Q&A with Anat Admati, Stanford Professor and Author

Anat AdmatiAnat Admati, one of our alums at Stanford,  did a Q&A with us in light of her recent op-ed in The New York Times and her book, Bankers’ New Clothes. As a professor of finance and economics at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Anat has written numerous op-eds in places like Bloomberg and The Takeaway.   She talks about the journey from her first op-ed nearly two years ago to where she is today.

Tell us briefly about your background and expertise.
I teach at Stanford’s business school.  My research has been in various parts of financial economics. I’m originally from Israel, my first degrees are from Hebrew University in mathematics and statistics, then I got a doctorate from Yale and eventually became an expert in finance and economics.

What has been the trajectory from your first op-ed to where you are today?
My first op-ed I worked on with OEP had nothing to do with my expertise but my  experience and what I learned as a parent.  I got involved in volunteer activities and got in the local paper about suicide prevention.Since then, I wrote a number of op-eds about banking regulations, financial stability, and financial reform.  They started with a bunch of letters to the editors.  They were in the Financial Times, Bloomberg, and more recently wrote for broader publications.  It was partly because I wrote a book for a broader audience.

The op-eds  were meant to get more voice in that debate where [the financial] participants actually preferred not to hear what some of us had to say.

And you published a book recently?
Yes, the book [titled The Bankers’ New Clothes] came out February.  I started writing it after more than a year of writing letters and op-eds (in addition to other writing).  I could never get enough of the full argument in, so it’s really a pause from an op-ed to write a much longer and more detailed book.

Tell us about your recent piece for The New York Times.
On December 27, 2012, I got a solicitation for an essay for The New York Times. I spent the next few weeks trying  to write one good enough to submit, but then I didn’t hear back anything for a long time.  So the lede got a bit dated.   I finally heard something and after that, there were a number of developments …a lot of rewriting …it was hard to know it would ever end.  Particularly with some papers like the Times, there are multiple editors and hard to predict how it would work.Ultimately, I got them to agree to publish something in August.

The biggest thing with the New York Times was getting their attention. The silent treatments were hard because it’s so hard to actually engage and get them to respond.

What has most surprised you about having such a big public voice?
With my academic expertise I wasn’t an expert in banking at the time.   And it’s difficult communicating with people without the background.  I was surprised at some of the level of discussion and at the great need and yet the lack of people able and willing to have the necessary voice. A lot of what was being said was wrong or confusing and in great need of straightening out. I discovered a huge void.

Did you expect this level of success?
I didn’t come into this expecting to be successful as an op-ed writer. I needed to have a public voice because people who were involved behind the scenes didn’t want to engage sometimes.  It became clear they would only engage with the ideas if I spoke publicly.  In other words, I needed to get more people to understand what I was saying. It was essential to have a public voice to have the voice that I originally wanted.  So having a public voice was more motivated to put pressure on people who preferred not to engage.

I was motivated by an urgent need to have an impact, because I realized that without this voice, many people would continue to be harmed by bad policy.  The op eds and the book were the way to get through to more people. Since the topic is a bit complicated, success was not clear.

You can follow Anat on Twitter at @anatadmati.

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