Financial Management Association trip to NYC – a student’s perspective
By Hunter Alley
KNOXVILLE, TN — This year’s trip to New York City was my third visit there and my favorite one to date. It didn't have to do with where we stayed, my flight, the restaurants, the people on the trip, or any other aspect that one usually considers when reviewing criteria for a great trip. While all of these factors certainly added to the quality of trip, they are not what made it the best one for me. No, the enlightening people we got to meet, the feel of being a part of a business trip in NYC, and getting to finally visit the floor of the New York Stock Exchange were the factors that made the trip so great for me. I saw NYC through a different lens this time. I was finally viewing the city from a business perspective, for what it truly is—a metropolis of business activity and opportunity.
I took a flight out of Knoxville on Wednesday, September 28, and got to fly over Washington DC. The plane passed above the Arlington Memorial, Capital building, and Air Force Memorial on the way to NYC. On the cab ride into NYC from the airport, we rode through the middle of Manhattan to Hotel Indigo. Our hotel rooms still weren't ready, so we sat down outside at the lounge area and did homework.
Several hours later, another member of our Financial Management Association (FMA) group, Bret Ploucha, arrived, and we went to meet his two friends at their apartment in Greenwich Village. They are stockbrokers, and they live on the 31st floor of their building and have a great view of the city. It was inspiring to see two guys who aren’t much older than me making it in the city. This was the first moment on the trip, and the first time in my life, that made me feel that New York City is a place that I could live one day. We all went out to dinner, and the guys explained to us more about what they do and what life in New York is like.
The next day, we departed from the hotel for our first stop at Bloomberg. The building is fascinating. I find it interesting how the design came out of the idea of transparency. They took that idea and turned it into reality. It was also interesting to hear about how Michael Bloomberg began the company. Stories of entrepreneurship are my favorite business stories. I like learning about how someone can take an idea and turn it into a reality. In Michael Bloomberg's case, he took what he was essentially already doing for a firm and transformed it into a much better and streamlined system. Getting to use the Bloomberg terminals was great, too; I had never used one before. Honestly, I used much of the time tinkering around the software. I was doing research on one of my own stocks and was able to find a PowerPoint presentation the company uses to persuade large clients to invest in the company! The software is amazing. I couldn't believe it has more than 25,000 functions and even a sports stats function. I enjoyed the Bloomberg tour a lot. After the tour concluded, we were off to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC).
The PWC lunch was nice. It’s great that these companies that hosted our FMA visits not only invited us to visit, but also paid for our lunch. While we were eating, I took some time to look around the skyline. Being up on a high floor in those buildings gives me a feeling of euphoria. The size and structure of Manhattan is just amazing. It is incredible to me how many people work there and how much is done on just this one island in New York. After we finished lunch, we went down to the basement floor and heard a very informative presentation from UT grads Jonathan Papaik and Tania Chebli. I had no idea PWC was so much more than just an accounting firm. I thought they both did a very good job explaining everything that PWC is involved with. The “deals” and consulting departments both seem like they would be good employment areas. After PWC we went to JP Morgan's massive three-building complex where we got to meet with John Rosenwald, Vice Chairman Emeritus, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
He was my favorite person we got to meet on the trip. Although our time with him was short, it was immediately clear that he is very knowledgeable and well-rounded. How many people start off a meeting with a Robert Frost reference? He has a very stoic presence, and he seemed to be felt throughout the room before he even spoke a word. Once he did, it became very clear why he held his position. His story about making the first bulk lot trade was incredible. When someone asked him about how he donated to charities, I took note. Essentially, he said he would research how much has been raised, how much work has been done, and then double the amount if possible, since he has accumulated so much. I will definitely be getting in touch with him for a donation once I get the Camp Koinonia Angel Fund up and running! After such a busy day, I was more than ready for Carmines Restaurant. The five-course meal in the Theater District was a nice touch to the end of the first day of our trip.
