Devin Banerjee, editor at large at LinkedIn News, joins Dominique and David to share his passion for business journalism. He discusses how writing business articles and updates for a social media company differs from more traditional publications where writers do not receive instantaneous feedback. He addresses C-suite awareness of the importance of cybersecurity and the damage that ransomware wreaks on an organization. Devin also dives into how LinkedIn identifies influential and high-quality contributors in different industries and brings them into the conversation on the platform.

Listen to “Devin Banerjee: Editor At Large at LinkedIn | The Expanding Interest in Digital Assets – Episode 45” on Spreaker.


Episode Transcript

David:

Welcome to Decrypted Unscripted. This is David, David Biderman. We are very, very, very, very honored to have Devin Banerjee from LinkedIn. Devon, I’m going to just identify your title really, which is, I guess it’s editor at large for business. Is that what the title is?

Devin:

That’s correct.

David:

And then you write two columns. One is called Human Capital, which is really my favorite because you interview all these luminaries in the business world. It’s phenomenal. And then the other is a business rundown every week. But this is not your first job, but I’m not the first to tell you what your first job is. So what we usually start out with is a little history of what your career was, how you got to where you got to be. And so if you don’t mind rolling through that, that’d be great.

Devin:

Absolutely, David. Well, it’s great to be with you. Thanks for the invitation to join you and Dominique. You know, I think if I had to choose a starting point for my journey, it goes back to when I was probably 10 years old and I learned of the existence of this place called Stanford. My older sister attended a summer program there and I just thought it was heaven on earth. And so I spent the next 6-7 years working my tail off to get to Stanford. Fortunately I did, it was there by the way, where I met one of your star now associates, Tommy Tobin, but arriving at Stanford, I was looking at different student groups to become involved with.

And I was studying finance by the way, it was an industrial engineering major. But when I was looking around at some student groups, I just fell in love with the student newspaper, the Stanford Daily. I found it to be an avenue by which I could learn everything about this new home of mine for the next four years. I could learn who all the players were, what all the different levers were around campus and in the administration and among the student body. And I joined about a week or two weeks into my first year, my freshman year, and just never left.

I ended up spending, you know several nights a week, if not every night a week at the office of the Stanford Daily. Eventually I became the editor of the paper in my junior year and that entailed overseeing a staff of 150 and an operating budget of I think $650,000 that year and a nonprofit board and all these things. And I really just fell in love with the experience. And as I was ending my time at Stanford, as I said, I had studied finance. My intention was to work in finance to do the traditional route of investment banking and maybe business school and maybe a private capital investing firm leader.

But I had fallen in love with journalism. I had studied finance and I thought, “Why don’t I try financial journalism?” So through some great internships at places like the Wall Street Journal and then Bloomberg, I ended up landing at Bloomberg full time after graduation. And I spent the next seven years there at Bloomberg News in New York, where as a reporter, I covered the private capital space, the big leverage buyout firms in New York and their strategies and expansion, which was an area of very rapid growth last decade, by the way, the private equity space.

And then I became an editor there as well, helping oversee that team. And fast forward to 2017, I was contacted by someone at LinkedIn on LinkedIn I was contacted, and I was quite skeptical of this role that they were offering up because I just didn’t know the extent to which LinkedIn had really pushed into the media and original reporting or original journalism space. I knew that they curated and aggregated some news, but over the next couple of months, when I got to meet the team, including the founder of that team and our editor in chief Dan Roth, I learned that he was looking for industry experienced journalists to do original reporting around specific industries.

And he was looking for a financial services editor in particular and I really just fell in love with the mission of the team and the way it operated and the experimentation involved in these social media and technology companies. So I joined in 2018 and it’s now been about four years.

David:

And is it different writing for a social media company than it is writing for a more traditional publication such as Bloomberg?

Devin:

It is so, so different, David and I think it’s on the cutting edge of where journalism is headed as well, which is, it’s a very engaging almost collaborative approach with our readers or our viewers in the case of the video reporting and content we do. Actually, someone who put it best is one of my colleagues and mentors here, George Anders, who’s by the way, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who spent a long time at the Wall Street Journal and then later Bloomberg and Forbes and other places. And the way he describes it here is doing the reporting and the writing and the publication is really just half of our work. Once we publish the other half is tending to the engagement and the conversation that our readers provide on the platform.

