Cathy O’Neil taught mathematics at Barnard College before working as an analyst for the hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co. Disillusioned, she joined Occupy Wall Street and Occupy the SEC, where she hopes to devise an alternative banking system. She created the blog Mathbabe to explain and demystify terminology and practices in the financial system. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted by producer Martin Smith on Jan. 18, 2012.
Interview on PBS
Let’s start with just talking about your background, your educational background and your journey to where you are today.
Sure. So when I was a kid, I wanted to be a mathematician. Essentially one of the reasons I liked math was I liked the idea that it was either right or wrong, that a question could be clean; the answer could be clean.
And I entered mathematics partly because I just love that feeling of knowing it was the right thing, right answer. I fell in love with number theory in college, and I went to grad school and got a Ph.D. in number theory. I was a postdoc. And then I even became an assistant professor at Barnard College. Once I got there –
… Where [did] you [do] your undergraduate?
… I went to UC Berkeley as an undergrad. I loved that place. I went to Harvard for grad school. And then I was a postdoc for five years at MIT. So then I went to Barnard, and I had sort of been thinking, been striving to become a math professor essentially since I was 13 or 14. And when I finally became that math professor, I looked around and I said, “You know, is this really what I want?” There were various aspects of the job that just didn’t suit my personality, and one of them was the feedback was very slow, and it was also very mixed.
I started realizing that the idea that you could be valued for your ideas, for your theorems was kind of naive; that in fact people — and this is a general truth about the world — people sort of take you on your face value, like, do they like you? Do they think your field is important? Questions like that –
So you’re teaching –
I’m teaching, uh-huh.
– at Barnard, and then you start to think–
Yeah. I just realize I’d like — I want to go back to that place where you’re being measured by something that you can point to, that you understand. And then I thought, I also want more feedback. I want to be part of the world. I really like New York. I like the energy. So I wanted to be in business, and I wanted to be measured by something I understood.
So I applied to work at a hedge fund, D. E. Shaw, and I got the job. And I thought this was great. I mean, here is a hedge fund; the bottom line is money, and I will know — I will sort of understand things in terms of this metric. And I kind of wanted to hold onto that. So I went to work there at D. E. Shaw.
And what was D. E. Shaw? What kind of shop was that?
It was — it’s a hedge fund. It had various different groups depending on the asset classes that people traded on. I was a quant. … Essentially the front office is made up of the quant groups, and then there’s traders as well.
What does a quant do?
A quant uses statistical methods to try to predict patterns in the market.
So you were digging into what kind of problems? Give me some sense of what you did there.
Well, I was in the futures group, so I was trying to predict things in futures, any kind of future, so bonds, commodities. Crude oil was a big thing when I was there. So I was there between 2007 and 2009, and the crude market was really crazy, but also the stock market. The stock indices have futures on them. So that’s the kind of thing that I was trying to predict, either on a daily basis or a weekly basis typically.
And so you’re coming up — you’re doing technical analysis of past trends and trying to come up with where things are going to go next. Is that possible –?
Right. Is it possible? If the market kind of keeps going along the way it has been, it is quite possible, yeah. And it’s a general truth that for quants that it was really easy to do this stuff in the ’80s, and it was pretty easy in the ’90s.
And it became harder and harder as more quants tried to do it, because it’s a general truth that as someone makes money off a certain pattern, the pattern gets smaller. So [it gets] more and more difficult to successfully do this over time. And every model lost signal as well over time.
So what did you think of working at D. E. Shaw? What was that experience like for you?
Well, at first it was just strange. I think I was the only female quant. It was a sort of universe that I didn’t really know what to make of for a long time. I eventually started realizing that the people I was working with had a certain characteristic that I just didn’t share.
And by the way, I never really cared about money per se. I never really wanted to become a rich person. So that’s something I knew going in that I didn’t really share. But that wasn’t really what bothered me. I mean, I knew that those people wanted to be rich. I wasn’t offended by that idea. It seemed like a pretty typical American goal, in fact. So I was used to it. But I think the aspect that I ended up realizing I didn’t share was a kind of fear, and I — as sort of a driving fear, if I could describe it that way.
When I would ask somebody, you know, “Well, what’s the point of being this ruthless to get so much money when no — why isn’t it enough money? If it’s enough money for you to retire now, why do you need more than that?” And I’d often get the response: “Well, you know, Cathy, my grandfather was a coal miner, or my father was a coal miner. I don’t want to be a coal miner, and I don’t want my children to be coal miners.”
