Robin Wigglesworth is the global finance correspondent for the Financial Times. In his features, analyses, profiles, and columns, he focuses on market trends, investing, and finance, focusing on technological disruption and quantitative investing. He was previously the U.S. markets editor, overseeing Financial Times’s coverage of financial markets and asset management across the Americas. Before joining the Financial Times, Wigglesworth worked as the Nordic economics and politics correspondent at Bloomsburg News.
In his book Trillions: How a Band of Wall Street Renegades Invented the Index Fund and Changed Finance Forever, Wigglesworth examines the incredible history of index funds, and how the passive investing-phenomenon is reshaping even capitalism itself. As an expert in finance, investing, markets, and economics, Wigglesworth speaks on Wall Street’s history and future, as technology reshapes every facet of the financial system in unpredictable but dramatic ways.
Economics – Not Just For Economists
President Lyndon Johnson once famously said that “making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg. It may seem hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.” However, whether we like it or not, the ebb and flow of the global economy affect us all in a multitude of ways that we don’t always immediately fathom. The financial crisis of 2008 hammered home just how costly it is to be oblivious to ominous creaking in the bowels of the economy. Where could the next big setback come from, and how likely is a repeat of the subprime housing Armageddon?
Five decades ago, a bunch of iconoclastic computer nerds working in Wall Street’s backwaters gathered the generation’s finest economic minds of the generation to work on an intractable problem: How should most people save and invest their money? Ultimately, the “Manhattan Project of finance’” birthed one of the most consequential innovations in the industry’s history. The genesis of the index fund was inauspicious, but today it is a $20tn phenomenon that is rewiring finance in subtle but significant ways – and not all for the better.
March of the Machines
Back in the day, one could sum up the main approach of fund managers tasked with growing our savings as “have a hunch, buy a bunch, go to lunch”. But now, the investment industry is getting radically reshaped by technology. So-called quants – or quantitative investors – are the new kings and queens of the financial jungle, harnessing wildly complex algorithms, enormous computing power and the digital exhaust of our online lives to parse through markets at a speed and thoroughness that human investors cannot match. But what are the downsides to our increasingly machine-driven markets?
The Pension Pain Is Quite Insane
In 1882 Trollope published a satirical novel that imagined a dystopian solution to aging: All 67, all citizens would be exiled to the town of Necropolis and be cremated. Unsurprisingly, the suggestion never gained traction, but the world now faces an increasingly intractable demographic timebomb. Rising life expectancies and falling fertility rates have long undermined the viability of the global retirement complex, but government efforts to heal the economic wounds of the financial crisis and more recently Covid-19 have radically exacerbated the challenges. Due to a dearth of attractive investment opportunities, many pension plans face an awkward choice between cutting benefits or taking more risks.
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Praise for Trillions
AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“Trillions is both entertaining and educational. Wigglesworth explores one of the most important modern-day financial innovations and explains its broad impact on financial markets, investors, global economies and even capitalism. A terrific read and a topic that will become more important as passive investments increasingly dominate markets. Wigglesworth brings what could be a dull topic to full life.”
—Gregory Zuckerman, special writer at the Wall Street Journal and author of The Greatest Trade Ever and The Man Who Solved the Market
“As only the incomparable Robin Wigglesworth could do, in Trillions he turns the often obscured history of the investment industry into a rollicking great yarn, replete with admirable heroes, political infighting, fascinating diversions and unexpected triumphs.”
—William Cohan, special correspondent at Vanity Fair and author of The Last Tycoons, House of Cards, Money and Power, and Four Friends
“Very few writers can tell a great story and help us understand a big idea. Robin Wigglesworth is one of those rare journalists who can. His history of the index fund is required reading for anyone who wants to know where the financial markets have come, and where they are going. It’s also just a wonderfully engaging romp through the last half century of market news.”
—Rana Foroohar, global business columnist at the Financial Times and author of Makers and Takers and Don’t Be Evil
“This is a tour de force. Passive investing has become a bedrock of finance but very few investors understand where and how this practice emerged from and how it is changing markets in a way that impacts us all. Wigglesworth has turned this arcane tale into an easy-to-understand and fun read, full of lively characters and little known details of how finance really works today. Anyone who wants to understand modern investing should read it.”
—Gillian Tett, chair of the editorial board and US editor-at-large at the Financial Times and author of Fool’s Gold and The Silo Effect
“A real tour de force, this engaging and thought-provoking book brings together several historical threads—from Warren Buffett’s famous hedge fund bet to the ‘Manhattan Project of financial economics’—to show how passive investing and index funds have evolved into an ETF phenomenon that has ‘humble[d] the investment industry … reshape[d] finance forever,’ and now poses risks for future financial stability and economic wellbeing.”
—Mohamed El Erian, Chief Economic Adviser of Allianz and author of When Markets Collide and The Only Game in Town
“The Indexing Revolution now has its Samuel Johnson! Robin Wigglesworth brings the eye of a journalist, a passion for the backstory and a turn of phrase that transforms the often arcane into historical drama. Little did the actors in Trillions know that they were so interesting. In Wigglesworth’s hands, the greatest change in investing in the last 100 years is brought to life like never before. A page turner!”
—Fred Grauer, former CEO of Wells Fargo Investment Advisors/Barclays Global Investors
“Robin Wigglesworth is one of the most lucid and exciting journalists writing about finance today. Trillions tackles the enormous changes that have swept the investing world through the stories of its charismatic innovators. It’s a fascinating journey and a crucial book for anyone trying to understand the financial markets.”
—Bradley Hope, writer at Project Brazen and author of Billion Dollar Whale