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Smashing the Finance Patriarchy With Memes

Finance memes are still niche on Instagram; @MrsDowJones has yet to break 100,000 followers, but along with accounts like @Litquidity and @finance_god, it’s helping define the “finfluencer” (that’s financial influencer) category. Most of those accounts are anonymous, and according to Institutional Investor magazine, many of them are run by people who work in the business. For them, memes are a way to commiserate with fellow bankers, especially those contending with the long hours of summer internships and first-year analyst positions.

Ms. Sacks, on the other hand, has never worked in finance. In fact, despite growing up in an environment where she might have learned, until two years ago, she didn’t even know the difference between a traditional retirement account and a Roth.

She grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan; her father worked at Goldman Sachs. But wealth management, as she saw it, was the domain of men. “I’ve always been creative and had a big sense of humor,” she said in a recent phone interview, “and those aren’t qualities you think of when you think of an ideal worker at an investment bank.”

After graduating from Wesleyan in 2013, Ms. Sacks worked as a page for the “Late Show,” worked the front desk at the fitness studio SLT and nannied. She was living month to month with nearly no savings.

Then, in 2017, she was accepted to a residency at Above Average Productions, the digital content arm of Lorne Michaels’s production company. The job would pay her an annual salary of $43,000 plus benefits, like a 401(k).

All of a sudden, Ms. Sacks said, “I was being faced with the financial decisions of a full-time employee,” like how much federal income tax she’d like to have withheld from her paycheck and whether she would be interested in putting some of her money in a growth account.

“I didn’t know the answer to any of the questions,” she said. “So, I went home and did what any self-respecting millennial did: I went on YouTube.”

Ms. Sacks wanted to learn about wealth creation, but “the only videos that were available to me to learn about these subjects were these 12-minute-long, unedited disasters of men with no charisma and no point of view,” she said. “They were literally writing on whiteboards with their back to the camera. It was so bad and so boring. And it was all men.”

“All the women were giving personal finance advice, and the Wall Street lingo was left to the guys,” she said. “The girls were the ones telling you to buy a crockpot and itemize your checks.”

Six months after joining Above Average, she said, Ms. Sacks was laid off. At that point, she also had a baseline understanding of investments, thanks to Google. She decided to create a digital brand of her own, based on her research, which she thought could be a more stable source of income than the patchwork of jobs she’d had in her early 20s.

“When I got dumped by Above Average, I never wanted to put my financial well-being into anyone else’s hands again,” Ms. Sacks said. “I didn’t want to have to rely on companies, or a brand that could cut the cord on me.”

She uses her family’s background as a teaching tool as well. She thinks it’s this outsider’s view on the inside that helps give her an edge. In a recent video, she details “rules only rich people know” about money.

“My goal is to create inclusivity,” she said. “If I grew up so close to this world and still felt marginalized, think how much worse it is for everyone else.”

So she registered the handle @MrsDowJones and began racking up followers with posts written not in jargon, but “in the language I spoke,” she said. That meant a lot of humor and Kardashian references.

In the two years since she introduced her brand, Ms. Sacks has founded a successful finance-related book club, newsletter where she shares finance tips and news, and merchandise line, where she peddles merchandise such as J.P. Sonja Morgan hats and “I miss Janet Yellen” pullovers. She monetizes her social channels through branded content deals. This year, Ms. Sacks also began hosting monthly sponsored events for her followers where finance figures like Sallie Krawcheck, a former executive at Bank of America, and Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist, spoke about their books and financial careers.

Ms. Sacks said it’s not just women she wants to help, but everyone who has been shut out of careers in finance and conversations about wealth creation. Though she has made a name for herself by eschewing personal finance, talking to some of her fans has convinced her to incorporate more basic money management tips into her posts. Many of her followers struggle with student debt and, like many Americans, don’t have the disposable income to play in the stock market.

“What I realized is that I was talking so much about investing, but you can’t talk about investing until people have money saved,” Ms. Sacks said. “So, I had to take a few steps back and be like, ‘O.K. let me get my audience out of debt real quick, then we’ll hop back into things after they have a savings.’” In 2020, she plans to release a curriculum covering the basics of personal finance.

