Morning Coffee: The man striking fear into the hearts of Wall Street titans. The perfect escape from tedious banking jobs
It's not often you get to intimidate senior hedge fund managers and investment bankers. It's rarer still for them to pay for the privilege.
But Wall Street big-wigs are lining to up meet Lev Alburt, a 72-year-old chess master, 1970s Soviet defector and tutor to those with enough money and patience to try to master the game of kings. Alburt has, for the past two decades according to Bloomberg, taught the likes of Eliot Spitzer, corporate raider Carl Icahn and former Goldman Sachs chairman Stephen Friedman.
If this seems like a mere distraction from the day job, you should know that chess is a serious business on Wall Street. Bloomberg points out that hundreds of finance professionals paid $5k to watch Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen take on a series of opponents blindfold in 2015. Wall Street professionals have always gravitated towards high risk games like back gammon, bridge and poker in their spare time.
Not that a good natured game with a senior banker is necessarily good for your career. Alburt says that Goldman's Friedman told him that he preferred to play against a computer rather than juniors at the bank because "I’m kind of competitive, and I don’t like to lose".
Alburt charges $150 an hour these days, but has asked for as much as $3,000 an hour for a client based in California. What do these senior financiers get out of it? “It is wonderful, frustrating, intimidating, and demoralizing,” said Icahn. "There’s nothing that I can add, other than that I was not a good chess player then, and I haven’t gotten any better,” Friedman told Bloomberg.
Separately, the place to be right now is working for an alternative data provider. Banks are desperate to meet firms that can provide the technology to sift through vast quantities of data to gain an edge, so are their clients. Hedge funds are arguably the keenest to get in front of them. This is not necessarily because of the buzzwords of AI or big data, but simply affective analysis of the estimated 300 million websites, 150 million Twitter feeds that could prove valuable.
Quartz has interviewed Kumesh Aroomoogan, who used to work at Citigroup on Wall Street, but now heads up alternative data provider Accern, which counts top banks and quant hedge funds among its clients. Aroomoogan used to perform the sort of job that technology has (thankfully) stamped out from Wall Street. He told Quartz that his job was watching news feeds to stay on top of what's happening for a team of traders who would shout at him if he missed something. Not only was it boring, but Aroomoogan was not allowed a break to go to the toilet in case a piece of market-moving news should pass him by.
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