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Bridging the Gap to Financial Literacy


It is in critical eras like this when learning is most vital.

In the 1960s, Dr. Seuss revolutionized the way young readers first learned English. In the 1970s, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov helped simplify the vast mysteries of science. School House Rock arrived in the 80's and taught us the particulars of the political process. Yet, despite mounting deficits and structural imbalances, the societal need for financial literacy remains largely ignored.

Unbeknownst to many, April is National Financial Literacy Month. It arrives at a time when the chasm between what people know about finance and what they need to know has never been greater. Our finance-based economy, financial engineering and government intervention has commingled to create the most critical juncture in market history. The decisions we make today, both personally and with regard to policy, will have profound implications for future generations.

Minyanville takes great pride in our meaningful mission of financial infotainment. The ability to provoke thought while providing smiles is a tall order in today's environment but one that must be met. We share our story with hopes that the emerging trend of financial empowerment is in the early innings. The sooner we arm ourselves with financial intelligence, the more prepared we'll be as the perfect storm continues to form.

Roots of the Cause

I began my career with the myopic motivation that the quickest way to make money was to stand near the cash register. I didn't know much about Wall Street other than financial professionals lived the type of lifestyle I was conditioned to aspire to. Expensive suits. Fancy rides. Snazzy shoes. I remember thinking that no matter the cost, that is who I wanted to be.

I got my first taste of the flickering ticks as a college intern at Morgan Stanley (MS) in London. I graduated in 1991 and found myself sitting on Morgan's worldwide equity derivative desk in New York City. Seven years later, I migrated to the buy-side and three years thereafter became president of a $400 million dollar hedge fund.

Life was good, or so I thought, as I had the toys society bestows on those with money. Forget the time that passed while I sat in front of my screens. There would be more dinners with friends, other opportunities to find a bride and countless hours to relax. They say be careful for what you wish; I never understood how profound that was until I arrived at where thought I wanted to be.

The autumn of 2001 planted seeds within us all that profoundly shifted our perception of reality. I remember looking in the mirror after that fateful day and not recognizing the drawn, empty face that returned my dazed stare. I can't say that 9/11 was the genesis of my new direction but something clearly shifted.

Perhaps I questioned the difference between having fun and being happy.

Maybe I realized net worth and self-worth are mutually independent.

Whatever it was, a powerful energy brewed within and it needed a home.

Walt Disney Meets Wall Street

I decided to leave the position I worked my entire life to achieve and create Minyanville, a financial intelligence and entertainment platform where metaphorical "critters" serve as conduits of information. Nobody had ever branded the Wall Street bull and bear, I thought, and a measured mix of content, community and creativity would provide fresh flavor in a white shoe world.

I've long believed that bull and bear markets coexist daily with the residual grist dripping to the front pages of tomorrow's press. In a world where reasons are often assigned to rhymes, a real-time assimilation of competing market forces seemed like an intuitive framework for shared learning and the foundation for a financial fitness franchise.

With the markets providing a daily script, we lifted the veil and told the Wall Street tale.

At first glance, the notion of financial content and animated characters is a peculiar marriage. As the CEO of a major media outfit told me in 2004, combining the two would be "entirely unconventional." I offered that if it were conventional, somebody would have already done it. I further asserted that the need for shared learning would soon become an acute societal need.

In an age that we're conditioned to live beyond our means, there is no such thing as a quick fix. Being told what to do with your money without understanding 'how' or 'why' does more harm than good as we struggle to navigate an increasingly complex market. Minyanville acts as a filter for existing news flow and a forum for idea generation. While the creative texture brands the content, the integrity of the message provides the roots.

An unspoken quid pro quo once existed on Wall Street where information was available for those paying commissions. It was an accepted standard in the framework of a much larger agenda. If you wanted to play, you had to pay. Many times, you were simply paying for the flow and flavor of what the smart money on the Street was doing.

The irony of the boom is that the very same companies that made Wall Street rich did so at a profound cost. The information superhighway paved the way to total transparency that allowed anyone with an email or instant message to be a click away from a shared network. That technology, coupled with the regulatory environment, transformed how information was disseminated, absorbed and ultimately monetized.

Morphing Perception into Reality

When Minyanville was created, Kevin Wassong, my roommate at Syracuse University and closest friend to this day, carefully monitored our progress. As the founder and CEO of Jwalter Thomson's digital arm, he was a visionary in the media space and pioneer in bringing many of the world's largest financial institutions online.

Through his professional lens, Kevin believed a chasm existed between financial organizations and their ability to viscerally connect with their audience. As a father, a deeper chord was struck when he realized there was nothing in the marketplace to teach his children basic business tenets. Kevin resigned in 2005 to become president of Minyanville and navigate us through the next-generation media landscape.

While much of our commentary remains geared to the sophisticated audience, we've created content throughout the learning ladder. Our goal has always been to provide financial literacy through branded properties from the ABC's to the 401(k)'s. With the January launch of Minyanland, our virtual community for children, the stage is set to execute against that vision.

The once staid world of Wall Street has emerged with fresh flavor and newfound verve. Imagine Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and Shrek rolled into a cohesive and scalable platform, providing valuable insight with snarky humor for adults and a value-added massive multiplayer online game for kids.

Financial literacy is ready to step through the looking glass and appeal to a mainstream audience precisely when it needs it most. Perhaps Minyanville's approach is "entirely unconventional" as I was told in 2004, but that's alright. It may be just what we need as we edge through these unconventional times.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

Todd Harrison is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Minyanville. Prior to his current role, Mr. Harrison was President and head trader at a $400 million dollar New York-based hedge fund. Todd welcomes your comments and/or feedback at

The information on this website solely reflects the analysis of or opinion about the performance of securities and financial markets by the writers whose articles appear on the site. The views expressed by the writers are not necessarily the views of Minyanville Media, Inc. or members of its management. Nothing contained on the website is intended to constitute a recommendation or advice addressed to an individual investor or category of investors to purchase, sell or hold any security, or to take any action with respect to the prospective movement of the securities markets or to solicit the purchase or sale of any security. Any investment decisions must be made by the reader either individually or in consultation with his or her investment professional. Minyanville writers and staff may trade or hold positions in securities that are discussed in articles appearing on the website. Writers of articles are required to disclose whether they have a position in any stock or fund discussed in an article, but are not permitted to disclose the size or direction of the position. Nothing on this website is intended to solicit business of any kind for a writer's business or fund. Minyanville management and staff as well as contributing writers will not respond to emails or other communications requesting investment advice.

Copyright 2011 Minyanville Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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