And so we’ll put out a story or a feature or a video and we’ll ask our readers and viewers to weigh in and join the conversation with their own experience around that trend or that news event or that news item. And that just takes the story forward entirely forward, which was not really the way a print story would work or even online journalism of the past 10, 20 years. Yes, some of those outlets, David had comments sections or something like that where some readers would weigh in, but about half of our work is after publishing seeing what the conversation is like, bringing in the right voices.

A big part of my role that we can get into is also cultivating the right people to be talking on LinkedIn. So subject matter experts in the financial services space. So investment professionals, researchers, economists, financial advisors, all those type of folks to join the conversation after we publish.

David:

That’s interesting that you’re able to actually cultivate it rather than just leave it to an open field. So there’s some that you really value and like, and others who I’m sure you get a lot of off the wall comments or [inaudible 00:07:22].

Devin:

I mean, of course, we’re open to everyone sharing or posting on LinkedIn. There are now 810 million people on the platform. We call them members around the world, still growing very rapidly, by the way. But we’ve over the past few years that I’ve been here and this is all spearheaded by Dan Roth, our editor in chief, we’ve built up these capabilities to identify really influential or high quality members. So users in different industries and to bring them into the conversation.

So we have many signals and inputs on our end to find who, for example, in finance is sharing quality content on the platform.

David:

You know it’s amazing because before we started this, I was saying to Dominique, I said, “This is a program about data, how are we going to talk about data here? That guy is a journalist.” But it sounds like you guys use data like no one’s business and filter data like no one’s business. I should shut up at that because Dominique is going to ask you a real technical question about how you do it. And do you use AI or how do you do it?

Dominique:

Exactly. I was thinking that exact same thing. And also in terms of the relevant voices, are you trying to make sure that there’s different points of view around a topic at a high level brought in and then how do you go about doing that?

Devin:

The voices we cultivate are as we begin that process, we have a goal to make sure those voices are from a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences and geographies or years of experience in terms of the generations of different members on the platform. And all of this is underpinned by what LinkedIn calls its economic graph. This is the digital representation of all of the people on LinkedIn. If you think about it, those 810 million people, it’s really a digital representation of the global economy. That’s a huge sample of the global population. So it’s those 810 million members. It’s almost 60 million companies on the platform and content that their pages are sharing. 120,000 different schools, almost 40,000 different skills that people list on their profiles or endorse others for on their profiles. And then we spark a conversation around it.

David:

So I’ve got to ask you this one. Did you get caught up in the GameStop thing when that happened? Did you guys have to deal?

Devin:

Absolutely, David. That was about a year ago now, just one of the largest stories. I mean, across the internet, but of course, including on LinkedIn. And so we could see what companies people were searching for or leaders of different companies like GameStop or some of the investment firms that were involved that were short the stocks and things like that. And we just did, if I remember correctly, probably two or three weeks of nonstop coverage, we put together some live shows that I hosted with folks involved in that trend.

David, you mentioned the weekly newsletter I do called This Week in Finance spiked in popularity as well, where people wanted all of the context at the end of the week around this trend, because the news was moving so quickly, the stocks were moving so quickly. We do this look back series published on Fridays that looks back at again, not just what the news was, but what the smart voices you might call it, or just the voices involved in the trend were saying about that news on LinkedIn. So we provide that diversity of perspective around really fast moving news events.

David:

Wow, that’s—I was thinking about Dominique and I, our favorite with all due respect is the Financial Times, we just love the Financial Times. And the Financial Times when they do publish an article online, they’ll get comments about the article and they’ll put those comments underneath. But I think what you’re saying is what differentiates you from FT is you have so much more information about the readership because they’re giving it all to you in LinkedIn, by their searches, by what they’re looking at, by what they’re talking about, which the FT presumably doesn’t have. Because presumably they just have the name of the subscriber or whatever, I don’t know.

Devin:

I’ll just mention those publications, do a great job, bringing in a couple expert voices to be quoted in each story, absolutely. But I remember around GameStop at the end of that first week, I ended up sending a prompt through LinkedIn again, using public signals that our members indicate. I ended up sending a prompt to compliance and regulatory professionals in the financial services industry. Regulatory compliance professionals, former regulators, current regulators and just asking them what steps should be taken to either avoid this kind of movement or this kind of news event happening next time, or just what should the SCC and FINRA and others consider after a news event like this. And if I recall it was hundreds of current regulators, former regulators just experts in regulation and compliance, weighing in and then we can go through and pick dozens of those high quality comments to feature. So you might read in the FT or the journal, which are just fantastic publications, a story with two or three regulatory professionals quoted, but you could probably find dozens that we’re hand picking and featuring in our different trending news items each day.

