The economist who wants to be paid to be wrong
Over the years a number of economists with investment banks have cast off their chains and gone solo or formed their own organisations. One thinks here of Enzio von Pfeil, Simon Ogus, and Jim Walker, all of whom are based in Hong Kong. The latest investment banking economist to go solo is Andrew Freris, who from 2000 to earlier this year was with BNP Paribas. He has chosen a somewhat enigmatic name for his business - Ecognosis Advisory, which comes from the Greek ekonomiki gnosis, meaning knowledge of economics. He can do this because he is Greek, though he admits the name is a bit of a risk as it's unpronounceable for many. "Some people see the Eco and think its some sort of green business," he says.
He has a refreshingly unusual pitch. "I've been in this business for 46 years and there is very little economic research I would pay money for. Some 99.9 per cent of economic research isn't read." This is possibly a curious position for someone hoping to make money by selling his research. It is akin to the dilemma posed by the German philosopher Nietzsche of a man sawing off the branch of the tree on which he is sitting. "There is way too much of it, people don't have the time to read it, it's stodgy, unattractive and way too long," Freris insists.
So his modus operandi is to produce a weekly piece which he sends out by e-mail. This is to keep his name in the market and in the media. It is free and will remain so. This is his primary marketing tool and he hopes for spin-offs from this. He also believes there's a market for customised research from particularly smaller institutions as it is expensive for institutions to maintain an in-house economist and there are compliance issues.
Unusually he says: "I want people to pay me to be wrong not right." He says that anybody can be right all the time but at the cost of being banal. Freris promises that his research will be short - a maximum of two A4 sides, and will comprise two charts and a fact box. It will be slightly technical. "My research is not meant to be an easy read. I am not interested in cheap and cheerful and light." However, its design will be easy on the eye. Instead of doing what most others do and covering Asia, he will cover the world. He recently wrote a piece comparing Nigeria, South Africa and Russia. He has written about the impact of commodity trends on Latin America, and done fun stuff like the markets for wine, music and stamps. So far Freris has had encouraging indications. But he remains philosophical the model will work.
At last there is some pushback against the tyranny of the Transport Department's railings. The department appears obsessed with trapping people behind miles of railings. The railings take up space and the pavements are crowded because they are generally too small and haven't changed much since the time when they served four- and five-storey buildings.
Designing Hong Kong has been resisting this trend and has had an encouraging response to its "Missing Links" campaign. It is aimed at making Hong Kong more "convenient. enjoyable and safe to walk". According to chief executive Paul Zimmerman, it received over 150 submissions from the public on unsafe crossings and missing or narrow footpaths. After making an on-site assessment, Designing Hong Kong submitted 128 reports to 15 districts councils and the Transport Department for action. As a result changes are being made and a street level crossing has reappeared near the Peninsula Hotel across Salisbury Road. The public can make submissions at its website: www.missinglinks.hk
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