Volunteer of the Month: February 2017

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Sitaram (Ram) Gundapaneni

CFA Society Chicago would like to send a heartfelt thanks to all of its volunteers who share their time and talents with the Society.  Today, we’re extending a very special “thank you” to Sitaram (Ram) Gundapaneni.  He’s the Membership Engagement Advisory Group’s Volunteer of the Month.

Ram has been a CFA Society Chicago member for more than four years, serving on both the Communications and Membership Engagement advisory groups since joining the Society.  Ram has led a small group of volunteers and organized Welcome Calls to over 500 new members, trained volunteers to make Welcome Calls by holding orientation conference calls, and attended society events to greet new members in attendance. Ram has also prescreened membership applications to be presented to the CFA Society Chicago Board of Directors, taken minutes at the Membership Engagement Advisory Group meetings, and assisted with the CFA Institute Research Challenge hosted by the Society.

Thank you Ram! We’re lucky to have you as a part of our society!

Thank you CFA Society Chicago Volunteers!

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The success of the society is a reflection of the ever-increasing dedication and enthusiasm CFA Society Chicago volunteer advisory group members’ display on a continual basis.

The CFA Society Chicago Board of Directors would like to thank the volunteer members for their contribution to CFA Society Chicago.  We know how valuable one’s free time is, and cannot tell you how much the Board and the entire staff appreciate all of the work you’ve done. We could not do this without the members’ involvement.

Annual Dinner Advisory Group

Kristan Rowland, CFA (Co-Chair), William Blair & Company
Stephen Moy, CFA (Co-Chair)
Melissa Binder, CFA, The Marco Consulting Group
Wonee Janet Dougherty, CFA, JPMorgan
Walid Fikri, CFA, William Blair & Company
Timothy Holt, CFA, Investment Mgmt Consulting Group
Douglas Jackman, CFA, Thomas White International Ltd.
Josh Mangoubi, CFA
Aaron Temple, CFA, RSM US
Bei Wang, CFA, KPMG Capital

 

CFA Women’s Network

Kerry Jordan, CFA (Co-Chair), D’Orazio Capital Partners
Marie Winters, CFA (Co-Chair), Northern Trust
Jenifer Aronson, CFA, Mosaic Fi
Karen Alexander, CFA, Institutional Capital
Kathy Buck, CFA, Fidelity
Patricia Halper, CFA, Chicago Equity Partners
Krista McLeod, CFA, Silverpath Capital Management
Mary Catherine Mortell, CFA
Maura Murrihy, CFA
Joan Rockey, CFA, Castleark Management
TanyaWilliams, CFA
Miranda Yu, CFA, Guggenheim
Susan Zeeb

 

Communications Advisory Group

Brett Bina, CFA (Co-Chair), Berenberg Asset Management
Peter Vinzani, CFA, (Co-Chair)
Brad Adams, CFA
Thomas Bernardi, CFA, Bernardi Securities, Inc.
Zachary Brown, CFA, Milliman Inc.
Michael Campagna, CFA, Duff & Phelps
Chris Fry
Sandra Krueger, CFA
Charles McGrath, CFA
Cynthia McLaughlin, Invesco Powershares Capital Management
Mark Toledo, CFA, Chicago Partners
Kevin Waspi, CFA, University Of Illinois at Urbana-Champain

 

Distinguished Speakers Series Advisory Group

Patrick Bourbon, CFA (Co-Chair), Promanage, LLC
Sunitha Thomas, CFA (Co-Chair), Northern Trust
Christopher Ashbee, CFA, Chicago Equity Partners
Andrew Baker, CFA
Pablo Brezman Cohen JCDecaux
Shivani Choudhary Ashland Partners & Company Llp
Jing Dai
Jeff Doblin, Tethys Partners
Bob Finley, CFA, Virtue Asset Management
James Franke, CFA, Rothschild Investment Corporat
Lila Ling Han, CFA, Aon Hewitt
Michael Honeycutt, CFA, High Tower
Aditi Jain, CFA, GE Capital
Robert Knezevic, CFA, Susquehanna International Group
Sandra Krueger, CFA
Brian Langenberg, CFA, Langenberg & Company
Cosmin Lucaci-Oprea, CFA, Brownson, Rehmus & Foxworth, Inc.
Eric Mandall, CFA, BMO Global Asset Management
Sonya Morris, CFA, Harbor Capital Advisors
Mary Catherine Mortell, CFA
Daniel Natale, CFA
John Nelson, CFA, Mesirow Financial
Tim O’Connell
Alan Papier, CFA, Nuveen Investments
Kenny Parzgnat, CFA, GCM Grosvenor
Kevin Ross, CFA, Advisory Research Inc.
Gordon Scott, CFA
M Nicholas Sims, CFA, William Blair
Amanda Stilmock, CFA, J.P. Morgan Asset Management – Institutional Americas
James Stirling, CFA, UBS Financial Services Inc.
William Suess, CFA, Silverpath Capital Management
David Watkins, CFA, SHA Capital Partners
Steven Wittwer, CFA, Great Lakes Advisors, Llc
Paul Yox