Dominique:

And I have a question for the audience, if they wanted to follow your newsletters and so forth, where do you find these reports? I mean, I know for me, I see it on the feed, but are you saying that the news when you log into LinkedIn is curated?

Devin:

That’s right. Yeah. So on anyone’s home feed, at least here in the US and actually in most countries around the world at the top right of your home tab on LinkedIn, you’ll see a section called LinkedIn News. And at any given time, there are probably a dozen trending news items of the day, news of the day news of the week-type items that we are curating expert voices around. And I would encourage people to take a look there. So you click through, you see a summary of the news that one of my colleagues has written and then you’ll see those expert voices that we have curated.

Then we also do a lot of the original reporting and original content creation like I was mentioning earlier. So you can find those items that I do in the finance and investing and economics realm under my profile and my different newsletters. And I’m often cross linking to my colleagues, original series, like workforce insights by George Anders and others. So there’s a lot to be discovered on the LinkedIn platform. We are always trying to make it more efficient and easy to discover all of these different trending news items on the platform. But right now you’ll see a lot of it in that module called LinkedIn News on the home tab of your LinkedIn feed.

Dominique:

Awesome. And you find for things that you were mentioning, like these employment trends and in your space and thinking about digital currency and NFTs and these topics that are top of mind, do you find that the industry players are also interested in your metrics? In other words, in terms of tackling the great resignation, I would imagine for a number of employers, it would be helpful to know what insights at a high level you’re finding.

Devin:

Absolutely. And it’s so interesting, Dominique, that you mentioned the digital currency or the digital asset space, because that is I would say the area in my world where we have the most external interest in our data. Because if you think about it, it’s such a… There’s several facets to that story. One, it’s such a fast moving trend the wave of people, maybe leaving traditional investment or financial institutions for the crypto space, whether it’s startups or teams at these institutions that are working on digital assets.

So it’s fast moving. There’s also this element of FOMO, you might call it fear of missing out among professionals who see their colleagues doing it. And they wonder, “Should I be doing that too?” Maybe I’ve been an investment banker for 10 years or 15 years, but my colleague just went to a startup that raised a new round and valuation is up two or three times. So there’s this FOMO element. And then there’s this fear element that I’ve noticed from the traditional institutions that don’t want to lose out on this talent or don’t want to lose out on the commercial or business opportunity of exploring, for example, a blockchain technology or a digital asset team.

All of these come together and drive so much external interest in our data. So for example, in the fall of last year, I published a report. I’d have to look up the numbers, but just the year over year increase in talent leaving traditional financial services for crypto related startups and crypto related operations. And it’s a significant increase year over year in that interest and those kind of data stories that we report just get picked up quite a bit in other traditional media, but also when I look at the analytics of who is reading that type of coverage that we produce, I can’t see names or anything of who’s reading it, but I can see job titles and employers. It’s a lot of those traditional banks, traditional asset managers that I think either have this FOMO element or this fear element and know that they just need to be monitoring this trend very, very closely.

Dominique:

And when you look at it, I mean, David, and this is interesting too. And certainly with how financial institutions are sort of targets of litigation and other things as well and David defends those. But the point is, is that this is an industry, there’s two movements here. There’s the financial institutions and then there’s this whole payment, blockchain world where if we start moving to payments happening on apps and some of these things that have already been going on in the APEC region that presents a substantial disruption.

I mean, the FOMO may not be just so fictional. I mean, literally if people stop using commercial banks for consumer purchases and start doing everything on payment apps it’s going to be a very interesting… Or things that are built into the retailers, which I know are some of the models that are considering. And that’s why you have experts like Christine Lagarde talking about the EU moving to crypto or digital within the next five years. So I think this is interesting that that trend is bearing out in your metrics.

Devin:

Absolutely. And this insight I’m about to provide is more from my reporting and conversations than my metrics. But as you said, this is a very… Traditional banks and financial institutions, it’s a highly regulated space. A lot of their work in this area is kind of just researching applications and use cases, talking to clients about what kind of… Whether it’s custodial access for digital assets, or maybe a blockchain based platform for cross-border payments that are faster or instantaneous.

It’s a lot of research going on right now and it’s also a lot of partnerships actually, with these fast growing, FinTech startups. If you listen to the earnings calls, which I’m on all of them, if you listen to the leaders of these big banks they’re asked all the time, “Do you want to buy these FinTech startups, partner with them, or build the capability internally?” It’s that buy, build, partner quandary that the leader of any large company is faced with at any given time. And there’s a lot of partnership going on right now among the big institutions and the startups. And I think we’ll continue to see more of that.

