I first got interested in finance during the Great Recession of 2008. As I gradually uncovered the circumstances that had led to the disaster, I came to understand I was complicit in the great collapse.
It was my money that my bank was using to invest, in things that I did not know about, and that I did not agree with. I was just completely ignorant about the way things worked, and my bank used my ignorance, and my lack of interest, to their advantage.
At the time I thought of the financial sector as a bunch of boring, greedy, basically evil people that I did not want anything to do with (I was young). But, as my ignorance waned, it dawned on me that, I too, just like everybody else, was a part of the financial sector, and that my decisions regarding my money, or in this case, my lack thereof, had a profound real-world impact.
Not that I was rich, in the traditional sense. No six-figure numbers on my account. But a lot of small savings could add up to a snowball of trouble, as the financial crisis showed, not in small part due to the magic of leverage.
The crash had shown me that we were all at the mercy of the financial world. At the same time, we were all involved in it, with our savings and wages. Our decisions mattered, and leaving these decisions to others was what had lead to the current state of affairs.
So I wanted to have a say, and I started researching alternatives. I moved my money to a savings account in the most ethical bank I could find (Triodos) and left it at that.
I still saw money primarily as a necessary evil; I think I even felt ashamed about having some of it at all. I did not consider investing it.
Changing my views on money
Gradually, I started thinking differently about money. My wife had a lot to do with that: as someone who grew up in 1990’s Kazakhstan amidst the rubble of the Soviet empire, she didn’t see money as some terrible sin or a catalyst for greed, but as a source of power, which people could use for good or bad purposes.
I learned about cooperatives, alternative currencies, the commons, impact investing, the promise of blockchain. Someone gave me their login for the Financial Times, and I learned about private equity, bonds, credit default swaps, the Bogleheads.
I put a little bit of money into crowdfunding solar panels in Africa, bought a share in the renewable energy cooperatives operating near me, supported an experimental blockchain cooperative, and became a member of a local NGO fighting for fair finance.
So I stayed interested and I kept thinking about the topic, as it felt like the key to building a better world. But my work was elsewhere. I was writing a travel guide for Central Asia.
Starting this website
Come 2020, come Covid-19. Tourism was dead in our region. I decided to use the copious empty hours of my newfound unemployment to finally share my thoughts and research from the past decade with a wider audience. Learn more myself. Maybe make a difference.
I want this website to become a travel guide to the financial world for people like myself, regular people, not millionaires, who have understood that it matters what they do with their money, but don’t know where to start. The world of finance can be confusing, and it certainly can be intimidating.
As I am also – always – just figuring things out, I hope you join me in this journey, and I hope we can learn from each other.
Money and finance do not work according to immutable laws of physics. They are a human design, and we can redesign them so that they work in the service of all living beings, instead of for a few misguided humans in places of power, as they so often have in (recent) history.
I plan on continuing to work towards that, until these ideas become … common currency :-)
– Steven Hermans