CHAPTER 1 The Historical Context

Wall Street has changed immeasurably in the past several decades. Key changes that have occurred include computerization of trading, the growth of universal banks (and hedge funds), and the development of financial engineering. Each of these changes enabled major revolutions to take place in our larger society. Banks are not what they used to be, but while they were agents in enabling change in society—changes that brought major benefits—with these benefits also came major costs.

First, computerization of trading has helped to facilitate the growth of a shareholder society. The casual, retail investor now has access to trading tools that provide access to very liquid and fast‐moving markets with the ability to execute shorts, options, swaps, foreign exchange (FX), and other complex transactions from their PC or smart phone. The cost of participating in such trading activities has declined dramatically and, as a result, millions more people1 own shares today than in the past. This has been in large part due to the creation of new trading and computer technologies and resulting cost reduction. Such gains are not achieved without risk, however. Some of the operational risk incidents we will review in the coming chapters stem from the technical challenges that are posed by such technological advances.

Second, the growth of universal banks2 with massive capital resources and services aimed at every customer segment has helped achieve major efficiencies ...

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