 

Education Seminars Advisory Group

Garrett Glawe, CFA (Co-Chair), Standard & Poor’S
Robert Mudra, CFA (Co-Chair), Ocean Tomo
Nasri Ashkar, CFA, Baker & Mckenzie
Edidiong Attang
Elena Black, CFA, Opportunity International
Shivani Choudhary, Ashland Partners & Company LLP
Lawrence Cook, CFA
James Daley, CFA, Morningstar
Yeshaya Dobrusin, CFA, Charles E. Dobrusin & Associates
Andy Feltovich, CFA, Northern Trust
James Georgantas
Tiffany Greenhouse, CFA, MSCI
Lee Hayes, CFA, Genesee Investments
Tom Hillman, CFA, Credit Suisse
Rida Iqbal
Ben Johnson, CFA, Morningstar
John Joyce, CFA, William Blair & Company
Kiran Kurian
Christopher Lakumb, CFA, Rivernorth Capital Management, Inc.
Adam Mayer, CFA Northern Trust
Charles McGrath, CFA
Cynthia McLaughlin, Invesco Powershares Capital Management
Matthew Morris, UBS Global Asset Management
Jeanne Murphy, CFA, CFA Institute
Christopher Newman C.N.A
Alan Papier, CFA, Nuveen Investments
Kenneth Parzgnat, CFA, GCM Grosvenor
Jonathan Pham KPMG
Nancy Prial, CFA, Essex Investment Management
Allyson Rasmussen, CFA, Ashland Partners
Nicholas Redmond, CFA, Oculus Asset Management
Kevin Ross, CFA, Advisory Research Inc.
Linda Ruegsegger, CFA, Chicago Equity Partners
Richard Swartz
Jinghui Tang
Aaron Temple, CFA, RSM US
Oliver Thomas
Cindy Tsai, CFA, Investment Envisioned, Inc.
Kevin Waspi, CFA, University Of Illinois at Urbana-Champai
Miranda Yu, CFA, Guggenheim Partners
Susan Zeeb

 

Membership Engagement Advisory Group
Maura Murrihy, CFA (Co-Chair)
Aaron Taylor, CFA (Co-Chair), Chilmark Partners
Erik Baaske, CFA, Northern Trust
David Bock, Ernst & Young
Joseph Grandis, CFA, BMO Harris Bank
Sitaram Gundapaneni, Northern Trust
Dillion Hoover
Brian Langenberg, CFA, Langenberg & Company
William Lee, CFA
John Mariscalco, CFA, Main Street Advisors
James Meixner, CFA, Robert Baird
Gerald Norby, CFA, William Blair & Company
Jonathan Pham, KPMG
Rebecca Smith, CFA, SouthernSun Asset Management
James Van Osten
Evgeny Vostretsov, CFA
David Walters, CFA, PFM Asset Management LLC
Kevin Waspi, CFA, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champain

 

Professional Development Advisory Group 
Jenifer Aronson, CFA (Co-Chair), Mosaic Fi
Andrew Feltovich, CFA (Co-Chair), Northern Trust
Chris Abraham, CFA, CVA Investment Management
Brad Adams, CFA 
William Anderson, CFA 
Nasri Ashkar, CFA, Baker & Mckenzie
Edidiong Attang 
Joseph Besch 
Jay Bullie, CFA, Fitch Ratings
Jim Daley, CFA, Morningstar
Yeshaya Dobrusin, CFA, Charles E. Dobrusin & Associates Ltd.
Pratik Doshi, CFA 
Anne Durkin, CFA, Main Street Advisors
William Fitzpatrick, CFA, Manulife Asset Management
Alek Gasiel, CFA, Northern Trust
Tyler Glover, CFA, William Blair & Company
Samantha Grant, CFA, Mesirow
Timothy Greive, CFA, Kaplan
Daniel Harris, CFA 
John Ide, CFA, J.P. Morgan Asset Management
Jiayao Jiang 
Spencer Kelly, CAN
Andrey Kochetov, CFA, US Bank
Kiran Kurian 
John Mariscalco, CFA, Main Street Advisors
Joe Maule, Northern Trust
Kenneth Parzgnat, CFA, GCM Grosvenor
Thanh Pham, CFA, Associated Bank
Kevin Ross, CFA ,Advisory Research Inc.
Umed Saidov, CFA 
Chenjie Sang 
Naved Siddiqui, CFA, Thomas White International
Michael Sullivan, CFA 
Rick Tauber, CFA, Morningstar
Marcus Velasco, CFA, Nuveen
Hee-Jin Yi, CFA, US Bank

 

