De echte job van een hoofdeconoom

Véronique Goossens wordt binnenkort de hoofdeconoom van Belfius. Ze is vooral bekend als presentatrice bij Kanaal Z.

Volgens Wikipedia is een hoofdeconoom verantwoordelijk voor de uitvoering van financieel en economisch onderzoek en advies. Op het eerste zicht is het dan ook wat vreemd dat Goossens geen diploma economie op zak heeft.

Nochtans heeft Belfius een goede zaak gedaan. De echte job van een hoofdeconoom is namelijk om in de media te komen.

Hoofdeconoom is een marketingfunctie

De hoofdeconoom heeft weinig of geen invloed op de strategie van zijn of haar werkgever. Banken hebben een hoofdeconoom om dezelfde reden dat ze sportwedstrijden of liefdadigheidsinstellingen sponsoren. 

Goede hoofdeconomen slagen er in regelmatig om regelmatig in de krant of op de radio en televisie te komen. Zo bouwen ze een vertrouwensband op met het publiek, dat de naam van hun werkgever koppelt aan degelijkheid.

Het is geen toeval dat BNP Paribas Fortis Koen De Leus wegplukte bij KBC. De man wordt regelmatig geïnterviewd. Misschien heeft Goossens’ voorganger Geert Gielens grote intellectuele en organisatorische capaciteiten, maar het verschil in aantal Twittervolgers tussen de twee spreekt boekdelen.  Vandaar exit Gielens, enter Goossens.

Tenslotte gratis advies voor mijn voormalige werkgever KBC: jullie huidige hoofdeconoom is waardeloos vanuit mediastandpunt. (Als je nu nadenkt over wie dat is, bewijs je mijn punt). Jammer, want ik ken een onontgonnen toptalent bij de bank…

Economics is hard

How are economic statistics collected? Do economic models correspond to observable reality?

In a world where markets and politicians respond strongly to things like gross domestic product (GDP) figures and economic forecasts, these are important questions. Unfortunately, discussion often jumps directly to the interpretation of new data or the output of models. Students are rarely challenged to question what the data and the models represent.

I recently came across two great articles that dig into these issues. Continue reading “Economics is hard”


I used to commute to Brussels by train. The usual experience: full compartments, sometimes people had to stand if they didn’t want to wait for the next train.

When I went to a conference about the financial crisis (slides) last month, the train was almost empty.

As recently as five years ago, few companies allowed telecommuting. If your supervisor was OK with it, you were lucky to work from home once a week.

Nowadays, almost everybody realizes that a lot of jobs don’t need the physical presence of workers in some central office. With just a laptop, a VPN, and a headset you’re ready to collaborate with your colleagues from the kitchen table.

Credit where credit is due: banks were among the first to institutionalize telework.

Show me the money, nerd!

Finance attracts lots of smart people. But that doesn’t mean you’ll make money from their ideas.

Here are some examples of why listening to supposedly smart analysts can be bad for your financial health:

  • Peter Cauwels and Didier Sornette, researchers at ETH Zurich, declared in 2011 that Facebook was worth 15 billion dollars.

Continue reading “Show me the money, nerd!”

A decade after Lehman fell: the best articles

A selection of the best articles I’ve read on the 10th anniversary of September 15, 2008.

Can we survive the next financial crisis?

Why claims that the 2008 bailout was a “success” should make you angry

Crisis firefighters still uninterested in fire prevention

The broken conversation about financial regulation

10 jaar bankencrisis (in Dutch)

So you want to be a banker

Want to be a lawyer? Go to law school.

Want to be a doctor? Go to med school.

Want to be a banker? Go to… bank school?

You don’t have to study economics to get into banking. Many bankers have degrees in philosophy, geography, mathematics, civil engineering, law, or history.

Bank managers don’t care that their employees have studied Old French poetry or Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft. To employers, a university degree indicates perseverance and an ability to learn new things.

However, there are some specific things you can learn to get ahead. The following four skills will boost your career in finance. Continue reading “So you want to be a banker”

Ten years after Lehman Brothers

The ten year anniversary of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy is fast approaching. Some quick thoughts on what has changed and what we’ve learned over the past decade, with a focus on Europe.

  1. Banks are much safer now than they were in the summer of 2008.
  2. There’s a remarkable lack of entrepreneurship in banking. A few fintechs offer payment services, but payments are only a small part of banking. Where are the new banks?
  3. Related to point 2, and something I’ve changed my mind about over the years: bailing out the banks was the right thing to do. I highly doubt that we would have experienced much creative destruction by letting the financial system collapse. That being said, the way the bailouts were done was horrible.
  4. The way the European establishment handled the euro crisis was an abomination. Fiscal and monetary coordination across Europe would have resulted in lower unemployment, lower debt, lower taxes.
  5. Notwithstanding the importance of money in people’s daily lives, financial literacy is still limited.

Down to the corporate side!

The Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement was a government policy in the People’s Republic of China during the 1960s and 1970s. From Wikipedia: “privileged urban youth [were] sent to mountainous areas or farming villages to learn from the workers and farmers there.”

A lot of economists and economic historians study aggregated data, e.g. gross domestic product, inflation, trade flows, or productivity.

Such a high level approach is valuable. However, the macro perspective by definition misses the details. A macroeconomist will typically explain productivity growth by referring to increases in (human) capital and total factor productivity. But how exactly do concrete changes lead to higher output? Continue reading “Down to the corporate side!”