That doesn’t mean she’s abandoning her brand’s roots.

“I’m not here to defend Wall Street,” she said, “but I’m here to bridge the gap so people don’t feel excluded. Wall Street makes people feel like outsiders. They have their own uniform, they have their own language they speak, they have specific places they hang out, publications they read. They’ve created a world for themselves that feels exclusive. We can get into the nitty-gritty of, ‘they’re evil, they hurt us,’ but I think no matter what, let’s give you the skills and the confidence to play in their field.”

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Bank of England Audio Was Leaked, Giving Some Traders an Edge

LONDON — The Bank of England said Thursday that an audio feed from its news conferences had been released to some investors before it had been made public, giving them a leg up on the rest of the market.

The central bank said it was investigating how a third-party supplier had gotten early access to policymakers’ remarks. In the world of high-speed trading, just a few seconds’ lead time can offer some investors a trading advantage.

The Financial Conduct Authority, which regulates Britain’s financial markets, also said it was investigating the leak. In an email, a spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the authority was aware of any trading based on the leaked information.

After queries from The Times of London, the Bank of England said the audio feed of its news conferences, maintained as a backup in case the video feed fails, had been “misused by a third-party supplier to the bank since earlier this year to supply services to other external clients.”

The audio feed provided traders a five- to eight-second advantage over the video feed, The Times reported.

Having a feed that can be watched on platforms like YouTube is meant to make the bank’s decision-making as transparent as possible.

Comments from the Bank of England’s news conferences, held roughly quarterly, are closely monitored for indications about the bank’s thinking on interest rates and the state of the economy. But Mark Carney, the bank’s governor since 2013, has aimed to provide forward guidance — that is, some indication of how the bank will manage monetary policy in the future. This approach has limited the potential for market-moving surprises from a shift in direction.

The European Central Bank in September started providing an audio feed with less of a delay to limit the ability of external companies to claim that they could get a jump on the widely available public feeds.

The Federal Reserve said Thursday that it sought to make its news conferences as widely available as possible and, to that end, streamed the events directly and through news organizations. A Fed spokesman added, however, that in light of the Bank of England report, the Federal Reserve would review its practices.

Bloomberg said that it was the manager of the Bank of England’s video feed and that it made it available to other news providers. The bank did not identify the supplier of the audio feed, but said that it had disabled the supplier’s access. “As a result, the third-party supplier did not have any access to the most recent press conference and will no longer play any part in any of the bank’s future press conferences,” it said in a statement.

“The bank operates the highest standards of information security around the release of the market sensitive decisions of its policy committees,” the statement added. “The issue identified related only to the broadcast of press conferences that follow such statements.”

The disclosure came before the bank’s release of its periodic monetary policy statement on Thursday, in which it announced that it was keeping its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 0.75 percent.

The bank routinely puts reporters through tight precautions to prevent leaks that could prove valuable to traders. Before they are allowed to view policy announcements and forecasts ahead of their release, reporters are locked in a room with a security guard standing by and their cellphone connectivity is cut. They are not allowed to leave the room until after the embargo is lifted.

Premature access to information is a crucial concern to financial regulators around the world. In a 2015 case, prosecutors and regulators in the United States asserted that 32 traders and hackers had reaped more than $100 million in illegal proceeds from a scheme that provided a look at corporate news releases before they were made public.

Elian Peltier contributed reporting from London and Jeanna Smialek from Washington.

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Where Are the Tech Zillionaires? San Francisco Faces the I.P.O. Fizzle

SAN FRANCISCO — Seven months ago, the Four Seasons in San Francisco sent out a news release announcing the glad tidings that would come soon: New residences for the new money.

Builders were hoisting glass and steel into a 43-story tower where residents would have their own on-staff wine concierge, plus Blue de Savoie French marble, German milled Poggenpohl cabinetry and Dornbracht fixtures. The building’s $49 million penthouse would be the most expensive in San Francisco.

