Politics

As Wall Street titans gather, finance museum searches for a home

2 Mins read
MUSEUM OF AMERICAN FINANCE — MOAF.ORG

NEW YORK — Financial industry heavyweights convened in New York last week to raise funds for a finance museum that has lost its iconic Wall Street address.

At the Museum of American Finance gala, billionaire Ken Griffin welcomed attendees on enormous video screens in Manhattan’s art deco-style Ziegfeld Ballroom. Mark Carney, chair of Brookfield Asset Management and ex-Bank of England governor, honored former Federal Reserve Vice-Chairman Richard Clarida. JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo bought tables.

“The philosopher Santayana said: those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it,” Howard Marks, billionaire co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, told Reuters before he received an award. “This is equally true in the investment business: those who are ignorant of history are doomed to lose money and/or miss opportunity.”

The 455 attendees raised $1.5 million for the museum. Yet its collection — which includes a bond signed by George Washington, a ticker tape from the 1929 stock market crash, and early examples of US currency — languishes in temporary storage in Georgia after spending several years in the Queens borough of New York City.

At the gala, guests dined on burrata and braised beef short rib. They murmured in appreciation when a bond for the Louisiana purchase — which doubled the size of the US — was projected onto the jumbo screens. A reference to President Ronald Reagan got a smattering of applause.

Mr. Carney shared a lesson from his time at Goldman Sachs.

“If someone in our industry explains something to you… and that explanation doesn’t make sense to you, ask them to repeat it — and if it still doesn’t make sense, walk away,” he said. “When feigned knowledge masks real ignorance, that leads to panic.”

Mr. Clarida, who serves as a professor at Columbia University and advises asset manager PIMCO, expressed pride in the Fed’s pandemic response as he received an award.

“The Fed acted decisively and expansively in the spring of that year to prevent what could well have spiraled downwards into an economic depression and financial crisis,” he said. “The Fed’s nimble and creative response to the pandemic collapse represents the Fed at its best.”

Like many other businesses, the finance museum suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic after facing other setbacks.

Its previous home at 48 Wall Street was itself a part of financial history, serving as the original headquarters of the Bank of New York founded by Alexander Hamilton. The museum opened in 2008 on the eve of the global financial crisis.

Since then, its objects and documents have had a long journey. In 2018, they were displaced when a burst pipe damaged the museum’s three floors, including its grand exhibition hall. Last summer, the collection was loaded into a tractor trailer and transported from Queens to the Georgia archive.

“We haven’t lost sight of the value of a physical location for our museum,” finance museum President and chief executive officer  David Cowen told attendees. “We’re in conversations about discounted or donated space, but it’s not too late — if you’d like to house this incredible museum, come and talk to us.”

The museum still publishes a magazine, holds virtual lectures, and organizes events hosted in other spaces. It has an eight-case traveling exhibition that can be rented to bring in revenue.

While it awaits a permanent space, the museum has digitized 500 boxes containing 300,000 pages, while 835 of its objects have also been processed by archivists.

Lina Lin, a freshman at Yale University who received a scholarship from the museum, has never seen the exhibits in person. Her interest in economics was sparked by taking the museum’s virtual personal finance course as a high school student.

“My most surprising takeaway was the amount of people who don’t have access to financial education,” Ms. Lin said. “I would prefer a physical location just because it’s more centralized… it’s more like a gathering place.” — Reuters