And it sort of seemed like this almost infinite hunger for insurance, personal insurance. It also seemed like this kind of — this concept of, you know, “my people” was very limited to my family. So it was almost like a tribal mentality.
And at that point I realized, I mean, I just didn’t — I don’t get it. You know, when I think about “my people,” I think about everyone in the world. And that was something that really separated me, at least in my mind, from the people I worked with, and not everyone I worked with, but a lot of the people I worked with.
It’s interesting. You don’t describe it as greed. You describe it as a hunger for insurance.
Yeah. And fear.
Fear. Fear of not having enough.
So it wasn’t greed that you witnessed?
I think greed was the consequence of that fear, I mean, that rationalized — let’s say it this way. It’s a combination, but that fear rationalized the greed, and the greed fed the fear in return, I think. People felt the greed, and they said: “Why am I feeling this greed? I must have a reason.” And maybe they invented the fear in that sense. But I think it was a real combination.
Every company has a culture. And Wall Street in general has, pejoratively, a reputation for having sort of corrupt values. What were the values that you were exposed to at D. E. Shaw? What were they?
You know, I just want to say that D. E. Shaw is sort of famous for having an academic culture. And I absolutely think that there are other cultures in other places that were a lot more cutthroat than D. E. Shaw. I think, for Wall Street, D. E. Shaw was about as nice as you could get in terms of its culture and its environment, for someone coming out of academics, especially.
Having said that, the basic cultural assumptions were not pleasant to me. The sort of most basic cultural assumption was that as a smart person, we have the right to take advantage of the system and of “dumb people.” And that is sort of — I mean, I guess I should have known, going into a hedge fund, that’s what people think.
I was thinking of it naively, more like, “Oh, there’s a system, and we should see what inefficiencies there are in the system and add information.” I mean, I just sort of drank that Kool-Aid. But once I was inside, I realized that’s not really how people think about it. They think about it, like, “Well, of course we’re going to take advantage, because we’re smart, and we can. Like, we have better tools, and our tools are our brains.”
Take advantage of whom?
Take advantage of absolutely everything and everyone that we can, in any way we can.
How long were –
Not — and just wanted to mention not unethically, like not illegally, although ethics –
Although perhaps maybe unethically, but that’s not illegal.
Yeah, that’s a good point of saying. It’s — I don’t think D. E. Shaw ever does anything illegal. I mean, as far as I know, nothing illegal ever happened. But it was still not — and yeah, still not particularly moral.
What do you mean?
I mean, I feel like if we could figure out a way to take advantage of pension funds, we would do it.
… There was an example that you gave me of discussing among your colleagues pension fund investments.
Right. So right, so one of the assumptions, one of the sort of underlying assumptions was that there’s smart money, and then there’s dumb money. … And most large funds that have rules about how you can invest them are being managed by people who don’t have a lot of imagination. They’re not the quants. They’re not very clever at trading. They’re lazy.
So the idea was: “You know, this is called dumb money. Let’s just — let’s take their dumb money. Let’s anticipate their lazy attitude toward trading, and let’s just, like, front-run them. Let’s get ahead of them on the trades so we can take some of the skim off some of the pension, some of that mutual fund or whatever it is — the large fund. Let’s take some of that money.”
Can you go through that again? Explain a little bit more what you mean by “get ahead of them” and “trade their dumb money,” or take advantage of their stupidity.
Right. Well, a lot of these funds — and one of the reasons people think of them as “dumb money” is that they’re actually required by contract, by the prospectus of the fund, to trade in a certain way, to have certain kinds of things in their portfolio, especially near the end of the quarter.
So the idea would be to anticipate, like, how they would not trade at all because they’re lazy for most of the quarter, and at the very end say, “Oh, oh, jeez, I should probably do some trading,” and then sort of in the last three days of the quarter or something probably true up their portfolio. And that’s when we would anticipate that, if we could.
And you were successful at that?
Well, actually, that’s sort of — when I was working on something similar to that, that’s sort of when I realized I couldn’t do it anymore, so I left.
You couldn’t do it? What?
I just felt like I was doing something immoral. I was taking advantage of people I don’t even know whose retirements were in these funds. So I wanted — I ended up deciding to work for the other side. By the way, it should be said that this is during the credit crisis, right. This is 2008, 2009. I mean, this is when you’re seeing the world collapse around us.
