News, Vision & Voice for the Advisory Community
The big crowds have gone but a diverse and serious-minded subset of humanity is keeping the hard questions coming
November 22, 2011 — 5:49 AM UTC by Dina Hampton
Brooke’s Note: Our managing editor, Dina Hampton, lives in NYC so I asked her yesterday if she’d be willing to make her way to Occupy Wall Street, take pictures and write about it. My hope was that it would help RIABiz readers decide whether to view these protesters as friend or foe of RIAs. My instinct all along has been that any group that is bent on dismantling the worst of Wall Street is a friend of the RIA Movement. After reading this article, I feel even more certain of that view. Nice work, Dina.
On a cold, sunny Autumn day in New York, scores of people milled around Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street movement. To be sure, the park — really no more than an expanse of concrete; a bit of breathing space amid the towering skyscrapers lining the narrow streets of the financial district — is less populated than it was a week ago after the makeshift village of tents was disassembled in an early-morning police raid. But it’s still the gathering place for a cross-section of protestors and spectators. Contrary to popular conception, the majority of those present were working people who have had dealings with broker-dealers or RIAs — although few were clear on the difference between the two — and who have money invested in their company’s 401(k) plans.
The company man
One of these is Tim McDaniel, a longtime database administrator for a Fortune 500 company. He was on hand to support his daughter, who was participating in the kickoff event for Occupy Student Debt, a group advocating for student-loan reform.
It’s an issue that hits home for McDaniel. He’s a Vietnam veteran who was able to attend college for free thanks to the G.I. bill. Now, with his 401(k) plan — the only place he has ever invested his money — down 40%, McDaniel is struggling to help his children out from under mountains of college loan debt.
“The banks get these [student] loans at 1% and then lend them to the students at 4% and 5%,” McDaniel says.“I told my kids, if you get the grades I’ll pay for school.’ Well they got the grades — and now I’m paying!”
Marking her tenth day at Zuccotti Park, Athena Grey, who works at a policy-holder-owned mutual insurance company, says that people should fire their banks and instead put their money in credit unions, community banks and other institutions that do not own stock. The stock market, she says, has become hopelessly corrupted. “It exists to pull profits from companies and is less and less about what is being produced.”
Grey acts as her own financial advisor, making “a little bit of money” with microloans. She has five such loans out now — “I have no affiliations,” she says. “If I haven’t met the person, I won’t lend the money.”
The embittered investor
A man who declined to give his name calls himself “very much of a capitalist” despite feeling seriously ill-used by a system he believes has gone off the tracks. He says he was the attorney of record for Reliance Insurance until it went bust in 1999, taking his 401(k) with it. Years ago, he invested his money with Merrill Lynch but says his advisor lost his money by constantly buying and selling securities in his account. “They lost my money by churning,” he says.
The message of Occupy Wall Street, he says, is: “We’re the 99% who pay taxes. We expect something from the government. Subsidize us, not corporations.” Quoting a former group of financial discontents, he added, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” See: Wall Street thriller 'Margin Call’ is a cautionary tale — even for RIAs.
Michael Angelo Bosch, a union man who does backstage work on Broadway shows and runs a website for job seekers on the side, has been at OWS since its second week and is dismayed at the dwindling numbers in the park. To him, the most important goal of Occupy Wall Street is the separation of money and politics. “I’m fighting to see something better for this country,” he says.
Larry Lawrence, a proud socialist who works as a copy editor for a midtown law firm, was active in the Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Georgia in the 1960s. He is inspired by the OWS movement, even if its numbers at Zuccotti Park have dwindled and most of its participants bear more of a Keynesian than a socialist stripe.
What the group lacks in political purity, it makes up in diversity, says Lawrence. He’s talked to people from all over the world from all different backgrounds and with a wealth of varying points of view. Because of OWS, “There’s now a conversation about the economic crisis coming from the Left that didn’t exist before this.”
Taking it all in was David Green, an executive recruiter in the advertising field, who is visiting from Los Angeles. He has a financial advisor and is happy with him, even though his portfolio has shrunk in the last few years. Green also makes microloans through kiva.org. He says he’s come to OWS to witness the birthplace of the first full-blown political movement in his lifetime.
Because of his job, Green has observed the human cost of unemployment firsthand. “It’s tough to watch the rich get richer while the rest can only get so far ahead,” he says.
“I’m all for making money,” Green says. “But there’s a right way and a wrong way to invest — one that’s not just about the bottom line.”
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