Social Events Advisory Group 
Mark Cichra, CFA (Co-Chair), Kemper
Colin MacLean, CFA (Co-Chair), BMO Harris Bank
Ken Blickenstaff, Geneva Advisors
David Bock, Ernst & Young
Pablo Brezman Cohen, JCDecaux
Andrew Bushey, CFA, Skyline Asset Management, LP
Taylor Champion, CFA, US Trust
Matthew Copeland, UBS Global Asset Management
Christopher DeMale, CFA, NFP Retirement
Chris Fry 
Adan Galvan, CFA, Ativo Capital Management
James Georgantas, CFA,  Boyd Watterson Asset Management
Ahmet (Tolga) Guder, Northern Trust
Rishabh Halakhandi, CFA, Thomas White International, Ltd.
Dillion Hoover 
Michael Honeycutt, CFA, High Tower
Kyle Hutchins, SG Capital Management
Aditi Jain, CFA, GE Capital 
Dan Lekan, CFA 
William Lee, CFA, Neuberger Berman
Jian Li, CFA, Morningstar
Christopher Lozynski, CFA The Tlp Group, Llc
Mario Manfredi, First Trust Advisors
Matthew McLaughlin, CFA, William Blair
Kimberly Merchant, CFA, BMO Harris Bank
Daniel Natale, CFA 
Zachary Rosenstock, CFA, Segall Bryant & Hamill
Mateusz Rudzinski, JP Morgan Chase
Hisham Sayeedi, Northern Trust
Naved Siddiqui, Thomas White International
Nicholas Tan, CFA 
Bei Wang, CFA 
Seth Williams, Fitch Ratings

CFA Society Chicago Chairman’s Letter to Membership

img_1799Dear Fellow Charterholders and CFA Society Chicago Members:

Based on feedback we have received, we are initiating this quarterly Chairman of the Board Message to all our members. The intent is to keep the membership informed of the activities and priorities of the Board of Directors.

This Board for the 2016 – 2017 fiscal year met for the first time on July 27, 2016. We began the session by reviewing the previous year and are happy to report CFA Society Chicago finished the 2015 – 2016 fiscal year on June 30, 2016 with strong with reserves of nearly $1.89 million on revenues of $1.4 million. Membership grew to a record 4,563 members, a 2.7% increase from a year ago. We finished the year with an operating loss of $86,600 versus a projected loss of $185,000. The unrealized loss was $18,400 for a total Net Loss of $105,000. During the year, over 140 events were held ranging from 25 to 1,200 participants.

Two primary areas of focus for the 2016 – 2017 period will be to promote Employer Engagement and Society Volunteerism. The Society has developed tools and reports to track the levels of each, and we will utilize the information to target growth areas during the year. The success of our programming depends on our volunteers and their employers support.  We aspire to develop a community of inclusion, diversity and respect, which is one of our five organizational pillars. Please get involved!

We also discussed and continue to evaluate opportunities in the areas of Advocacy and Financial Literacy which will continue to be developed over the coming year by a new Advocacy Task Force and the Membership Engagement group, respectively.

The CFA Institute has begun to elicit feedback from the Societies on the Continuing Education (CE) program. As part of this process, David Larrabee, CFA, Director, Member and Corporate Products with CFA Institute, attended the board meeting and presented an overview of the current CE program. CFA Institute is examining the voluntary status of the program and assessing the effects of making it mandatory. There are no near term plans to make CE mandatory but the Institute is seeking input globally on the matter, as well as the broader topic of how it might strengthen the current CE program.

The Board discussed in detail many of the issues that would need to be addressed before mandatory CE would be considered such as: encompassing current employer training and educational programs, incorporating other professional designation CE programs and events, and developing a robust, accessible and affordable programming.

The Board offered suggestions on incentives to encourage members to take continuing education which included an online assessment when renewing membership, a recognition program for members that take continuing education, and a communication presenting the value proposition on why continuing education is important.

We would like to thank Mr. Larrabee and the Institute for providing us the opportunity to discuss continuing education.  We are anticipating additional information regarding important issue in the future and we will keep you apprised of any developments.

During the next few weeks CFA Society Chicago will be holding events including the Distinguished Speaker Series luncheon programs featuring Jeff Ubben, Chief Executive Officer of Value-Act Capital, on September 21st and Jimmy Levin, Managing Director of Och-Ziff Capital Management, on Oct 4th. The Education Advisory Group will be presenting “Investing in Innovation” on September 28th. Please visit www.cfachicago.org for additional information and registration details.

The end of summer also means CFA Society Chicago’s Annual Dinner is around the corner, with this year’s event being held at Navy Pier on November 2, 2016. Registration for the 30th Annual Dinner is now open and features Cliff Asness, Managing Principal and CIO of AQR Capital, as this year’s keynote speaker. The Hortense-Friedman Award for Excellence will be presented to Richard Ennis, CFA, and posthumously to George Norton. If you are interested in sponsoring this year’s dinner please contact Kim Augustyn, Director of Programming and Sponsorship at kaugustyn@cfachicago.org or (312) 251-1301.

