anyone in the investment management industry to enjoy. For those new to the site, it offers up a categorization, or tasting menu, of what lies within that I shall use as a jumping off point. Topics include “ad hominem, amicus curiae, bon mots, filthy lucre, Folly, fourth estate, ghost in the machine, gray flannel suits, Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Kulturkampf, over there, philosophy, private equity, selling short, the agora, The Canon, the distaff side, the leafy groves, The Life, The Panic of ’08.”

Here goes:

  • Good writing isn’t merely nice to read, it’s essential to communicate well. The author’s narrative articulates his métier and its wizened denizens much in the way a chef de cuisine melds flavors into the inimitably delectable. Yes, you’d probably not write like this in your e-mails or investment reports, but clarity of expression is paramount. Less is more.
  • The 1980s comedy Revenge of the Nerds was both funny and forward-looking. Nerds rule the world. And that’s a good thing. Any financial services participant, provider, or consumer who receives their information rapidly and can act upon it should thank a nerd. Want that book on best practices in financial reporting and analysis delivered overnight? Praise a nerd. Looking for a good podcast on frontier market opportunities and risk? Nerd. Need to adjust that IPS in real time to reflect the new normal? You get the picture. Once synonymous with social awkwardness, bad sartorial habits, and a predilection for technical knowledge, the nerd is now the hero making the world a better place.
  • Asset management draws from many disciplines. The emphasis is often on hard skills. But don’t forget the soft ones. Finance does not live in a vacuum. Psychology in the financial world is behavioral finance. The pursuit of social justice shows up as environmental, social, and governance (ESG) or social responsible investing (SRI). Investing and consuming capital in a manner consistent with religious lifestyle beliefs finds its expression in the studied practice of Islamic finance. Law reprises the role of compliance. International relations and geopolitical events affect capital markets. Literature and philosophy can inform the practitioner’s worldview. Money management and global finance are part of a much larger picture that captures the history of civilization.
  • Don’t forget the “fine” in finance. You thought I was referring to compliance? That’s a whole different and no less pertinent conversation. Rather, I am writing about “fine” as in precise. Asset management is more of a profession now than it ever was. Capital markets and their users have evolved in complexity at a dizzying pace. As with law and medicine, so too with finance: The discipline must be dynamic to remain relevant. Capital markets are supposed to bring users and providers together, not render them asunder.
  • As capital markets have evolved, so too has the compliance rule book. While helpful for business development, salesmanship has not always made a good bedfellow with finance. Expect further evolution of the rules of the game. However, good character, full disclosure, transparency, and adherence to clients’  best interests will make compliance navigation that much less burdensome.
  • Finance has become ingrained in the public consciousness and culture. Practitioners would do well to burnish their reputations. Think of how many television series over the decades have dealt with law or medicine. Now finance is in the spotlight. Wall StreetBoiler Room, the recent Showtime series Billions, and the film Equity are but a sampling of a growing number of examples. The Epicurean Dealmaker makes an entertaining point in “A special note to literary agents and publishers” in which it pitches mock book and movie ideas reflecting finance’s overarching presence in the mid-2000s.

A high-school classmate wrote in our yearbook, “Read, but remember that most people won’t know what the %#!@ you’re talking about.”

Here’s to the all the finance practitioners working to make the world a better place. So grab that snifter of Armagnac and savor the liberal arts and humanities of finance.

That’s my screed for now.

Happy reading, until the next calamity. It may well be sooner than you think.

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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.

Image credit: ©Getty Images/Ray Kachatorian

About the Author(s)
Marc L. Ross, CFA

Marc Ross, CFA, is an experienced investment professional with a varied skill set that encompasses third party manager research and due diligence, securities compliance, investment advisory, and ERISA qualified plan design, sales, and implementation. In addition to the CFA charter, Ross holds the CFP® and CLU designations.

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