Lehman fell. Lehman owned 20 percent of D. E. Shaw when it fell. It was a real event in our company’s life. So the system was clearly failing. My friends were behind in their credit card bills. I mean, I saw sort of somehow the real-life consequences of the recession.
… Interestingly, I think I anticipated them a lot more than a lot of the people that I worked with. I had a lunch with people, and this was after Lehman fell but before Fannie [Mae] and Freddie [Mac] were nationalized — or bailed out, I should say. I remember having a lunch, and I remember saying: “So how long do you guys think this recession is going to last? How long?” Actually, I think the question I asked the people — I was [with] a bunch of quants, and most of them were junior, it should be said — but I asked them, “How long until it’s normal for normal people?” Like, “When is the economy going to get back to normal for the average person?”
And I said, “It’s going to take 10 years, at least.” I just felt like the mortgages, the credit cards, this is such a mess. And I remember making this little speech and saying, “It’s going to be 10 years.” And everyone around me said: “Oh, you’re just so — you’re exaggerating so much. It’s going to be two years at most. This is just a small hiccup. Everything’s going to get back to normal.”
And I remember thinking, OK, you’re either totally out of touch with normal people, or you just can’t imagine the system any other way. It’s like a lack of imagination, or both. I just didn’t understand how anyone could think that this crisis was going to be resolved so quickly.
There was a point at which a light bulb goes off in your own head that the money that you’re trying to make is at the expense of pensioners –
– or people with savings, and what you were witnessing was a huge amount of wealth destruction in the economy.
Right. In some sense, you know, I’ve thought about it a lot since then. But the way I look at it now is like, you know, how does this pension system work? We all put money into our 401(k)s. We work our lives. We’re putting this money in once a month. It goes to Wall Street. Wall Street — through these ways of managing these large funds, enormous — I mean, I’m just one of the — [let me] pause to say the amount of money we’re talking about I measured in terms of percentage of GDP [gross domestic product]. This is an enormous amount of money, trillions of dollars.
So anyway, the average person puts this money in once a month. Wall Street takes it and skims off. With the help of hedge funds, but also with just the help of poor trading and bad decisions, it just skims off a certain percentage every quarter, so larger percentages every year. At the very end of somebody’s career, they retire and they get some of that back. I mean, it just seems like such a wasteful system in the sense that this is this person’s money, and it’s just basically going to Wall Street.
To pay bonuses –
To pay bonuses. This doesn’t seem right.
You were talking about how you were doing risk analysis for big banks because they were required by regulators to have a risk vendor, as you put it–
Yeah. A third-party vendor. Yeah.
–but you felt that it was in some ways futile. Why?
Well, I have specific things in mind. But I probably don’t want to mention details. But there were examples of things where you know, something would be broken, essentially and nobody would notice. And that’s just a bad sign.
It just meant that there were lots — the amount of oversight, you know, for the risk– the end result of our risk analysis– we’d send them these risk reports every day. You sort of wonder, “Well where do they go? Who reads them?”
Why would a big bank with so much at stake not care about the risks that they were taking?
Well, at that point, they’d all been bailed out. I mean, my feeling at that point was, well, of course they don’t care, because they’re government-backed. They just simply don’t care. And that brings us to this “too big to fail” problem.
I mean, we have to make it a situation where banks actually, like hedge funds, care about losing money. And, you know, it’s strange to say that we want to make banks more like hedge funds, because I don’t really want to make banks more like hedge funds in a larger sense, but I do want them to care. I want there to be people who take responsibility for those things. That’s another thing is I feel like, you know, in a larger sense, the people at the risk groups — and this is true not just at banks; it’s also been true at hedge funds — people in the risk groups are kind of second-class citizens within Wall Street.
And often the people in charge of risk are not given enough power to actually implement. Even if they see risky trends going on that shouldn’t be going on, they’re not given enough power to actually stop them. I mean, great example — in fact, a recent example — is the chief risk officer from MF Global who was, you know, warned about [CEO Jon] Corzine’s big bet on Italian bonds, and he was ignored and left. And I’m not sure if he was fired or he just resigned.
But he clearly was being ignored. And that’s standard issue for risk officers. And there’s lots of examples of that that were going on during the credit crisis. What’s sad about MF Global is that they’re still going on right now.
They’re not just bankrupt. They’ve lost money; they’ve lost track of money that was their customers’ money, not investors’. Investors know going in that they might lose money, and those investors certainly have lost money.