The strength of CFA Society Chicago benefits from the efforts of all our volunteers and the support of our local firms. We hope to continue to be a leading voice and a resource for our members and your firms. Thank you to all the current volunteers and the support of your firms. If you would like to learn more about how you or your firm can participate in our programming opportunities, please reach out to CFA Society Chicago at (312) 251-1301 or info@cfachicago.org.

 

Sincerely,

Douglas Jackman, CFA
Chairman, CFA Society Chicago

 

CFA Society Chicago’s 2016 Annual Business Meeting

DSC_2952Beginning with a cocktail and appetizer hour, CFA Society Chicago’s annual business meeting was held at the Virgin Hotel on June 20th. Chief Executive Officer, Shannon Curley, CFA, led off with a summary of this past year which he labeled under the major theme of “Building the Base”.

The four major activities of focus were:

  1. Redesigning the website
  2. Working with CFA Institute to rebuild the CRM database
  3. Improving outreach to local universities and employers
  4. Preparing the office move to 33 N. LaSalle Street, Suite 910, Chicago, IL 60602

Following Curley’s remarks, Chicago Chairman Kerry Jordan, CFA, highlighted some of the accomplishments of this special 90th anniversary year:

  • The Society hosted over 130 events (with 9 sellouts!)
  • Record attendance at the 2015 Annual Dinner
  • Membership is up to 4,524 total members

Jordan complimented the invaluable contributions of the Advisory Group Co-chairs, and made special mention of the increased program offering of the Professional Development Advisory Group.

Examples of new or expanded initiatives include:

  • Creation of a new task force to determine how the CFA Society Chicago can be more helpful toward advocacy:
  • Launching of the CFA Women’s Network
  • The financial literacy program
  • Education of pension trustees
  • Branding campaign
  • Community service

Jordan then spoke about a few global initiatives involving the CFA Institute. Paul Smith, CEO of CFA Institute, has scheduled visits at over 140 local societies across the globe and was in Chicago to attend the regional and global finals of the CFA Institute Research Challenge.  Over the past year the CFA Institute has redesigned how local societies can receive funding for building brand awareness.

Jordan participated in the global brand campaign as part of a committee including six other charterholders to discuss the charter, what it means and how it can be made more prominent in the future.

Jordan then concluded by thanking the CFA Society Chicago staff and Shannon Curley, CFA, for his effort to grow the Chicago Society.

Marie Winters, CFA, Treasurer of CFA Society Chicago, was introduced next. Her remarks were brief, but included the society’s current financial standing including reserves sufficient enough to cover 14 months of operating expense. Recently we have used reserves strategically to upgrade technology and quality of programming.

After the 2015-2016 executive committee was thanked, Doug Jackman, CFA, was introduced as the incoming Chairman.

In the business portion of the meeting, the by-laws were approved, as well as the new slate of directors and officers for CFA Society Chicago.

Awards for amazing service were given to Justin Shepard, CFA, and Chris Vincent, CFA, and a special thanks was given to Larry Cook, CFA, who is departing as the Education Advisory Group co-chair.

Finally, Jackman was introduced as the next Chairman of the Board of Directors. Jackman spoke about not having a personal agenda, just his privilege to oversee the overarching agenda to build a strong Society which thrives on its volunteer system. Toward this goal CFA society Chicago plans to invest in upgrading systems and generating more active participation by members and member firms.

CFA Society Chicago is open to any ideas on how the Chicago society can further strengthen its brand and reputation.

The evening concluded with a reception that was a great opportunity to reconnect as well as meet new and interesting members.

Putting Investors First

DSC_2831Each May, CFA Institute and local societies join together to create awareness around placing investors interest first. This event reminds us of why we work in this industry – to best serve our clients.  Moderator Darin Goodwiler guided panelists Jonathan Boersma, CFA, David Hershey, CFA, and Brian Thompson through a discussion on the current regulatory and ethical environment investment professionals are navigating. The panelists provided insights from CFA Institute, the SEC and consulting and investment management disciplines.

Most of the discussion covered the Department of Labor (DOL) rule and its impacts. Given the goal of DOL is to provide objective advise to investors, 93% of 1400 surveyed want the law and 51% think the law is already set up to meet this objective. Broker dealers will be impacted the greatest and it is likely that security sales will be a differentiated title from what we have known as advisors. As the DOL regulation progresses, we can expect to hear a unified message from the SEC and FINRA via social media and other communication channels.  All who give advice to clients are be held to the same standards and it was noted that CFA charterholders, candidates and members have long been held to a very high standard of loyalty, prudence and care. Due to this, no change is expected for this group.