“Just in time for the coming wave of I.P.O. millionaires in San Francisco,” the Four Seasons said, promising “an elevated sales experience” to cater to “this new class of buyers.”

But then the wave of tech initial public offerings — the one that was supposed to mint San Francisco’s new ultra rich — fizzled. The stock of Uber, the ride-hailing giant, has dropped nearly 30 percent since the company went public in May. Lyft shares are down nearly 40 percent. Pinterest and Slack have declined, too.

San Francisco has been left as a slightly more normal town of tech workers who got rich-ish, maybe making a few hundred thousand dollars. But that doesn’t go far in a city where the median cost of a single family home is about $1.6 million.

“Everyone that came back post-I.P.O. seemed to be the same person. I didn’t see any Louis Vuitton MacBook case covers or champagne in their Yeti thermos,” said J.T. Forbus, a tax manager at Bogdan & Frasco in San Francisco.

Private wealth managers are now meeting with a chastened clientele. Developers are having to cut home prices — unheard-of a year ago. Party planners are signing nondisclosure agreements to stage secret parties where hosts can privately enjoy their wealth. Union organizers are finding an opportunity.

Everyone had gotten too excited, and who could blame them? The money was once so close: A start-up that coordinated dog walkers raised $300 million. The valuations of the already giant ride-hailing behemoths had nearly doubled again. WeWork, a commercial real estate management start-up that owned very little of its own real estate, was valued at $47 billion.

Towers rose across San Francisco to house the money. The marble was polished. The bathroom floors were warm. The private pools were being filled.

“The world has changed in a year,” said Herman Chan, a real estate broker with Sotheby’s International. “We expected an upward trajectory at least, and it really kind of deflated. These companies aren’t dying but the cultural zeitgeist, that momentum of I.P.O.s, is gone. You don’t even hear anyone talking about it anymore.”

The developers who had fought the odds of regulation and zoning to build their glass residences in the sky had timed their units to the I.P.O.s. But on a recent visit with the Four Seasons sales team, they acknowledged that techie wealth was not what they were seeing. Interest was mostly coming from overseas buyers, young heirs to foreign fortunes and older executives looking for city pieds-à-terre, they said.

Also in time for the wave that was not a wave are more luxury towers: The Avery, The Harrison, 181 Fremont, The Mira.

“The definition of luxury is scarcity, and there’s so many now,” Mr. Chan said. “Nowadays, my buyers are getting a contingency period and inspectors. Things you would never ask for before. There’s not 10 offers on a house anymore.”

Case in point: A full-floor apartment in San Francisco’s poshest neighborhood of Pacific Heights was listed at $21.6 million and advertised that “a sommelier-worthy wine cellar awaits 1,500 of your most prized bottles.” But more than a year later and after a $5 million price cut, it is still on the market.

Prices for the top 5 percent of San Francisco area real estate listings — the cream of the crop — rose 7 percent between 2017 and 2018. This year, they have fallen more than 1 percent, according to data prepared for The New York Times by the real estate listing service Zillow.

The malaise has spread south into Silicon Valley. A $10.8 million home listing in the town of Portola Valley, Calif., was slashed to $5.7 million. The median sale price for a nearby home in San Jose, Calif., has dropped 10 percent in a year to just under $1 million, according to data from Zillow.

Before the tech I.P.O.s, Deniz Kahramaner, then a real estate data analyst with the property brokerage Compass, had rallied packed rooms of real estate agents and investors about the bonanza that lay ahead. He had charts and estimates of thousands of new millionaires raising the average price of single family homes in San Francisco above $5 million.

Now, he is more muted. “The I.P.O. cash-out hasn’t played out as I mentioned in my original presentation,” he said.

Mr. Kahramaner added, hopefully, that it was still early. “People need more time,” he said.

Instead of yachts, tech workers are funding more mundane ventures like college savings plans.

“This year brought a lot of people back to reality,” said Ryan S. Cole, a private wealth adviser at Citrine Capital, a wealth management firm in San Francisco. “We’ve had a lot of people fund 529 plans for their kids. Pretty boring stuff.”

