Do you remember where you were on 15 September 2008?

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In one week we “celebrate” the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse that precipitated the Global Financial Crisis.

Do you remember where you were on 15 September 2008?

I know, that question is not as exciting as where you were on say 9/11 or the Moon Landing or the JFK Assassination – unless you have a nerdy need to understand the engine that runs our global financial system.

I do remember where I was on 15 September 2008. I was at the epicenter, in New York City. Like millions, my life was impacted. Unlike most of those millions, my inner nerd tapped into my years working in the engine room of Fintech (selling mission critical enterprise systems to big global banks) to try and figure out what had happened and why.

I was there, so here are my personal stories of the days around the Lehman Brothers collapse on 15 September 2008:

  • Story 1: Don’t push me I am close to the edge. (Read this to the sound of Grandmaster Flash). I was sitting in reception, scheduled to meet an executive in a big global bank. The person we were due to meet was 10 minutes late. I asked my colleague how long we should wait before rescheduling. Just at that moment my contact came into reception, ashen faced and super stressed and told us “I am really sorry, I will have to reschedule. The Congress just voted down the TARP bill. I am not sure if our bank will still be in business tomorrow”. The next day, Congress took another vote on the TARP bill, the bank survived and a decade of global money printing started.
  • Story 2: Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. After that searing encounter, I went to the Web 2.0 event. This had nothing to do with finance. It was a nice relief, with lots of positive thinking and no fear. The conversations were about the sort of services we now use every day, that were being hatched at that time. Yet even in those techie future oriented conversations,  you could not quite escape what was happening in those bank offices. The Web 2.0 halls were full of ex-Lehman employees frantically updating their personal branding story to emphasise tech more than banking. We called them the “Lehman Refugees”. The Bear Sterns Refugees, who had been doing this for a little longer, were in better shape.

 

  • Story 3: The Ted talk that inspired me, many years later, to start Daily Fintech. I cannot find the TED talk any more, but I remember the message which was that the financial wave we were witnessing was massive, but nothing compared to the technology wave that would follow. Little did I know at the time that a person or persons unknown under the name Satoshi Nakamoto were about to unleash something that would prove that to be true.

 

  • Story 4: Finding the MRI machine to help prevent future heart attacks. When something big and wild and confusing is happening, like the collapse of the global financial system, we search for simple analogies. The analogy that resonated around the Lehman Brothers collapse was a heart attack. In that  analogy  we needed something like an MRI machine to see what is going on inside. An article in Wired in Feb 2009 by Daniel Roth defined it well, entitled

ROAD MAP FOR FINANCIAL RECOVERY: RADICAL TRANSPARENCY NOW!

The technological answer described in the article was/is XBRL. Sadly this is still more promise than actuality today. We have been banging the drum loudly on Daily Fintech for XBRL for many years.  The hold-up is not technological; it is that transparency goes against the business model of the sell side of Wall Street. I still think XBRL will be a game-changer, because XBRL can benefit both issuers and the buy side as well as regulators.

If heart attack is the best analogy here is what happened on 15 September 2008:

  • The EMT team applied defibillators and the patient’s heart started again.
  • The Doctor told the patient that a diet of double cheeseburgers and whiskey (aka too much debt) was the problem.
  • The patient, perking up at the thought, said “but I really love double cheeseburgers and whiskey”.
  • The Doctor, not wanting to upset a wealthy patient/customer says “of course, just click on this app to order your double cheeseburgers and whiskey”.

Don’t worry – anniversaries are just dates in a calendar. The next Global Financial Crisis won’t happen on a schedule that any of us can determine. It may or it may not be imminent but it is certainly inevitable – the underlying problem has not gone away.  In the decade since 15 September, we have seen bad news and good news and one bit of news that is good or bad depending on where you are positioned today.

  • Bad news 1. There has been a big rise in political instability.  The rise of extremism of both right and left is all over the globe but most obviously in the two countries most impacted by the Global Financial Crisis – America and UK. Populism will make it harder to bail out banks again.
  • Bad news 2. Governments are running out of firepower to pump in more liquidity. For every loan there has to be a lender and at some point lenders worry about inflation from money printing. Lack of funds will make it harder to bail out banks again.
  • Bad news 3. Consumers in the West remain highly leveraged. Consumers in the Rest, Of the World,  who are not so leveraged, are not yet ready to pick up the slack.
  • Good news 1.Banks are less leveraged than they were in 2008. 
  • Good news 2. Tech companies are swimming in cash.
  • Good news 3. There are more than a billion consumers in the Rest Of the World working hard to join a global middle class. At some point in the future, this rising tide will lift all boats.

The one bit of news that is good or bad, depending on where you are positioned today, is that Bitcoin and Blockchain has emerged as a real force for change.

Although I was tuned into the tech world on 15 September 2008, what I did not know was that Satoshi Nakomoto was planting the seed that would change our world so dramatically.

The Bitcoin/Blockchain wave is just getting started, so it is hard to predict outcomes, but Bitcoin/Blockchain is almost certainly bad news for most people in Legacy Finance. It could be good news for everybody else, depending on how things play out.

Now I want to make two announcements (one of which is true):

  • In exactly one week, on 15 September 2008, I will reveal right here on Daily Fintech, something I have under news embargo which is that Satoshi Nakomoto will be revealing his/her/it’s identity, on the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse.
  • In just over two weeks, on 2nd October 2018, I will be attending a conference called Finance Disrupted 2018 (the next ten years) in New York. This conference is managed  by the Economist and as I have been a subscriber to that publication for decades I am excited to attend. They have assembled speakers who really understand the intersection of tech and finance as it relates to major disruptions such as the Global Financial Crisis and what may happen in the next ten years. There is a 15% discount for Daily Fintech readers. Here is the link to learn more about the event. To get the 15% discount for Daily Fintech readers please quote: dailyfintech15

The announcement that is not true will still be entertaining, so as ye olde radio announcers liked to say – “stay tuned”.

Image Source.

Bernard Lunn is the CEO of Daily Fintech and author of The Blockchain Economy. He provides advisory services to companies involved with Fintech (reach out to julia at daily fintech dot com to discuss his services).

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