Dominique:

It’s a fascinating space.

David:

And well, if you think they’re hedging their bets with the partnership rather than buying and spending their own money starting out.

Devin:

I think that’s the way to think about it. And each party brings something to the table. The big established firms have regulatory relationships, licenses, distribution among high net worth clients, or just an established client base. And then these startups have so many other things they bring to the table. Obviously, the talent, the engineering talent, whether it’s here in Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley or elsewhere. Just a culture that allows them to move quicker and those kind of things.

And so both parties learn from each other. In that coverage I did in the fall, I had a really insightful conversation with the leader at one of the largest custodial banks who’s building a digital asset team. And he said he’s learning so much from this talent that he’s either interviewing or looking to partner with. And by the way, he said, when he interviews some crypto specialists, they’ve never stepped foot in a bank before. Not just a bank they’re looking to work at, but even a bank branch as a consumer of financial services, it’s so funny.

But he says, he looks for people who can both innovate and understand that they’re working within a regulated environment. He finds that he has to change the culture within his own big firm, in order to attract this talent. He says, “Diversity is more important than ever.” This talent really prioritizes diversity, an agile culture is necessary. It allows these tech minded folks to work at just a faster speed. A performance oriented culture, which, yes, financial institutions tend to already have, but it makes these candidates feel confident. They can hit the ground running, measure their progress along the way.

And then a culture that’s just much more transparent than the big financial services firms are accustomed to because again, a lot of this talent is coming from the startup space where managerial structures and org charts and all those things are quite flat and everyone is just moving as fast as they can.

David:

Okay. So what do you see going on in social justice and major corporations, major financial institutions. How important is it really? I mean, is it really important to them? Are they just giving lip service to it? I don’t like your views on that since you presumably covered that often. I bet that’s probably one or two, if this crypto is number one, I bet social justice is probably two in terms of…

Devin:

Well, you’re right, David. What was interesting in 2020, almost two years ago now was so many things that we here in the US and as a society were confronted with, of course, the pandemic in the spring. But then you’ll remember June with those just absolute terrible murders and just fully on display the racial injustice in this country. Corporations of all size and stripes did exactly what you mentioned. They stepped up and either made commitments either qualitative or quantitative and which is to say monetary commitments or whatnot.

I think a lot of journalists, my team included did spend a lot of time figuring out how real on the spectrum of real monetary commitments or a change in business model these commitments were versus lip service. And I think there are a few big institutions, a few big banking institutions that did put real dollar figures to their commitments. Did actually change or at least integrate this strategy into their business model versus consider it philanthropy or part of their charitable arms.

And I think those are the firms that have won the most appreciation from the public and the communities in which they operate. I would also say it’s really important to see that these firms are providing updates along the way. There are a few in mind that I have that provide pretty regular updates to these contributions. So say if they’ve committed, for example, a certain number to expanding affordable housing. So mortgage lending, for example, to minority areas and things like that, they provide on their earnings calls and in their regulatory filings updates or in their 10Ks, at least annually updates toward those targets.

And then there are others that maybe don’t have the scale or the commitment from the leadership to really pursue their commitments. And you’ll see that they drop off in terms of providing updates publicly on that. So it’s a story that I continue to follow and certainly a lot of other great outlets also have continued to follow that story.

Dominique:

It’s such an important one.

David:

Yeah, it is. And how about we… Dominique hosted a really important function on voting rights, which is that’s, what’s most important right now for this year and just at least in our humble view. And what do you see there? Do you see [inaudible 00:33:17]?

Devin:

Yeah, just anecdotally. And I see more of a kind of a split there, and I think what’s happened in the past 18 to 24 months is we as a society have been confronted by, I think several of these societal issues now where some leaders of these big companies have started putting their foot down is the wrong term, but they’ve said, “Okay, I’ve stepped out and talked about some really major significant issues, but it is time for me to turn back and focus on my core business.” And that more shareholder focus capitalism versus the stakeholder capitalism that has really expanded and taken off.

So I think we’re starting to see this split where some leaders are turning back away from stepping out to talk about these issues and others are doubling down. So it’ll be interesting to see which issues folks step out to talk about now and folks turn away from. But I think what is irreversible is just the focus on these issues from a wider group of constituents, a wider group of stakeholders. So employees, I think it’s really important at some of these big firms. They’re huge employers the big banks, the big asset managers employ thousands, tens of thousands of people.