One thing DOL won’t help with is people behaving badly. Culture and management play a role. Ethics training and regulation can help but regulation backward looking is implemented because we learn from our mistakes and play “catch-up” from innovation. Thompson commented that ethical decision making plays into awareness like yoga does into moods and breathing. Panelists felt that best practices are using GIPS and having a strong and visible Chief Compliance Officer.

This event was part of CFA Institute’s annual ethics initiative. For those wanting to practice ethics by role play in an interactive environment, please see http://cfa.is/1WTtG0G to access on-line programs offered by the CFA Institute.

 

Building My Brand: Soft Skills for Success

DSC_2838What is the difference between our social selves and professional selves and why would it ever be bad to be social? What do we need to be successful financially and professionally? Melissa Ford, a business and life coach helped us develop an outer focus leading to success and better outcomes.

DSC_2841The social self is the self that is created as we grow up. It is likely created by authority and is reactive, self-focused and needy; sometimes even to the point of being creepy. It represents the inner fear and doubt we might feel when our manager indicates they want to talk to us or when we are in a new group and want everyone to like us. Our professional aura concentrates on serving, contributing, being confident and creative. At the center of the professional self we find power, focus and energy. We are the creators of our professional selves.

So if the professional self is better for success, how do we shift to it and what should we be aware of? It is a doing versus being problem. Tips that can help us get into this mindset and stay there are as follows:

  1. DSC_2842Work on active listening skills. Move out of broadcast only mode.
  2. Put yourself in situations with people who are in professional mode.
  3. Work on empathy and give yourself a break. This may take time and practice.
  4. Notice how you feel and when you catch yourself in social mode, move to professional mode.
  5. Roleplay your professional self and then make adjustments based on feedback.

Melissa told us that the best thing is to just “flip the switch” and turn on the professional. We will know that we are in our professional mindset when we start overriding pre-programmed responses and we can do this easily on difficult days like Monday mornings. It’s all about getting out of the comfort zone.

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CFA Society Chicago Book Club: “The Age of CryptoCurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order” by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey

Bitcoin with its underlying blockchain technology is by far the most controversial and least understood of the fintech innovations revolutionizing financial services. Since it was conceived in 2008 it has generally been viewed with suspicion, even outright derision. But both the currency and the technology are gaining legitimacy and there’s growing interest in its potential, as shown by these informal indicators:

  • Strong growth in startup funding by top VCs and investors: bitbetween 2013 and 2015 venture investments grew from $95M to $622M per this recap http://www.coindesk.com/bitcoin-venture-capital/
  • Improvement in price volatility (but still far from stable): high/low in 2013 was $1,147/$13, and in 2015 was $456/$214
  • Robust discussions at the 2016 World Economic Forum, European Parliament, IMF, CFTC and other venues to consider the value, drawbacks and risks of bitcoin and blockchain
  • Continuing evolution of regulations: New York’s BitLicense requirements, IRS and CFTC rulings, general openness in the UK, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Romania and elsewhere

At the February CFA Chicago Book Club meeting we discussed Paul Vigna’s and Michael J. Casey’s excellent book on all things bitcoin and blockchain. The two Wall Street Journal reporters thoroughly explored the origins, mechanics, personalities, motivations, recent developments and future of this fascinating technology.

There’s a shroud of ambiguity around bitcoin. It can be characterized as a currency, commodity, payment protocol or an expansive platform for trading anything of value, and the authors clearly explain each of these perspectives. They also describe the underlying technology and its two key breakthroughs: a universal ledger that captures every transaction and is continuously verified, and an incentive system for “nodes” to maintain the ledger. Bitcoin exists as a chain of digital signatures. Owners privately transfer coins by digitally signing a hash of the previous transaction and the public key of the next owner, adding their signatures to the end of the coin. Note, a “hash” is just a long string of characters and hashing is a common technique used in encryption and data-storage. The open source blockchain code tells computer nodes how to collaborate in maintaining the integrity of the universal bitcoin ledger via a process called mining.

Everyone’s heard about bitcoin “miners” who dig up newly minted electronic currency, but mining is really a misnomer. Networked computer nodes do the work of confirming that transactions are valid, verifying the ledger is correct, getting all other nodes to agree, closing the previous block of transactions and opening a new one. While doing so they can earn new bitcoin as a reward. There’s more to it, but essentially this is mining. The sequential blocks of transactions form the chronological blockchain ledger. One block, or group of transactions, is closed and a new one is opened every 10 minutes or so. Anyone with a computer and internet access can establish a node and mine, but to increase the likelihood of earning bitcoin miners employ massive computer power. There are dedicated server farms in the U.S. and abroad using computers designed just for this purpose. China is especially active in bitcoin mining.

