The Aftermath

Baada collaborated on the research leading up to his post. I hereby acknowledge his contribution and condemn his laziness for not blogging it himself.

One of the major problems of the financial crisis that has been happening for about two years now is that investment bankers, as a profession, stand discredited. Before this, they used to claim to be on the top of the intellectual ladder. And now, thanks to a handful (more than a handful; but still a small proportion) of phenomenally stupid investment bankers, the entire community stands discredited. Not just that, they have left the community of quants, of people who can be good at structuring, of finance people, of statisticians, all discredited. You say “all you need to do is to get a few ibankers into these jobs” and you’ll have people come at you like a pack of hounds, waving Mint and saying “look at the damage these buggers have caused, and you think they can solve this problem”.

So Baada and I were talking about cricket the other day. About how thanks to the demands of television, flat pitches are being prepared everywhere. Which is leading to tame and boring draws. Which has led to domestic cricket being effectively reduced to a one-innings game. Which has led to massive fourth innings run chases. Which has led to bowlers break down once every couple of seasons. And so forth.

The argument put forth in favour of flat pitches is that in order to maximise television revenues, you need the game to last five days. Excellent argument, and Baada and I agreed to it. But the friggin’ point is that if you haveĀ  a boring game, no one is going to watch it. If you have a game that is most likely to end up as a draw, it will have no audience. Advertisers would be paying through their nose for near-zilch viewership.

In the medium term, things should even out. Advertisers will realize that due to the boring nature of Test cricket, no one will watch it anyway, and will back away. Ad rates will fall. And TV rights bids will fall consequently. And the boards will understand their folly and take steps to make cricket interetsing again. (there is also the danger that boards will use this to say that no one watches Test cricket anymore and scraps it altogether). However, advertisers should not be so passive and wait for things to even out.

Given a large number of statistics, playing conditions, day of week seasonality and all such stuff, it shouldn’t be hard for the smart advertiser to figure out which are going to be his most profitable slots. And bid specifically for those. If one smart advertiser does that, then that advertiser stands to gain against other advertisers who will end up paying more money for less profitable slots. And so all advertisers will become smart. Now, the channels will stop seeing uniform demand patterns for their various advertising slots. They will now need to acquire smartness in order to combat the smart advertisers. This way, smartness will prevail in the system.

I’m sure that once something like this happens, natural balance will get restored. It will take much less time for TV channels to realize that three-day Tests on bowling pitches can get them greater revenues compared to runfests played over five days. And they won’t take much time to communicate the same to the boards who will then restore Test cricket back to glory.

The problem with a lot of advertising people is that they see themselves as “creative people” because of which they assume they don’t need to know and use maths. And they don’t do the smart calculations I described earlier. As for the brand managers, it is likely that a lot of them decided to pursue marketing because they either didn’t like quant or found themselves weak at quant. Apart from a few simple excel models, they too are likely to shun the kind of smartness required here.

So where are the white knights who can save the version of the gentleman’s game played in whites? Not currently in the ad agencies. Most likely not in the marketing departments. They are all out there. A few months ago, they were employed. Earning very good salaries, and grand bonuses. Earning amounts of money unaffordable to most advertising and marketing companies. Thanks to the financial meltdown, they are available now. Looking for a fresh challenge.

This is the best time for you to infuse quant to your business. You won’t get the kind of quant supply in the market that you are seeing now. Even if the financial industry doesn’t recover (in any case it will never go back to 2007 levels), supply side factors should ensure lower supply. Do that little experiment now. Acknowledge that numbers can do a lot of good for your business. Understand what structuring is all about, and estimate the kind of impact a good structurer can have on your revenues. Make that little bit effort and I’m sure you’ll get convinced. Go make that offer. An offer these ex-ibankers can’t refuse in the current circumstances at least.

PS: When I refer to investment banking, I also include the “outside-the-wall” side of the business (called “markets”; “sales and trading”; “securities” and various other names). In fact, I mostly talk about the outside-the-wall business, not having had any exposure inside the wall.