What we’re talking about is the customers of this — it’s in a futures exchange, so the customers are farmers who, like, are trying to hedge their crops, and they put money in these accounts that are not supposed to be touched but somehow were not only touched but ransacked. And nobody knows where the money — it’s been two months; nobody knows where the money is.
Somebody knows where the money is.
Yeah. Nobody’s saying where the money is. And the farmers have recently sued MF Global. And, you know, it’s something to keep an eye on. It’s really quite amazing that this kind of thing is still happening.
What did you think when the MF Global fund came down?
Sadly, I wasn’t surprised. I mean, one of the things I’m working on now on Occupy Wall Street is this idea that we have not made progress in fixing the system. I eventually left the risk company in disgust essentially that, you know, here I am working hard as a researcher at risk, but no one cares. It’s not changing the system.
No one cares about good risk if no one’s reading the risk reports. And I just — I lost faith altogether in regulators fixing the system. I didn’t see it happening. Let’s say it that way. And this was at the beginning of 2011.
And then later, in 2011, I kind of had a change of heart in the sense that I didn’t think I could trust the system to change itself. But I realized that these sort of techniques I learned, the statistical and modeling techniques I learned from finance, were still really powerful techniques and should be opened up; that it’s treated something like a guild.
People, the quants at D. E. Shaw and at other hedge funds, they’ve developed a pretty incredible set of techniques to try to measure these very small signals in the market. And they hide these techniques. And I thought to myself, well, at the very least, I can expose these techniques, because you can use them to detect other things, too.
One of the ideas I had when I first started was to use them to help my friend figure out when his blood glucose level was low so he needed to take insulin. So, you know, that kind of thing, I was like, “Well, … [the] same techniques would work in other ways.” So I started my blog to sort of open up some of these techniques, but also to — the other goal of the blog was to sort of object to and point out contradictions in the financial system and point out corruptions in the way that finance worked.
And just to go back and take this in steps — and I jumped ahead, sorry, into MF Global because we naturally got there. But let me go back. So you decide at some point in May of 2009 that you’re going to leave D. E. Shaw. Do you have an exit interview? Do you have a last chat with [former Treasury Secretary] Larry Summers or any of the other principals there?
I did have an exit interview, yeah. I didn’t get the impression that what I was saying was going to affect anything at all. A lot of the people I was hired with in the wave — I was hired in 2007 — got laid off after that. So in some sense I think I felt, you know, disgusted with what I was working on, but I also felt like I was inside a sinking ship.
They had hired too many quants too quickly, and the market was just not going to be fertile enough to make the amount of money that they wanted to make to not dilute the bonus pool. So, I mean, it didn’t surprise me that a bunch of people left after that. It wasn’t a culture that was ready to change.
So you decide to leave. You work for RiskMetrics, and there you become disappointed as well. And then you get out of finance altogether and go work in an Internet startup.
I want to jump to the chapter where you start to — September of 2011.
Right, yeah. So I’ve been blogging for a few months about, you know –
Well, you start a blog, OK.
Let’s go to that. So what was that about? Why? What did you call — what was it?
So the blog is called Mathbabe, and the idea of it was, again, to explain things that are unnecessarily confusing. So one of my earliest posts was to describe what is an earnings surprise, because it’s — basically when I saw terms in The Wall Street Journal that were … quant terms, there’s an underlying model going on there, but people are not really saying what it is. I wanted to explain it and in terms that mathematicians could understand.
Why? Why did you want to do –
Because I really hate it when people use terminology to confuse. I also feel like inherent in using confusing terminology is this idea that I’m an expert and I know and you should give me authority because I’m an expert.
So that’s something I had lost all faith in by that point. I really objected to the idea — and I still do — of listening to experts at all if they’re not willing to define their terms. So, I mean, going back to why I liked mathematics in the first place, I liked mathematics because it was either right or wrong. But the point of using confusing terminology is that you might be right, you might be wrong. If I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m never going to know. That’s one thing. And the other thing is, you know, if you’re using mathematics as a badge of authority, you could be doing bad things with it.
It’s like you’re covering up immoral acts with this authority of mathematics, and that’s not right or wrong, and it’s certainly not clean. So the idea I had with going from mathematics as something that had a feeling of cleanliness was completely obliterated by my experience in finance, where I feel like what really was going on, especially in things like mortgage-backed securities and ratings agencies, is that they were just being fraudulent and selfish as a market and explaining it away by saying, “Oh, we have models.”