The origins of bitcoin have contributed to its mystique and notoriety. A person or group named Satoshi Nakamoto conceived the open-source computer code on October 31st, 2008, by posting on a message board for cryptographers. It caught the attention of Hal Finney who dabbled in encryption technology in his off hours. He and Sathoshi worked to get the open-source protocol running in 2009, and slowly others began to adopt and use bitcoin. The cryptocurrency also appealed to “Cypherpunks”, an anarchic, libertarian group concerned with privacy protection and subverting the power of banks and governments to create economic crises and serve corporate interests at the expense of citizens. Satoshi’s true identity and motivation for introducing bitcoin aren’t known. He or she essentially disappeared in 2011 and past communications were encrypted, sparingly worded and didn’t elaborate on philosophy.

The current system for handling credit card transactions illustrates the problem bitcoin intends to solve. The authors walk through an everyday coffee purchase: seven entities are involved, including the merchant, front-end processors, payment processors, banks, credit card associations, clearing houses, etc. These entities share our banking and personal information, and of course earn fees which are paid by the merchant and ultimately you and I. Fees can total 3%, and much more when traveling abroad. This same transaction using bitcoin is strictly between the merchant and purchaser. The universal ledger confirms funds are available and validates the transaction. No personal information is shared because bitcoin is encrypted. No third party intermediaries are needed and no transaction fees are charged. In this scenario there’s no need for banks, credit cards, payment processors, dollars, euro or yen. Bitcoin proponents envision huge economic benefits from eliminating transaction fees.

A growing list of merchants accept bitcoin as payment for some or all of their products, including Dell, DISH Network, Microsoft, Expedia, Overstock, Newegg and many others. However, there are good reasons to be skeptical. Public perception suffered after several hacking incidents. For example, Mt. Gox, an early bitcoin exchange lost 650,000 of its client’s bitcoins and finally collapsed, impacting 127,000 users. Silk Road was another high-profile debacle. It was an Ebay-like site for trading in illegal drugs and assassinations that used encryption to hide web traffic and the anonymity of bitcoin to keep transactions private. Its operator, Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison for money laundering and trafficking narcotics. There’s also conflict within the bitcoin community itself, most recently related to a proposal to expand bitcoin transaction volume capacity, which is a small fraction of established payment systems. The argument exploded very publicly into death threats, virus attacks and censoring bitcoin discussion boards. Breakdowns like these, coupled with extreme price volatility in past years and other concerns damage public trust in bitcoin as a reliable currency.

Trust is a recurring theme in the book. In our current system banks and other central institutions maintain the central ledger that establishes the essential trust in who owes what to whom. Various parties in this system dedicate enormous resources to verify their records match and confirm trust. But with bitcoin, trust is automated. To be effective as currency bitcoin must be widely held and widely accepted. It’s the classic “chicken or egg” dilemma. Money must be a unit of account, a store of value and a medium of exchange, three conditions banks are currently tasked with safeguarding. But there’s an enormous cost for this in money, privacy, and economic damage banks are perceived to cause in crises. The authors deftly explore multiple perspectives on trust and the central role of banks:

  • In developing countries millions of people lack access to banks. Bitcoin may be an ideal solution for countries with limited banking infrastructure, weak legal systems, 10%-20% fees on transfers from citizens working abroad and a high degree of self-employment.
  • Russia’s and China’s national security depends on controlling their national currencies, so unregulated and encrypted bitcoin may be a threat to government’s hold on power.
  • Developed countries incur hundreds of billions in transaction fees that could be used productively. But unlike bitcoin, the incumbent system allows for Keynesian intervention during crises to offset currency hoarding.

To the extent bitcoin has obstacles; the underlying blockchain technology has opportunities. Financial institutions are using it to create more efficient financial payment, trading and settlement systems. Major firms actively exploring blockchain solutions include Bank of America, Banco Santander, IBM, ING, Mizuho, NASDAQ, PwC, UBS and many others. Meanwhile, startups like Next, Ripple, Mastercoin, Ethereum, BitShares, Counterparty, Stellar and others are developing digital asset exchanges for peer-to-peer trading. The authors explore a variety of blockchain applications that extend beyond digital currency. Decentralized autonomous corporations (DACs) are similar to crowd-funding but DAC shareholders participate in ownership and any increase or decrease in value. Reputation markets for restaurateurs, contractors, freelancers, etc. use blockchain to hold their record of customer reviews, which can then be securitized to monetize goodwill. Voting can use an encrypted private key to send a tiny amount of bitcoin to a polling wallet. Votes are time-stamped and permanent in the blockchain to prevent fraud. Smart contracts, where bitcoin payments are made to a neutral wallet and disbursements are triggered automatically. Examples include homeowner’s escrow for insurance and tax payments, and credit default swaps where a credit event automatically triggers payment to the CDS owner. Smart property, where digital ownership tokens are assigned as property deeds, titles and certifications of ownership, makes them easily tradable with other digital asset claims. There are endless applications using the blockchain platform, and it’s seen by some as the internet all over again.

