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Alternative Banking Group: Occupy Wall Street’s Inside Agents - The Daily Occupation

Keeping you up-to-date with the #Occupy movement.

Alternative Banking Group: Occupy Wall Street’s Inside Agents

Mother Jones has an article about the Alternative Banking Group, an arm of the Occupy Wall Street protests that has received support from the New York GA. In addition to helping OWS propose meaningful reforms and navigate the ins and outs of financial agencies, they also provide education and outreach. The article follows Cathy O’Neil of the group in particular, giving a look into her mindset and what led her to join OWS:

After studying number theory at Harvard and completing a mathematics post-doc at MIT, [O'Neil] joined D.E. Shaw in 2007, where her job was to use mathematical reasoning and statistical modeling to predict movements in the market. Three months into her job, the stock market dipped, a hedge fund failed, and her firm lost a ton of money. She started to question many of the assumptions underpinning her work.

[...] O’Neil’s bosses liked to describe their work as a public service—a way to make sure that investors’ money was spent in the best way possible. But she began to think of it more as a cynical exercise in outsmarting “stupid people”—getting in front of the herd and then selling back to them. “I never heard anybody say, ‘I am going to invest in this because it is a good idea,’” she recalls. She felt like on some level she was part of the same herd that she was supposed to be hunting.

In May 2009 she quit and went to work for Risk Metrics, a risk management consultancy for banks and hedge funds, where she hoped to use her skills more constructively, perhaps to help keep the financial system from running off another cliff. Pretty soon she was in charge of evaluating credit default swap models, but she felt that most firms that hired her to run their numbers didn’t listen to her warnings. “They just don’t care,” she says. “They want the rubber stamp. And it just ultimately made me realize that this isn’t where I want to be.”

By this summer, O’Neil was working at an internet advertising company in SoHo when she heard about Occupy Wall Street. She was inspired that regular people desperately wanted to reform the financial system. But she was also perturbed by some things that she read, such as a newspaper quote from an occupier who wanted to ban short selling, the practice of betting that a company’s stock will lose value. “If there’s anything about the financial system that you should take a stand on, it’s not that,” she thought to herself. Her next thought was, “What am I going to do about it?”

(Emphasis editor’s.)

The article goes on to note a number of things the ABG is doing, such as creating apps to locate credit unions, hosting an online forum for answering financial questions, and spinning up Occupy the SEC, which seeks to strengthen the Volcker rule to prevent the kind of speculation that initially crashed the markets in 2008. The full article is here and is a fascinating intersection between OWS and the financial world they often concern themselves with.