In some cases when employees care about these issues and speak out about it, that really gets the attention of their leadership. Customers and consumers, that’s very important more for consumer brands and other big companies, consumer products companies. We see people speaking with their wallets a bit more. And then investors, that’s the third bucket that I’m always curious about.

And this rise of ESG, I think this year 2022 will be a real pivotal year for this term ESG and I think the industry will be forced to reckon with how much greenwashing is occurring and whether ESG is just a label slapped onto some funds or some products from fund managers versus whether it’s a real screening and a real set of factors that goes into the investment process.

So I’m very interested in that trend. But these big buckets of employees, consumers and investors. If I’d say one or two of those buckets really cares about a societal issue, I think that’s when the management or the leadership team is really forced to pay attention.

David:

That’s interesting. So yeah, it’s up to us in a way. This is a silly question, but have you been monitoring the performance of some of these ESG funds versus traditional funds and how’s that coming in?

Devin:

Yeah, there’s some really interesting research just now coming out on that David, and I think it’ll take a bit more time for long term investors to really see the difference in these strategies. But what I have noticed is some research coming out, showing that given the flood of interest in ESG strategies and the flood of capital that therefore has pursued these strategies, it has run up the prices of these funds or the value of these funds so much that prospective returns going forward in these funds have fallen.

And so now the question is for a long term investor looking to enter now are ESG funds going to underperform? Now, of course, then there’s another school of thought that says, “Well, fundamentally these holdings in these ESG strategies, the underlying companies will be stronger performers over time because of their focus on the environment or social issues or governance. So therefore they are important long term investment.”

So I think it’ll take a little bit more time to play out, but I’ve noticed that research start coming out where some big asset owners, the pools of capital that allocate to these strategies are starting to say, “Well, actually oil and gas has been beaten down so bad. Fossil fuel investments have lost so much interest that the entry point right now makes them actually a good investment, even if over the next 100, 200 years they’re going to lose favor.”

Again, as I’ve alluded to, it also matters what the time horizon is for these different investors and pools of capital. But again, the reckoning this year, I think will really come down to metrics. So are these investment firms producing real metrics in terms of how their holdings are performing along those ESG factors?

I think the industry hopefully will reach more consensus around standardized metrics so that the asset owners, those pools of capital like sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, endowments foundations can more easily compare ESG investment options. Right now, a lot of it comes down to looking at the presentations or listening to the CEO talk about it and it’s too easy for the ESG labels and the marketing to play a role in those fund allocation. So I really hope there’s a move towards more standardized metrics on these ESG factors.

Dominique:

And I will say just bringing it to the privacy and cyber side. One of the things we’ve started to see is that some of these rating entities like ISS and others have gone ahead and started creating cyber ratings for companies and whether they have chosen to be rated or not, they are being scored on sort of a, I think they purchase the FICO scoring technology. So it’s a low is a 350 and then a high is 850. Some companies have been stunned to find that their… Well, the boards have been stunned, let’s put it that way to find that they have scores that they didn’t anticipate on the governance prong, which is where the privacy and cyber has been placed in these ESG reports that we’ve seen.

Devin:

Yeah. And the underlying cyber security software for example, is such a… In terms of a hot area of investment, and where dollars are going to great leaders I have on the docket to interview this year are Orlando Bravo and Robert Smith who run two of the largest software-focused private equity firms. And I’m just so excited to hear their perspectives on cyber security software because they are plowing billions of dollars from their funds into these companies. They’ve started combining them into larger companies to take public or sell to larger strategic cyber players. And it just seems like another irreversible trend or reality of the world we live in, which is that cybersecurity software is going to be an area of technology spend for every company, every business, every year going forward.

David:

No kidding. I guess, it’s just picking the right horse. We were talking today with a consumer goods client. And it was a new person who replaced the former GC. And we were telling him what kind of work we were doing for him and Dennis said, “Well, we do privacy work for you.” And he said, “Privacy?” He goes, “What do I need with privacy? What are you guys doing?” He had no clue, none. It’s sort of like, well, I said, “Well, these laws you got…” It was-

Dominique:

Well you know there’s something that I read recently probably about three weeks ago that in the EU, in the past year in 2021, $1.5 billion in fines had been assessed against companies for privacy. And it’s just one of those situations where… And that doesn’t include the proposed nine figure fines that are still being contested. And David keeps a CCPA litigation tracker and certainly the expenses associated with defending.