That’s really not clean. That’s not mathematics the way it should be done, so I object to it. My blog was essentially like, “I’m going to uncover what the underlying model really is, and you can decide whether it’s appropriate, because models are being used constantly that are inappropriate, and not even well defined.”
And if we can’t figure out exactly what they’re doing, at the very least, we can be skeptical that their conclusions have any weight. And I wanted to sort of engender skepticism in my readers, which, for the most part, were mathematicians at the beginning.
So another thing I talked about in one of my first blog posts was what is seasonal adjustment, because you read all the time about housing starts, seasonally adjusted housing starts or seasonally adjusted unemployment insurance filings. And if you don’t know what you’re talking about, then what is that? It means nothing. It’s essentially something that’s meaningless unless you understand the underlying model. So I explain it mathematically.
September 2011, you’re writing Mathbabe. You’re working at another job.
And so you come –
Yeah. So I was told about Occupy Wall Street relatively soon because a good friend of mine who also works in finance lives right there, and he would walk through the park every day on the way to and from work. Actually, his name [on my blog] is FogOfWar, and he made the first post about Occupy on my blog, took a bunch of pictures.
You know, it was really fantastic and inspired me to go down and check it out. So I went down with my 11-year-old son actually, and I just loved it. It was really exciting and interesting. And I had great conversations about how the system was not working.
I didn’t really I guess invest in it for a couple more weeks. And what happened there was, I was listening to a reporter interviewing one of the occupiers, and the reporter asked that person, “What would you change about the financial system?” And that person said, “I would ban short selling, for one.”
And I remember thinking, “What?!” I had just posted about how short selling shouldn’t be banned. My opinion about short selling is, banning short selling is something like a doctor turning off a heart monitor. You know, this is not my — this is Andrew Lo, a friend at MIT’s phrase, but I think it’s a great one: “Don’t you want to know whether your patient is alive?”
You know, short selling means people can bet against things. It’s a good — it’s information. It really is information in that situation on the stock market. And just banning it on bank stocks because you don’t want to know how bad the situation is just seems really silly. So my impression was, this person is really ignorant. And then I talked to myself: Well, what should I do about it? Should I dismiss Occupy Wall Street, or should I go educate Occupy Wall Street, like, go talk to them?
And by educate, I mean have that conversation, like, have that discussion, try to convince them, because, as I said, I hate the idea of saying: “I’m an expert. I know better. Just listen to me.” I don’t want to be that person. But I do want to go have that conversation and convince them that actually short selling is OK.
But there are other things that are really, really not OK. And I want to address those things so that the next time a reporter asks that person, “What should we change?,” they have a list of things to change, because there is a list of things to change.
So the first thing was, I thought, I’m not going to dismiss them; I’m going to join them. And the second thing I thought about was the idea that they were being criticized. Occupy Wall Street was criticized from the get-go that they didn’t understand the issues.
OK. So there was another thing?
Yeah. You know, Occupy Wall Street from the very beginning was being criticized. The people in Zuccotti Park, the occupiers were being criticized for not really knowing how the system works. And what I realized was, you know what? Nobody knows how the system works. Even the people in finance don’t understand the system.
They understand their little corner of the system. If it’s securitized products, they understand how that works. If it’s, you know, arbing [arbitraging] the equities market, they understand how that works. But very few people would come forward and say: “I’m an expert on the financial system. I know how everything works.”
And most people who have been working there for 10 years only know what they know. So really, I just don’t think it’s a valid criticism at all. And I feel like, you know, in terms of what they do know, the occupiers, they know that the result of this system is not working for them. That’s enough.
It’s a huge black box, in other words, and they are seeing the output of that black box. What is the output of that black box? You know, a lot of them are college-educated. They have enormous student loans, and they don’t have a job. And that is the output, them and all the people around them who also are hopeless, don’t have jobs and are in huge debt.
And it’s not just the actual circumstances of their lives that they’re in huge debt. It’s this feeling that they have been disenfranchised, that they are not part of the system. They don’t have the power in fact to address the system and to question it. So for that reason I felt like the occupiers should be appreciated, that in spite of the fact that they don’t understand it, they’re willing to come out and say, “This isn’t working; the system isn’t working.” And I completely agree with that.
And so next, what did you do?
So the next thing is I learned about working groups and how working groups are organized. And I thought to myself, I just don’t have time for that. I have three kids; I have a full-time job. But I would love to join someone else’s working group and go to the meetings.