Blockchain clearly has a very bright future. As for bitcoin as digital currency, the authors present several future scenarios and discuss potential government reactions and the impact on various stakeholders:

  • Bitcoin is adopted worldwide: The UK, Canada, Switzerland and Singapore are poised to lead due to their innovation-friendly regulations. The U.S. would take a back seat given the restrictions here. Banks and governments would have greatly diminished power. Millions of unbanked people in developing countries would gain access to an efficient financial system.
  • Bitcoin is not adopted: The obstacles to realizing the grand vision are never overcome and a ‘just good enough’ option with lower fees and greater efficiency takes hold within the existing system.
  • Hybrid system: Bitcoin grows alongside the existing system and national fiat currencies continue to be used. Exchanges are needed to convert to and from digital currency. Blockchain technology is used by institutions to improve transaction confirmations, payment systems, etc. Credit card companies, payment processors and currency traders could disappear. Or bitcoin could be adopted principally for online and certain other types of commerce.
  • Multi-coin world: Currency itself becomes less important. The principle means of exchange could be smart property trading on blockchain-based exchanges where property items are divided to level needed. Commerce becomes a form of barter without the limitations of trading physical property. The authors posited selling half a horse for a flight to LA!
  • National cryptocurrency: Countries launch their own digital currency using blockchain technology. People trade currency peer to peer without intermediaries, but control is still centralized leaving the state as the ultimate counterparty. Governments retain the ability to use policy measures to stimulate the economy. Cross-border transfers of digital currencies are difficult to restrict which undermines capital controls. The U.S. digital dollar has an enhanced role as a reserve currency, but the Fed is more accountable to the global marketplace. For example, if the U.S. digital dollar were mismanaged other currencies would become favored.

Regardless which of these scenarios is realized, bitcoin and blockchain have staggering potential to reshape financial services and other areas of the economy. They can no longer be dismissed as a fringe, radical movement. It will be fascinating to observe this space in the coming months and years.

 

Upcoming Schedule:

March 15, 2016: My Side of the Street: Why Wolves, Flash Boys, Quants, and Masters of the Universe Don’t Represent the Real Wall Street by Jason DeSena Trennert

April 19, 2016: While America Aged: How Pension Debts Ruined General Motors, Stopped the NYC Subways, Bankrupted San Diego, and Loom as the Next Financial Crisis by Roger Lowenstein

May 17, 2016: TBD

To sign up for a future book club event, please click here:

http://www.cfachicago.org/apps/eve_events.asp

Ben Bernanke with Martin Wolf on the Global Financial Crisis

Ben Bernanke, former Federal Reserve Chairman, spoke with Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator and associate editor of the Financial Times, at the historic Chicago Theater about his new book The Courage to Act: A Memoir of the Crisis and its Aftermath. The book is Bernanke’s chance to take on some of his harshest critics and to explain, in great detail, the Federal Reserve’s role in saving the country’s financial system during the Great Recession. Bernanke was appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve in 2006, mere months before the financial system began to unravel. During his hour-long chat with Wolf, Bernanke talked about his childhood, Lehman’s failure, and his inability to refinance his home mortgage last year.

Bernanke grew up in South Carolina, where he and his grandmother often discussed the Great Depression, which he said sparked his interest in economics. He was particularly interested in the monetary policy failures of the Great Depression and how future crises could be handled without these mistakes. In fact, on Milton Friedman’s 90th birthday, Bernanke promised that he would het let monetary policy fail again.

Wolf pointedly asked about Bernanke’s decision to let Lehman fail. Bernanke contends that he did not let the bank fail; rather it was the only option. First, he points out that they did not miss the housing bubble. He noted that he spoke with then-President George Bush about what would happen if housing prices dropped significantly and they concluded there would be a recession, but it would be manageable. What they hadn’t anticipated was how quickly short-term financing to banks would dry up as the markets got spooked. This, he insisted, was a weakness in the regulations as the system had too much dry tinder.

Turning back to Lehman, Bernanke detailed the “Lehman weekend” which started with widespread calls from the financial media to let Lehman fail. He wanted to avoid this and hoped another bank would step in to purchase Lehman as JP Morgan had done with Bear Sterns. Two potential buyers stepped forward, Bank of America and Barclays, but after examining Lehman’s balance sheet, both declined. The next option was for the Fed to lend money to Lehman (as it did later with AIG), but Lehman had no good collateral against which it could borrow. In the end, Bernanke contends he had no choice and Lehman failed.Bernanke leaves fed

The mood lightened a bit during the audience Q & A, when Bernanke was asked about the lack of mortgage credit in the market today and whether he thought it had gone from too loose to too tight. Bernanke agreed and told of how he was prevented from refinancing his home because he no longer worked for the Federal Reserve and didn’t meet the bank’s minimum number of years of self-employment. Don’t worry, though, as soon as the media got wind of it, Bernanke was offered plenty of refinancing opportunities from other banks.

