Between the headlines about subprime mortgages and Wall Street bonuses, littered with names like Bearn Stearns and Bernie Madoff, seems to have been lost a fundamental truth about high finance.
“The financial industry is a service industry. It should serve others before it serves itself,” Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, says in “Inside Job,” an Oscar-winning documentary that delves into the causes of the financial meltdown.
This fundamental idea is behind a new social media site for investors, Harvest (HVST.com). Some renowned hedge fund managers have already used the website to release news of bets they’re making and performance of their funds.
“There’s a real organic nature to our community that we want to highlight,” Peter Hans, co-founder of the website, said. After a stint on Wall Street, Hans saw a need to make investing and financial information more open and accessible.
“I travelled all around meeting different types of investors, and it’s a very close network, but a very archaic one,” Hans said. “I was getting the same questions about what to invest in. All we were doing was playing this very insular game of telephone… so I wanted to take this Wall Street network and make it open, accessible to the masses.”
Hans and two other co-founders started Harvest last December, but over 750 investing firms are already using the website. Employing a group of 15, Hans also added that use of the website is growing at 30 percent compounded per week. When Reuters profiled the company in February, the site had approximately 10,000 members.
While Hans wants to utilize social media to create a platform facilitating open information, allowing investing professionals and novice investors to communicate and share ideas, he also has larger goals for Harvest.
“I want to create a utility for anyone interested in investing,” Hans said. “We have a portfolio simulation tool, the idea of which is to let anyone run their own hedge fund. It’s very expensive to learn how to trade, so if we can get people to learn how to do it for free, that’s a tremendous benefit.”
“It’s going to become the new ‘Total Frat Move’ for Wall Street,” junior economics and mathematics major Christien West said.
In addition to the Harvest website, Hans and his team have been working hard to create “Harvest University,” which they envision as “a larger ecosystem, allowing universities to share information so they can run competitions and share results; this can also be a tool for networking and recruitment.”
The portfolio management function could be especially useful for programs like SLU’s Applied Portfolio Management program, which provides students an opportunity to manage a small portion of the University’s endowment.
A graduate of Vanderbilt University’s Graduate School of Business, Hans points to the reality that, traditionally, a handful of “core schools” are recruited for top-tier investing jobs, primarily on Wall Street. He hopes to level the playing field, enabling talented stock pickers form across the country to be discovered.
While many investors have been using Twitter and other social media formats to communicate ideas, Harvest is perhaps the first specifically tailored to investors, allowing novice investors to read ideas “straight from their source.”
“That’s where we got the name from,” Hans added, referring to the farm-to-table-type atmosphere he hopes to create. “Right now, [investing] is a black box. But there’s nothing more important than an individual’s financial security.”