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Reflecting on the Best and Worst of the Last 15 Years

Last Wednesday morning, I had the unbelievable honor of ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, 15 years to the day after I became the first journalist to report live from the Big Board floor on a regular basis.

Maria Bartiromo
CNBC
Maria Bartiromo

At moments like that, you can’t help but think about the journey, and I feel so privileged to have witnessed and covered events that remade not only the NYSE itself, but — no exaggeration — every facet of our world.

Consider that in 1995, 3,000 people crammed onto the floor of the Exchange — and just one TV correspondent, jostled about as traders made their deals.

Executing a trade took an average of eight minutes. The Internet was a speculative adventure land and globalization was an economists’ term, not a household word. And the Dow was at 4500.

Today, that era seems remote.

There are only about 1,000 traders on the floor — but more than 20 news stations! Most trades are done electronically in about seven seconds. We’ve seen booms and busts, watched the Dow rise above 14,000 — and plunge with sickening speed. Exchanges around the world now compete for business, and every American knows that our economy is intricately connected with those of people in Madrid, Shanghai, Johannesburg and everywhere else.

The worst moments in those years were, of course, on September 11, 2001, when I stood on the corner of Wall and Broadway and watched the unthinkable happen. I saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center, the buildings collapse, and our familiar neighborhood swallowed by ashes. The world we knew shook, and I tried to make sense of it for CNBC viewers and for myself.

Leveling the Playing Field

Friends and colleagues have asked me what makes me proudest about these 15 years. No question, it’s the role I played in bringing individual investors like you unprecedented access and participation in what had been a closed club.

The first step hardly sounds revolutionary now, but it was: opening up the research calls. Every morning, I called my sources at Wall Street’s biggest firms — Goldman , Morgan , Merrill and others — to get their upgrades, downgrades and other news. And I’d go on air and tell viewers what I heard. I made more than a few people mad. Clients were paying big money to these firms and we often had the information on the air before the clients got it.

"We’ve seen booms and busts, watched the Dow rise above 14,000 — and plunge with sickening speed." -CNBC, Maria Bartiromo

But giving individuals that access and that perspective is what my job is all about. In that context, it’s a bit ironic that the individual investor is missing in action these days, shaken by the exploding of long-held beliefs about the market, frustrated that increased access hasn’t led to transparency, and spooked by the May 6 flash crash that still hasn’t been adequately explained.

At last week’s Techonomy Conference, I asked Duncan Niederauer, CEO of the NYSE Euronext, what needs to change to restore the small investor’s confidence. He was tough and blunt in his response: The financial industry cannot win back investors’ confidence until it slows down, understands not just the potential of technology but its unintended consequences, and creates genuine transparency.

Big changes take time, Niederauer said. And he had a word of caution for industry colleagues who are pressuring Washington regulators to quickly codify the financial reform bill. “It’s more important,” he said, “to get it right.”

It’s amazing how much has changed in the last 15 years, and yet we are on the threshold of more big changes. That’s one reason I love what I do so much. I remain honored to cover the markets on your behalf, and I thank you for the trust you’ve placed in me through my years at CNBC and in both Investor Briefand Wall Street.

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