So it’s one of those things that I’ve been really focused on and I guess, turning it into a question to you, Devin, to what degree do you think the C-Suite and I mean, that’s everybody: CEO, CFO COOs are aware of privacy? And to what degree do you think the boards are as well? Because I hear about cyber and ransomware, I think that wakes up people. But some of these privacy related protocols on ad tech or biometrics it’s almost like they’re these huge fines and cases coming down and the company executives have no idea.

Devin:

I think I remember a year or two ago, my team did some interesting coverage on just how many consumer companies are hacked every week. I mean, it had reached a point if you remember it was hotel companies and airline companies and consumer goods companies, all these places that have our information as customers and they were being hacked so often that they wouldn’t even rise to the level of a top spot in the news cycle. It became such a regular occurrence. Actually, I’m reinforcing your question, Dominique, which is, I do wonder if boards and leadership teams are accepting this as a fact of life or really committing the technology spend to addressing this.

I think fines, which we see a lot in the EU these days among major tech companies like billion dollar fines at once. One would think that the boards are paying attention to this. I candidly haven’t seen such public commitment, at least in the earnings calls I listen to and the interviews I do with leadership teams about really addressing this in a systematic way. I will say among C-suites one interesting trend that I am realizing and I’ve seen this over the past few years is that CFO’s role is really expanding to encompass more of these long term strategic issues than just closing the books every month or every quarter.

I have spoken with a lot of CFOs over the past few years who have, they get this from the CEO or the board, which is responsibility for data or privacy or cyber security or other kind of strategic priorities and initiatives that didn’t really have a home because they’re such new issues on the radar they’re landing on CFO’s desks now. That’s something I’m going to be doing some more reporting around. And actually some of the great consulting firms have built up practices. Like the Deloittes of the world and McKinseys of the world to advise finance functions and CFOs on how to broaden their agendas and their universes to include these other strategic priorities.

Dominique:

We’ve been seeing that too. And I guess one question I have, and I don’t know where this falls, but the data innovation stuff the digitization, the transformation, I don’t see those with the cloud folks, I mean, with the CFOs, but I also don’t really talk about-

Devin:

Yeah, it’s so interesting you mentioned that. Right before the new year I think November – December I put up a post about that and I saw a split in the responses, which is about half saying, “Yes, this is for the CFO,” and half saying, “no, this is for the CIO.” The chief information officers. And then about a fifth or a quarter said in their organizations, the CIO worked for the CFO. And then about two thirds were saying, “No, a CIO should be reporting to the CEO and at the same level as the CFO.” It’s funny, this all sounds so like…

Dominique:

[inaudible 00:46:05].

Devin:

I mean, it sounds like people jockeying for position or power within a executive leadership team, but it does have all these ripple effects in terms of who controls the budget, who has the final say, who reports to the CEO. I think so that’s something as I report more on this trend of the evolving role of the CFO. I’m going to be looking at how they interact with chief information officers, especially on these topics of data security and privacy.

David:

I would think if you’re really thinking about it and you have a company that’s got a fair amount of information, you would want your CIO reporting directly to your-

Devin:

I agree, yeah.

David:

CEO. So this is going back to your history. So you became a certified financial, is it… What’s the last term?

Devin:

It’s actually chartered financial analyst that’s the CFA designation.

David:

Sounds like something out of London or something. Anyway, it sounds hard to do. Did you do that during school and why’d you do that?

Devin:

Yeah, I did that during my time at Bloomberg. Fortunately, it’s not that expensive but it’s something Bloomberg did support and pay for folks that wanted to pursue it. And really I did it David, because I was covering the investment management space and I wanted to become just more comfortable and fluent in those conversations with my sources and the people I was interviewing or trying to learn from. I mean at Bloomberg, the readership are sophisticated investment professionals, and it was my role as a 20 something year old to make sense of huge investment strategies from the major firms for their potential clients and others, or just for our readership.

I wanted to be more comfortable, more fluent. So I started that path. It does take, I think on average four or five years, it took me four years of studying basically every evening after coming home from my work at Bloomberg. It’s a three level exam-based process levels one, two, three. It was a lot of work and as a 20 something living in New York I gave up a lot of time and social activities and things like that, but I’m really glad I did it. It immediately gives me a foundational set of knowledge, allows me to ask better questions of my sources.

It makes them more comfortable, I think talking about some of their investment strategies or where they’re looking to invest, how they’re looking to invest, how they innovate in their investment process. And I think it makes my coverage better as well. So really glad I did that.

David:

Does it require a lot of financial analysis or more understanding the industry and how the industry fits together?

