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In Shanghai, charting the future of global finance

Third MIT Sloan finance forum examines interconnected finance systems and China’s role in the world economy

Professor Robert Merton

More than 200 finance professionals and MIT Sloan alumni gathered in Shanghai this month for a day of discussion on the future of modern finance, the third in a series of forums that bring MIT Sloan faculty around the world for frank discussions about finance and policy.

“[MIT Sloan] has the responsibility to lead and develop what the world needs for finance,” dean David Schmittlein told the audience at the July 19 event. “It’s important for us to develop the concepts and methods that will allow us to develop the complex, sophisticated financial systems that the world needs, with a resilience that the world also needs.”

“The world needs more smart people who understand complex financial systems,” he said. “Not less.” MIT Sloan this year launched the MIT Sloan Center for Finance and Policy.

Sound modern financial systems are built using expert knowledge to interpret vast amounts of data. To contribute to the discussion, MIT Sloan professors Deborah Lucas, Robert Merton, Jun Pan, and Stephen Ross shared their latest research on financial models and systems that address some of the challenges in modern finance.

And MIT Sloan alumni covered a range of topics in two panels. On one, two of China’s top financial professionals discussed the role of finance in emerging markets, while another group discussed ways to lead the financial organizations of the future.

Finance is becoming increasingly important for emerging markets

Shanghai, China’s financial capital and aspiring world financial center, was an apt location to discuss the role of finance in the growth of emerging markets. Leaders in emerging markets are seeking to better manage growth, gathering more knowledge and talent from the financial field than ever before.

“The era when very few Chinese financial professionals were up to date with the latest academic research findings is over,” said Haizhou Huang, managing director and head of the sales and trading department of China International Capital Corporation. There is an “ever-increasing number of Chinese financiers being educated at leading institutions like MIT Sloan,” he said.

Emerging markets are also challenging the post-2008 financial crisis system. Huang pointed out the benefit of China’s lack of heritage in finance, suggesting it gives China “an opportunity to create finance for the future, with a completely new financial system.”

Interconnectedness in finance can be a strength

Increased interconnectivity of global financial markets, a phenomenon of the modern financial system that was widely commented on during the crisis, was a key theme throughout the forum.

Professor Robert Merton, a Nobel laureate, introduced a new approach for analyzing and managing macro financial risks by leveraging the many connections between financial bodies that makes the world of finance so complex.

Merton’s goal is to “figure out ways to convey information with vast connections and numbers in a fashion that’s useful in trying to understand what’s going on.” He believes his approach will help guide finance professionals toward asking prescient questions when examining global markets.

Rather than view the complicated interconnectedness of financial systems as problematic, Merton was optimistic.

“The mere observation of growing connectedness is not in itself a suggestion of contagion or systemic risks. It may even be a reflection of the improvements in the global system,” he said.

MIT Sloan has also held finance forums in New York City and London.

Unlocking the modern financial system

Leading MIT Sloan finance faculty share research, ideas with alumni in London

Professor Robert Merton speaks at the MIT Sloan Finance Forum: Financial System 2.0

The financial system is evolving and businesses and regulators need to move quickly to keep pace with the speed of change. That was a key lesson at Financial System 2.0, a special event held in London on June 13 as part of the MIT Sloan Finance Forum series.

Some 200 alumni and friends of the School attended the event, which saw MIT Sloan’s leading academics meet with experts from across the finance industry to discuss the state of the world’s financial markets and how to shape what comes next.

Highlights of the day included:

Professor Stewart Myers look at management incentives and corporate governance. Myers discussed ways to build a functional balance between shareholder remuneration and good company management, including the idea of levying a transaction cost on shareholder intervention.

Professor Andrew Lo’s examination of how financial markets can be harnessed to help cure cancer. Lo explained that a typical cancer drug development program could cost  $200 million, with a success rate of 5 percent. However, instead of investing in one program, it might be possible to invest in 150 different ones, with diversification offering investors more than a 99 percent chance of at least two successes and a higher return on investment. The reduced level of risk resulting from diversification would allow managers of a “cancer megafund” to issue approximately $16.7 billion of debt immediately, Lo said.

“Instead of declaring war on cancer, we should put a price on its head,” said Lo.

A frank discussion, chaired by Financial Times commentator Gillian Tett, on hedge funds and how they are evolving to respond to the shifting financial landscape.

An overview of MIT Sloan’s intensive, one-year Master of Finance program. Launched in 2008, during the financial crisis, the program was developed to put highly-trained graduates to work in the financial sector. MIT Sloan’s goal is to create the next generation of global finance leaders, with a deep understanding of the profession’s potential contributions to society. Graduation data demonstrates that it is succeeding: although the finance sector has seen a general decline in interest, the number of graduates from MIT Sloan’s Master of Finance program continues to grow.

Professor Antoinette Schoar’s demonstration of how to apply insights from behavioral finance in order to mitigate credit risk, particularly in emerging markets. Schoar explained that in many emerging market countries, small businesses regularly pay late and go into default. Behavioral economics suggests small businesses and individuals in emerging economies slip into default through lack of attention to the repayment cycle, said Schoar.

Professor Andrei Kirilenko’s discussion of market evolutions and high-frequency trading. Kirilenko asked whether high-frequency trading is essentially beneficial or “legalized front­running.” He showed that a survey of market participants concluded that high frequency trading had been the cause of the May 2010 “Flash Crash” that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average dip 9 percent only to rebound a few minutes later.

But Kirilenko shared research showing that high-frequency trading had not caused the crash.

“We should not look at high-frequency trading as being ‘good’ or ‘evil,’” Kirilenko said. “It is more productive to think of it as a trade-off between beneficial and detrimental effects.”

Kirilenko also discussed the new MIT Sloan Center for Finance and Policy, which will serve as a hub for financial analysis of public policy issues and a collaborative platform to stimulate cooperation between government, the private sector, and academia.

Professor Robert Merton’s demonstration of the role connectedness plays in the global financial markets. Merton warned that there is a need to improve integration between the different parts of government with responsibility for managing fiscal policy and promoting stability.

 

View videos from this event here