And pretty soon my friend, who, as I said, walks through Zuccotti Park every day, told me that there was an alternative banking working group being set up. So I went down to Zuccotti Park and I found the e-mail address of [director of diplomatic advisory group Independent Diplomat] Carne Ross, and I e-mailed him and said, “I’d love to be part of this group.” So I –
He’s the guy running the group?
Yeah, he started the group. And I went to the first meeting in his office. And it was really exciting, and there were quite a few people there, maybe 30 or 40 people, and a bunch of people on the phone, and we had a really exciting feeling. You know, here we are; we want to help this system; we want to fix it or create a new one, like, “Let’s do this.” You know, it was really cool.
And we met again the next week. It was even more popular by then. I think there were more like 60 people. And we had some really interesting people join it. A lot of the people were from the inside, so I realized I wasn’t the only person — and my friend who told me about it was also there — that was in finance and wanted to change the system. We had quite a few people from the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission], from banking, from hedge funds, all over the place. It was so large, in fact, the meeting, that Carne asked us to split into two groups at the end of the second meeting.
So we split into two groups. One of them, which Carne is still with, talks about reimagining the financial system, just starting a new system. And they’re trying to work on opening a bank that sort of follows kind of a mission that they’ve written down, and an ethic.
And the other group, which I started facilitating in that second meeting, is talking about how the current system works and possible improvements to the current system — reform, essentially. So to that end we do things — we are trying to help the regulators do their job, become adversaries of Wall Street. One of the projects we’re working on is submitting public comments to the Volcker Rule, [a section of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act]. So there’s a subgroup called Occupy the SEC that’s part of alternative banking.
And they’re putting together a long letter to the SEC explaining what their comments are on the implementation the SEC is suggesting for the statute, which is written from the Volcker Rule. And I was actually on a call with the SEC last week about that. It was really fascinating.
One of the things I realized is that the SEC is filled with people that are probably not quants. They’re closer to lawyers, I think, so they’re very technically correct on a lot of things. But when I asked them about, “How is this risk section going to really expose proprietary trading so that the Vol…” To back up just a second, the goal of the Volcker Rule is to separate proprietary trading from banks that are supposed to be deposit holding banks and only engage in market making, not proprietary. So they’re not supposed to take risky bets if they have people’s money.
And, well, how do you tell? How can you figure out whether someone’s taking risky bets? And one of the ideas in the Volcker Rule is we’ll keep an eye on the risk numbers. If the risk numbers vary wildly, then it’s a good chance that they’re doing proprietary trading.
But the risk section of the Volcker Rule is really vague, really vague. And, you know, I worked in risk, so I explained to them: “… If I’m a bank, I can game this. I can game this requirement to make my risk numbers as small as I want for various reasons.” And the SEC people — there were 11 people on the call, and I mean, they were really nice, right; this is not a criticism of them as people, but their background, I mean, they just said, “Well, we’d really love if you could come up with better wording for that section.”
And it just hit me. I was like, these people, they’re not experts in this. We need people at the SEC who are experts, who have gamed the system in this way, and write down the regulations so that they couldn’t even game that system.”
Can banks be reformed?
Oh, yeah. Banks were reformed after the Great Depression. They absolutely were. Glass-Steagall really did it. It was a political-will issue, and it continues to be. We can absolutely reform banks. We just have to care enough about it, and we have to trust that the world won’t collapse in the meantime. But, I mean, we can also set that up.
What I keep saying is, we can’t set up a perfect system, but we have to compare what we can set up to what already exists. And what already exists is dysfunctional. What we have is a bunch of “too big to fail” banks that are insolvent, currently. They’re zombie banks. And same thing for Europe. Europe is a mess. And the question isn’t, “Are we going to create something perfect?” The question is, “Are we going to create something better than this?” It’s actually pretty low bar, so I think it’s definitely achievable.
What kinds of things are you doing with your alternative banking group?
So one of the things we’re working on is a Move Your Money app. So the idea is to make it really easy for people to move money from their big banks to credit unions. It’s a great idea to do that, but there’s a pretty big obstacle for most people, that they don’t know credit unions that they’re eligible for.
Credit unions have something they call the field of membership where you have to work someplace or live someplace or be a part of some union to actually be a member of their credit union. So the idea of the app is you will enter information into the app and it will give you a list of credit unions — their locations, the ATMs nearby and their services, to make it easier for people to do that.