Devin:

It’s a pretty broad-based curriculum, David, it covers all the different asset classes. But again, at a fundamental level so you learn how to value equities, how to value fixed income securities, how to think about different asset owners. So pension accounting and sovereign wealth funds and how endowments invest, how foundations invest. There’s actually also a huge focus, and I’m so glad on ethics. Ethics is one of the pillars of the CFA curriculum. Ethics as well. This was after I did the curriculum now they’ve added an entire FinTech curriculum because of the popularity around FinTech and so very broad base. But quite fundamental knowledge across these different asset classes and areas.

David:

Congratulations that’s interesting. And of course you, we got to ask the question too, have you ever been tempted to go out and start a fund or raise money and invest for others? I mean…

Devin:

Yeah. That’s funny, I do invest for myself of course, and my family, and I really enjoy it. I love research and doing some research myself, as I said, I listen to a lot of earnings calls. Actually, don’t tell my boss, I listen to a lot of calls that aren’t even relevant to my coverage just because I enjoy it so much if it’s a big company or the stock is swinging and the report just came out and the earnings call is in an hour or an hour and a half I’ll jump on that call or I’ll have it on in the background.

Dominique:

I think the earnings call is fascinating, I mean even for lawyers and they don’t really direct us to that, but it tells you so much about where the company’s going and what their goals are and what business lines they think they’re in. I’ve been listening the last couple of days here but-

Devin:

Yeah, so saturated with information and concentrated with information. But yeah, to your question, David, I just invest for myself and for my family and of course, now and then. And this happens to any journalist, but some of the companies they cover, firms they cover sometimes will ask if you want to move to the other side of the table and work with them or for them. But I really enjoy just… Actually, and maybe you’ve been able to glean this from this conversation I really just enjoy learning from each story that I do, or each project that I pursue, if it’s a data driven project or something I can learn from so many different sources of data or people who I interview or just things like that.

I mean, a good piece of reporting and storytelling is a deeply researched project or undertaking. You can spend a couple weeks on it and you can talk to all of the significant players involved in that trend. You can look at the underlying data and then you put together for the readers, sometimes hundreds of thousands of readers, put together what the story is that makes sense or what’s coming around the corner or what people should be paying attention to. So I just learn so much through that process and that’s why I love remaining a journalist in this area.

David:

That’s cool. Well, I will tell you the only written magazine that I really read regularly is Bloomberg Business Week, because it is so well done, I don’t know how they afford to get that deep into those issues and pay that as many reporters do that. I mean, I’m assuming Mr. Bloomberg is not making money off that publication because it is so well done and it must take so much effort every week. But anyway, I don’t know, you may have some insights into that.

Devin:

No, I would just say one thing I really enjoyed about my seven years at Bloomberg and that’s where I started out of school is the standards of reporting and the standards of accuracy and the standards of just a factual approach to every story. I mean yes, every news organization will say that that is their foundational priority, but Bloomberg news was started by this gentleman, Matt Winkler and he’s written this guide, if any of you is interested called the Bloomberg Way. It’s hundreds of pages style guide if you will, for reporters.

And it’s what all of us entering the newsroom are trained in or at least when I did back in 2011. And I just really enjoy those rigorous standards around reporting, especially when you’re a financial journalist and your stories, often my stories or my team stories when I was at Bloomberg would move the stock prices if it was breaking news or something that we uncovered before it was announced and we reported it, whether it was a merger or some kind of strategic action or a leadership change or what have you. Accuracy is just so, so important when there’s money at stake.

David:

Wow. On timing now, so we had this big run up for what? How long was the run up like? Four, five, six years? And that was crazy and in equities, I’m thinking.

Devin:

I mean, well, the bottom after the last crisis was March 2009. So I mean all of last decade I consider a run up.

David:

Wow. So do you see a rundown? I mean, is that inevitable? I mean, what are your thoughts?

Devin:

Going back to what we were talking about before we started recording just the earnings this week and again for full disclosure, we’re recording this February 4th. We’ve seen some huge earnings the past week or two, and just wild stock price movements in major, major companies. Some of the largest market caps out there moving like 25% in a day. I think and this is just what I glean from people I speak with that those are not signs of a healthy point in the cycle, those can be considered signs of a potentially a very late stage cycle.

But I think what’s interesting this year will be obviously the pace of interest rate hikes, the speed at which the federal reserve pursues that and whether it’s faster than people are comfortable with or not. I mean, the jump in yields in January of this year did make a lot of those growth stocks far less attractive. I think we may see… Again, this is kind of a cop out answer you hear people say, but we’ll just see more volatility probably throughout this year. But I mean, as I said, the bottom was 2009. So a good decade or 12 years of a run up, I’m not surprised when I think the market takes a breather.