Some private wealth managers said they were actually somewhat relieved.

“At the end of the day, it’s funny money until it’s realized,” said Jonathan DeYoe, another private wealth adviser. “I’ve got Uber and Lyft clients that are disappointed. It’s a different house now. It’s a different school situation for the kids. But they’re still by and large in good places. No one’s impoverished.”

And so workers who thought they would upgrade from Allbirds to Berluti shoes are remaining, after all, in the Allbirds.

As some rank-and-file tech workers realize they might not get rich from company stock, the allure of working long hours without comparable real money pay is also wearing thin, said labor organizers. They have found traction this year in an industry long resistant to unions.

“The incentives to take the licks that you do are in the hope of some sort of big payoff down the road,” said Paul Thurston, who focuses on unionizing San Francisco tech workers and is the organizing director at the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

Now, “the engineers and the app designer and the developers are going to be treated a lot more like the employees that they are rather than like partners, which is what they’re told pre-I. P. O.,” he said.

Jonathan Wright, the organizing director of Engineers and Scientists of California, said he was in talks to unionize the workers of several big tech companies.

“There’s a promise: you work 100 hours a week, you sleep under your desk, and then you’ll be rewarded with the wealth of Bezos,” Mr. Wright said. “That mythology has been fading for years. The day of the unicorn is over.”

Where there is new wealth, it’s coming from the older tech companies like Apple and Alphabet, whose stocks this year have soared. And some fortunes are still being made from the I.P.O.s. While Uber’s shares have fallen, the company’s co-founder, Travis Kalanick, has sold off more than $2 billion in stock, according to securities filings.

“Especially with things like Uber, almost all the I.P.O. wealth was going to a couple of people,” said Kalena Masching, a Redfin agent in San Jose. “They are not looking to buy a standard house here.”

Another bright spot: female-led companies, with more becoming unicorns in 2019 than any other year, according to Aileen Lee, the venture capitalist who coined the phrase “unicorn” to refer to a private company valued at $1 billion or more.

And post-I.P.O. parties are happening. They are just secret — and phone-free.

“We’re signing a lot more nondisclosures,” said Jay Siegan, who curates party entertainment for corporate tech clients. “A year ago, people would set up social media stations at the party, signs with the hashtag for Instagram. Now we have clients asking guests to check their phones at the door or using those Yondr bags.

These are pouches used to lock phones en masse at concerts and events where someone might be tempted to record.

However, in public, the tech world is all about reflection and self-critiquing after the year that was.

The I.P.O. disappointment has gotten so extreme that two Silicon Valley techies are setting out to do what few have done before: Make fun of themselves.

David Cowan, a venture capitalist with Bessemer Venture Partners, which invested in Lyft, and Michael Fertik, the founder of Reputation.com, are launching an online talk show called “The Bubble Report.” It will feature interviews with other tech executives. The point, they hope, is to poke fun at Silicon Valley from within Silicon Valley.

Mr. Cowan, either in character or just being very honest, decried the falling stock prices of newly public tech companies as victims of cruel Wall Street analysts.

“It should be against the law for unscrupulous analysts to assess stocks based on cash flow and profit, to impugn a company based on eight lines of a financial report,” he joked. “Imagine how much more value we’d have in the stock market if we got rid of that arcane thinking.”

Mr. Fertik said his inspiration to mock his industry came in part from realizing how far from reality it had all gotten.

“I want people to understand that Silicon Valley is a deeply religious place that thinks of itself as agnostic,” he said. “It has some of the strengths and many of the frailties of organized religion.”

For now, most people are waking up to find they are still on Earth. This is good news for those in San Francisco who mostly viewed the tech exuberance as bad news: housing rights activists, first-time home buyers, and renters.

“We are excited by any resetting of Bay Area rents that bring them down from their artificially inflated high,” said Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, the executive director of Housing Rights Committee, which fights against evictions. “Eventually all bubbles burst.”