Occupied Wall Street

New York Stock Exchange

New York Stock Exchange (Photo: Wikipedia)

In 1989, members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) impersonated New York Stock Exchange members to gain access to the trading floor and unfurl a banner saying “Sell Wellcome,” referring to Burroughs Wellcome.  It was a protest against the price of the company’s AIDS drug, AZT.  The irony was, Burroughs Wellcome was not listed on the NYSE.

A decade later, for his movie “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Michael Moore stood outside the NYSE and asked traders leaving the building if they could explain what a credit default swap is.  They didn’t talk to him; perhaps they could have just explained that swaps didn’t trade on the NYSE.  Nor did any of the other custom derivatives that blew up in the financial crisis.

In the last couple of years, Occupy Wall Street folks have marched past the NYSE, many holding signs demanding the return of the bailout money, which, of course, the NYSE itself did not need or seek, much less receive.

Obviously, these were all examples of using the NYSE as a highly visible symbol of Wall Street.  I get that – for nearly 25 years my work has involved that visibility, both positive and negative.   In good times and bad, the media come to the NYSE to illustrate that story of the financial markets, the securities industry, the economy, or capitalism.   We rely on such symbols as a shorthand to help understand the world around us.  A bad economic report?  The universal symbol is the trader with his hand on his forehead.  And the NYSE (and parent company NYSE Euronext) have long promoted and benefited from this visibility, as have the listed issuers, world leaders and others who come to the one-stop media tour that is the NYSE trading floor.

Still, when I walk past people yelling at me just for being so evil as to walk into 11 Wall St., I do sometimes wonder what they might think if they knew some of the good things that take place inside, behind the famous columned façade, beyond the symbol.

For example, companies raised $38 billion in capital via initial public offerings on the NYSE and other NYSE Euronext markets in 2012 – more than that raised on any other exchange group for the second consecutive year. That’s not just to brag; the period following a company’s IPO is generally its biggest period for job creation, so our work helps support the engine of job growth.

Our company operates markets featuring exchange-traded securities and derivative, which are subject to national regulation.  Probably the best known of our listed securities is the common stock, which I would argue is more democratic, transparent and well-regulated as any security on the planet.  Exchange-traded shares are owned by millions who can not only participate in a company’s growth but also have a say in its governance.  Stocks can be easily and inexpensively bought and sold, and the daily trading of shares provides a real-time indicator of corporate fundamentals and economic prospects.

NYSE Euronext also recognizes our role as a member of a global community.  We purchase enough green energy and carbon credits to be the only carbon-neutral global exchange group.  We have a strong commitment to volunteering in our various locations around the world.   For more than a dozen years I’ve had the pleasure to be involved in our diversity programs, including mentoring, employee resource groups, domestic partner benefits, training and more.  We actively promote financial capability as a means of giving more people economic opportunity and control over their financial lives.  Our Big Startup program helps small companies access the funding and other resources they need to grow.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  At the core of our company is a common belief that our work involves something larger than ourselves – it’s an important component of the global economy and the global community in which we operate.  That’s why – symbolism notwithstanding – the things that people are protesting outside our façade seem so disconnected from the work inside.

For nearly a quarter century, I’ve been fortunate to have a supporting role in that work.  Now, it’s time for me to move on and seek my next gig.  I want to thank all the readers of my posts over the course of these last seven years, from HybridTalk to Exchanges to tweets.  It’s been great talking with you.  I also thank NYSE Euronext for always giving me opportunity and the means to seize it.  It’s been an incredible learning and growth experience for me personally, and I’ll always be proud to say that I occupied Wall Street.