New alumni shared interest group partners with the Poorvu Center and Yale Club of New York City for launch event
“The Yale Alumni Association estimates that there are more than 5,000 alumni in finance in the New York area alone and multiples of that worldwide,” said Neil Hohmann ’91, head of structured products and a portfolio manager for Brown Brothers Harriman Investment Management, and president of the Yale Club of New York City. “It’s a bit of a puzzle why no finance group exists, but maybe Professor Shiller or some of you might have a clever economic explanation.”
Hohmann introduced the keynote speaker, Sterling Professor of Economics Robert J. Shiller, for the first event hosted by the new alumni association shared interest group, YaleFin, on Feb. 27. YaleFin, founded by Hohmann, Sulexan Chery, William Shikani, and Thomas Opladen, hopes to create an enduring community of Yale alumni working in finance, banking, and markets.
The group worked with Matthew Reynolds, associate director of digital education at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, to coordinate an in-person lecture and reception with Shiller after a cohort of 70 alumni took the Yale economist’s course “Financial Markets” online on Coursera.org.
“This is the kick-off event for us,” said Chery, ’15 EMBA, first vice president at Ambac Assurance Corporation. “The event was sold out within days. There is clearly a pool of people interested in getting together and hearing luminaries speak about different topics of interest to different industry verticals.”
More than 250 Yale alumni, Coursera alumni from Shiller’s online course, and guests gathered at the Yale Club of New York City for the two-hour event. Professor Shiller focused on narrative economics, the study of how stories drive trends.
“I think the cause of these big fluctuations is very human and very personal. It involves some kind of story,” said Shiller. “I think it is a very difficult topic to research … but we’re getting better at it with digitized texts. Many people are starting to do this, they do semantic searches and other kinds of searches for phrases and ideas in newspapers, advertisements, magazines, sermons, diaries, and all kinds of things that indicate what people were saying. You can’t just search them numerically, but you need to go back and read them.”
Shiller illustrated how stories played into the rise and fall of home prices throughout the last 200 years. He also highlighted how past and current political climates affect the stock market.
“I think there will be changes in economic and financial research in the not-so-distant future that will enable us to get a better picture. It won’t be as simple as I’ve described it, because there are many different narratives competing at the same time,” said Shiller. “It is not easy to study these [narratives]. Not many people are trying. Marketing people are trying for marketing purposes, but I think we have to try to study the changing narratives that envelop our lives….”
In addition to outlining how he has taught online at Yale, Shiller connected his lecture to headlines from the last month. He answered several audience questions at the conclusion of the lecture.
“I hope this crystalizes in the minds of people that there is a real group — not just a LinkedIn group — of leaders and volunteers and people who want to bring people together,” said Chery. “Much of Professor Shiller’s Coursera class was about his perspective on how financial markets should and do function, which is very valuable and relevant for the YaleFin community, and why we were very excited to have Professor Shiller be the keynote speaker for our very first event. ”