Networking on the Green

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The long, proud history of the CFA Society of Chicago, founded in 1925, was just barely preceded by the founding of Ruth Lake Country Club in 1922.  Nearly 100 years later, the two entities came together for an exceptional day of golf.

On August 3rd, more than 50 of the Society’s finest golfers and their guests descended on Ruth Lake to enjoy a fine time of fellowship and competition on one of the area’s premier country club courses.  The first nine holes were originally designed and built by David Foulis in 1922 with the second nine completed in 1923 to round out the 18 hole layout, creating a  fair but demanding track.  While the original design stood the test of time for over 80 years, an Arthur Hills redesign in 2005 brought it up to a higher standard of excellence.

The day’s events began with the group spending some timeDSC_2111 loosening up on the driving range and getting a feel for the glass-like putting greens.  At the same time, everyone was free to indulge in the full buffet lunch which was highlighted by bacon bratwurst, a selection of sandwiches, salads, and an assortment beverages.  After lunch, the participants were directed to their carts and sent out to their starting holes for the day’s golf.

As far as this writer’s round of golf went, the weather wasDSC_2113 fantastic!  Certainly all of the participants played both good and bad shots, had some punch shots fly straight through the trees, and others that were stymied by those same trees.  The putting greens were so quick that missed tap-ins could roll several feet past the hole, but certainly all would agree that they ran true for well-struck putts.  Overall, the course was in fantastic shape and provided a great test for all aspects of the competitor’s games.

After playing the course, the group gathered in the Club’s dining room for drinks and dinner.  As waiters provided drink service, a buffet was again laid out.  The dinner version offered various salads, sides, a mix of fish and chicken dishes, and a beef carving station.  This allowed time for the group to meet new friends, discuss the day’s play, provide recommendations for must-see courses in the area, and to potentially foster some new business relationships.

While the diners enjoyed their meals including delicious cake for dessert, Kim Augustyn presented awards and gift packages to the winners of the long drive, closest to the pin, and net team score contests.  We’d like to congratulate Thomas Campbell of Neil, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP for hitting his shot to 57” on the par-3 14th hole and Erik Kratz of Mid-Continental Capital for crushing his drive long and straight to win the long drive contest.  Jason Loy and Anthony Doughty of KPMG and Philip Figal and Scott Cosentine of Ashland Partners combined to shoot an incredible net 51 score to pick up the team honors.

Of course, we would also like to send special thanks to our sponsors for their generous support!

  • Eagle sponsor: Principal Funds Distributor, Inc.
  • Par sponsors: Allstate Investments, D3 Financial Counselors, LLC, ETF Managers Group, RBC Global Asset Management, and RiverNorth

With the 11th Annual CFA Society of Chicago Golf Outing in the books, all the participants will surely look back to remember a great Monday out of the office and will be looking forward to seeing what other outstanding area course will serve as host to next year’s event.

Leadership: Managing Talent and Comp in the New Era

Exhibiting investment leadership, establishing a winning culture, building high performing investment teams – are all intertwined.

On Wed., May 27th at the Hotel Allegro, Jim Ware, CFA presented from the new white paper from Focus Group Consulting “”Investment Challenges: Remaining Relevant through Compelling Value”. The 35 people in attendance were given terrific insights into what it will take for investment management firms to be successful in the post-financial crisis era.

Unlike many talks and studies of the success criteria in the investment industry, Jim’s material did not dwell on a benchmark beating strategy or how to become better at marketing. Rather, through the right kind of investment leadership, winning firms will be successful at hiring the right people and developing a strong culture. Improved talent retention and decision making will directly lead to the success of the firm.

Strengths, weaknesses, and inattention to blind spots were discussed. Leadership in the investment industry has tended to fall onto driven, smart individuals with exceptional technical skills. However, developing talent, collaboration and self-awareness tend to be not so strong in traditional investment leaders, yet these areas are most important for creating success in the new environment.

Through audience polling attendees were able to directly provide feedback based on observations within their own firms, and the results were compared to averages compiled by Focus Consulting Group in similar talks both within and outside the U.S.

Regarding leadership, Mr. Ware made an observation that only perhaps 50% of an investment management firms success relates to performance. The other 50% is based on relationship, thus the intangibles that were at the heart of the discussion. He cited a firm that had 7 consecutive years of relative outperformance yet had not grown assets under management due to neglect for the culture and leadership concerns.

A few best practices that were highlighted include that good leaders will get curious about a weakness, not defensive. This requires creating a good feedback channel. Modeling good behaviors, and considering culture and values in employment decisions were also of importance.

In conclusion Jim left everyone with a Checklist for the New Era which is a scorecard of 10 important factors that should be assessed by all senior members of a management team and evaluated on a strongly agree – strongly disagree scale. For more information on this please contact the CFA Society Chicago office.