GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: From Wall Street to Waffle Street by James Adams author of, "Waffle Street: The Confession and Rehabilitation of a Financier."
When it began five weeks ago in lower Manhattan, few pundits would have foreseen that the “Occupy Wall Street” protest would inspire similar demonstrations in over 900 cities across the world. In a similar vein, one could scarcely have predicted that on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange would precipitate an eponymous Republican primary debate two years later.
While the two movements have frequently been contrasted over the past few weeks, both of them (along with a majority of the American public) share a common denominator: a disdain for Wall Street rescue packages.
Persistently elevated unemployment levels, anemic economic growth, exploding government debts, and the aforementioned bank bailouts have generated a social discontent that is forcing G7 countries into the most serious dialogue on money, banking, and economics in two generations. Although the discourse is undoubtedly necessary, it is all too frequently marred by demagoguery and financial illiteracy.
Financial education in our secondary schools is virtually non-existent; collegiate economics texts are rife with fallacies and omissions. At the graduate level, MBA coursework and professional accreditation programs impart quantitative methods to financial professionals, while leaving them with glaring philosophical deficiencies.
As someone with significant financial credentials and eight years of capital markets experience – including two years at the epicenter of the mortgage crisis – I know whereof I speak.
I spent the early part of my career in the corporate bond market, investing premiums on behalf of two publicly-traded life insurance companies. Subsequently, I worked for three years in the product management group of a $30 billion asset management firm. We purchased billions of dollars’ worth of mortgage bonds on behalf of banks, pension funds, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds, etc. Customer portfolio values collapsed during 2008, our client base dwindled, and I was consequently laid off early the following year.
As I came to appreciate my partial responsibility for the meltdown, it dawned on me that people shouldn’t be rewarded by the State for helping to create the biggest financial disaster in eighty years. So instead of cashing my unemployment insurance claim check, I decided to work at McDonald’s. There was just one problem: despite repeated application efforts, they wouldn’t hire me. Eventually, I was hired as a Waffle House server and assigned to work on the weekend graveyard shift.
Staffed by a motley crew of waiters and cooks, the restaurant provided a slew of comedic experiences as I waited on man-hungry female patrons, a stonemason who carved his own teeth, and a man seeking refuge from the ghost in his apartment. In addition to the humorous anecdotes, the restaurant afforded a wealth of economic truths– the sort that are best understood viscerally, and are often at odds with the dogmas of contemporary academia. My ex-convict colleagues, it turns out, had a much better grasp of the implications of the “no free lunch” principle than most of the finance professors I’ve known.
Interactions with customers, coworkers, and managers provided a perspective on financial matters that I could have never gleaned from working in the bond market. Although it began as a self-deprecating, fish-out-of-water memoir, "Waffle Street: The Confession & Rehabilitation of a Financier" evolved into a one-of-a-kind explanation of money, banking, and economics. Where the financial academics have failed us, the hilarious ironies of Waffle Street will provide the remedial coursework. Given the turbulence in our contemporary economic and political climate, its message couldn't be timelier.
About the author: Jimmy Adams cut his teeth in the investment management industry as an analyst at Protective Life Insurance Co. In early 2006, Adams entered the placid waters of the mortgage bond market, where borrowers were known to repay their debts and fraud was a total anomaly. As a vice president in the product management group of a $30 billion money management firm, he serviced 40 client relationships by providing verbal and written commentary on performance, investment process, and portfolio positioning. After three harrowing years in the mortgage market maelstrom, Jimmy sought refuge inside the yellow walls of a Waffle House. Waiting tables on the weekend graveyard shift over the next six months, he got a lot more than he bargained for. Although he earned the Chartered Financial Analyst designation and an MBA in Finance, most of the author’s financial knowledge has been gleaned from his recent foray into foodservice and the writings of forgotten 19th-century economists. He prefers his eggs over easy and his hashbrowns “all the way.” For more information, please visit wafflestreetbook.com.
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