I will say in two weeks, I’m so excited this is one of my favorite people to interview is a gentleman named Howard Marks, he’s the co-chairman at Oak Tree Capital.

David:

He’s phenomenal. Sorry to interrupt you. He is phenomenal.

Devin:

I’m not surprised you know him, David, because he is so generous with sharing his insights publicly. He shares publically the memos that he writes to limited partners of his funds, his client memos. And they’re just like, I think Warren Buffet has said as soon as that hits his desk or his inbox, I don’t know, If Warren Buffet has an email inbox, but as soon as those memos come out, Warren Buffet reads them and people across the investment world do.

So anyway, in two weeks, I’m interviewing Howard for the CFA Society San Francisco, which I’m a board member at. And I actually arranged that before the New Year. So the markets were still pretty common. So he’s committed to doing it and I’m so excited to ask him about it, to parse the signal from the noise, with all of this volatility going on.

David:

Wow.

Dominique:

That’s great.

David:

I saw that they bought some of that Chinese developer I’m going to blank on the name, they bought some of those assets. I don’t know how they got them, but you’re right, I’ve read his books. It’s really, I guess you’re right because he is transparent that people like him so much. But that’s cool. I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I just had to add that.

Devin:

And no, I would just say one thing on transparency and this comes back to my role at LinkedIn. What we have noticed and it’s just been fantastic for LinkedIn members is that people are becoming more generous with sharing their insights publicly, whether it is yes, maybe a marketing play and they want to business development purposes or awareness of their strategies or things like that. But for that reason or maybe for other reasons too, people share a lot more of their insights publicly, especially on LinkedIn in this investment industry.

So whether it’s the research they’re already producing and sharing with clients or posting to their websites as glossy PDFs and things like that or quarterly outlooks and things like that. There’s a lot more of that coursing through the LinkedIn feed. And we lean on a lot of that. We leverage a lot of that in the news items that we carried or my This Week in Finance newsletter or things like that.

So these are folks at these firms at these huge investment firms that are just sharing more generously their insights. That’s something we at LinkedIn have benefited from, but more importantly, our members, others in the industry, early career professionals or people looking to pivot or people just looking for new investment ideas or economic outlooks, there’s a lot more to be found these days.

David:

That’s excellent. Well, I guess on that note we have to end. This has been… I got to tell you, literally, I said to Dominique, I said, “Dominique, what’s it have to do with data with and privacy? But this has been fantastic, Devin. This has really been fantastic. We could talk forever. I know you have a new baby, so we can’t take you out for a beer in San Francisco because you got to stay at home. But we’ll find some way to get together with Tommy and do something fun.

Devin:

Yeah, that sounds good. Well, I appreciate the invitation and the conversation with the both of you.

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Photo of David T. Biderman David T. Biderman

David Biderman, a partner in Perkins Coie’s San Francisco and Los Angeles offices, focuses his practice on mass tort litigation and consumer class actions. He heads the firm’s Mass Tort and Consumer Litigation group. He has represented a wide variety of companies in…

David Biderman, a partner in Perkins Coie’s San Francisco and Los Angeles offices, focuses his practice on mass tort litigation and consumer class actions. He heads the firm’s Mass Tort and Consumer Litigation group. He has represented a wide variety of companies in state and federal courts in California for 30 years.

On consumer class actions, David represents packaged food companies, coffee companies, dairy companies, footwear companies and others whose nutritional or health claims have been challenged. He also has represented search engines and other online companies. He has a record of favorable results for clients. He successfully tried a major consumer fraud class action on behalf of one of the world’s major search engines in a case involving online gambling advertisements. For that same client, he negotiated a favorable settlement of a class action challenging its online advertising pricing. He represented a major coffee retailer in defeating a class action on standing grounds. He also has litigated pre-emption defenses arising out of food labeling and obtained a dismissal for a client whose nutritional statements were challenged.

For fifteen years, David managed the firm’s full-service product liability team responsible for defending over 1,000 toxic tort cases pending in Los Angeles and Northern California state courts. These cases entailed ongoing trial activity at various levels for several trials set each month. The highly experienced and well-coordinated team has handled thousands of asbestos toxic tort cases for a variety of clients, including FORTUNE 500 companies from such industries as consumer products, aerospace manufacturing, household goods, dry cleaning and industries that generate electromagnetic fields, such as electric utilities and operators of wireless communications systems.