The next day, I got up, worked out, and enjoyed some coffee to start off the day. First, we were off to the financial district—my favorite part of NYC. The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYME) is fascinating. It was crazy to see down into the “pits” and watch commodities being traded right in front of my eyes. Our guide was great, too. His name was Steve, and he was from Brooklyn. He gave us the NYME history, taught us how it works today, and introduced us to some employees. He did a great job showing us the “feel” of the place. It felt like a high school “click” of friends. At one point, a very large man walked up to the pit and yelled out the trade he needed. A trader from across the floor yelled back: “Look at the tough guy!” The large man and everyone in the pit all started laughing together. This was certainly not the environment I expected in what I always imagined as a very stressful place. However, after Steve gave us some insight, it made sense. The market was converted mostly to electronic trading in 2008, and he told us it has lost a lot of the old feel since then. He went on to explain it is much less crowded now. He said it used to be so crowded that you were sliding in between people and bumping elbows the entire time. He also told us that there used to be frequent fights in the pits. However, after they created a $2,500 fine for throwing a punch, most of those ended. Steve said he was in the process of finding a new job. I could infer from his demeanor, as well as those in the pits, that they missed the way the trading used to be, and that it is only a matter of time before everything becomes electronic.
It was humbling to see the 9/11 museum. I'm glad that they have finished building it and the memorial. I was shocked to see how big the Occupy Wall Street protest had gotten. I watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report religiously, and they both had featured the rally only a few days ago. It was interesting to see something I only saw a few days ago on TV happening in front of me. It was also an interesting position to be in as the protestors most likely thought that we worked for Wall Street. I had one of them come up and tell me they weren't all ignorant and not to pay attention to the “NAZI BANKERS” sign. I actually do agree that some of them make valid points; however, those who do seem to be few and far between. After avoiding the mob and taking our picture at the Wall Street “bull,” we arrived at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
The view from their office building is incredible. It was awesome to watch the new World Trade Center tower being constructed next to us. I enjoyed the FINRA presentation more than I thought I would. Initially, the presentation was a bit dry, and the overview lasted too long. Once the discussion of how they go after fraud started, though, I found it interesting. I was unaware that there is such a large independent regulator for the financial world, and that they have so much authority. These guys are, in a sense, detectives. The boiler room stories were hilarious as well, about how people are able to pull off financial stunts for so long. It was also very funny hearing them talk about the executive waving as he evaded them going down the glass elevator. However, I did not like that he put up a picture of the Florida Gators and Vanderbilt at the end of the slide show. After that happened, I was more than ready to go to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
A feeling of awe swept over me as I first walked down that hallway of the NYSE and finally saw the floor. That is something I will never forget. Just getting to be there and look around at how everything works, what everyone is doing, the news crews, the closing bell, everything. Warren Buffet had been there only an hour before us. This was Wall Street!
After the initial shock and awe came more shock and awe as we met John our “market maker.” These guys are insanely smart. He explained to us how he conducts the trades for Barclays: conducting trades, adjusting algorithms for the market, and reviewing market conditions all at the same time. They also have to be pretty tough physically to stand up for nine hours a day. John did a great job at showing us all of the complexities behind the market. It was great getting to see what happens when I conduct a trade. Then we got to see the closing bell! It was quite an experience, and one I will never forget. The NYSE and meeting John Rosenwald were my two favorite parts of the trip. After a great experience at the NYSE, we proceeded to dinner on the Staten Island Ferry.
Beasley Battle and I rode on the back of the ferry so that we could look at Manhattan and the water and talk about the trip. Seeing it from the water places the city in perspective — such a continual flurry of activity. This is also where it sank in for both of us that this is where we want to be someday. And, this is what the trip mostly showed me. Through the people we met, what we saw, the things we did, this trip affirmed to me that I want to be a part of the financial world in NYC one day.
[for more information about the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Financial Management Association, please visit http://bus.utk.edu/finance/fma/index.htm.]