Many years ago, Ben White and Francesco Guerrera used to work two desks apart in New York. Today, they are an ocean apart but still very close. They are the American and European anchors, respectively, of POLITICO’s financial services coverage, with their Morning Money and Morning Exchange daily newsletters.
As POLITICO’s European edition today launches its Pro Financial Services to provide policymakers and financial players with a detailed view of what’s going on in Brussels, London, Frankfurt, Basel and other financial capitals, White and Guerrera caught up to talk politics, finance and, of course, sports.
GUERRERA: Hi Ben, are you back from a bout of Trump watching ? We need to talk about that later in our chat …
WHITE: Hey Francesco, yes, it feels like all we can talk about in the U.S. these days is Donald Trump. I’ve been on the road in Wisconsin ahead of Tuesday’s primaries talking to business folks about him, especially his policies on trade.
They have a lot of people worried. Anyway, it looks like Trump may actually lose here in Wisconsin, which will make things even crazier. What are your European banker types saying about 2016? Do they think Trump could actually win the White House, or do they just assume it’s a reality show that will eventually end? I really wonder how we are perceived these days.
GUERRERA: When you tell anyone in London, Brussels or Frankfurt that you used to live in the U.S. until recently, Trump is one of the first five words that come out of their mouths. Europe’s financial and political elite are super-worried about The Donald.
But it’s actually more than that. There’s almost a feeling of betrayal towards America, like when you realize that an older brother is not as cool as you thought he was. We have messy politics in Europe, but we wanted to think America was above that.
Turning to financial matters, we’re about to launch our Pro Financial Services in Europe. You guys have had a financial services Pro in the U.S. for a while. What are your tips?
WHITE: I don’t think you need too many tips from me but being fast, first and essential is always the POLITICO way. The great thing about what we do in our newsletters, stories and alerts is to get to the heart of what is actually happening in the financial world without a lot of clutter and wasted words.
For us in the U.S., that means explaining quickly and smartly what’s happening in key committees in Congress, the Federal Reserve, the White House, on the campaign trail, and wherever else policy and politics are happening that make a difference to people in the financial world. We can ignore the stuff that doesn’t matter, explain the stuff that does and provide sharp analysis that doesn’t really exist in many other places. I think explaining what’s happening in London, Brussels and across Europe will be both a huge task and an incredible service to our readers.
GUERRERA: I think that’s exactly what we’ll do. The financial world, the regulatory ecosystem and Europe’s governance have two things in common: They are very complex and not much is what it seems. So we’ll try to be a useful filter, check and de-cluttering mechanism for those who work in those areas. Not easy, as you say, but definitely fun.
One of the biggest surprises since I joined POLITICO last fall has been just how engaged and knowledgeable our financial services readers are. How do you and your colleagues make sure you give the detailed information they need without overloading them with too much information?
In the U.S., the big regulatory onslaught that followed the financial crisis is over. In Europe, we’re five years behind, and banks, insurance companies and asset managers are still waiting to see what the new regime looks like.
WHITE: You are so right about this. Our Pro readers in the U.S. are already plugged into what’s happening in the world of financial policy, so the key is to give them the latest news on critical topics in quick bites and also go deeper where we can and explain what’s around the corner.
And we can do this without wasting people’s time with a lot of boilerplate stuff and writing with a voice and edge that can make the sometimes dreary world of policy fun.
But let me ask you this: In the U.S. we’re obviously obsessed with presidential politics these days while nothing big is really coming out of Washington. What are the biggest topics for European financial firms?
GUERRERA: In Europe, many financial firms wish that nothing big was coming out of Brussels, London or Frankfurt. In reality, one of their biggest issues is that they have to run their business in tough markets while dealing with a mountain of post-crisis regulation in various stages of completion and with various regulators in charge.
In the U.S., at least, the big regulatory onslaught that followed the financial crisis is over and it’s a question of implementation, fines, etc. In Europe, we’re five years behind, and banks, insurance companies and asset managers are still waiting to see what the new world of finance looks like. It’s a real dichotomy.
WHITE: OK, here’s a real test: Can you explain Brussels and Basel to me in three sentences or less?
The Wall Street view of 2016 American presidential campaign is fright and bewilderment. Every prediction that Trump phenomenon was fading has been wrong so far.
GUERRERA: Let me try.
Basel, small Swiss city with outsize powers on rules on capital and trading. Brussels, small Belgian city that is the theater of endless horse-trading between an unelected executive, EU countries and an ambitious-but-weak Parliament.
Is that three lines? The upshot: Underestimate any of them at your peril.
Let’s talk finance and politics like the old days when we were colleagues at another publication (hint: it’s the color of salmon …). What’s Wall Street thinking about this, er, unusual presidential campaign?
WHITE: I do miss our days together covering the boom and the bust on Wall Street for that pink paper. We had fun! I guess I’d describe the Wall Street view of 2016 as frightened and bewildered.
I think there’s still a general belief that the Trump phenomenon will eventually subside even if it takes a contested Republican convention. But every Wall Street prediction that Trump was about to fall has been wrong so far, so who knows?
GUERRERA: Who is Wall Street rooting for on the Republican side?
WHITE: Pretty much nobody at this point. The secret hope of Republicans on Wall Street is that should Ted Cruz or Trump get the nomination, they’ll get crushed by Hillary Clinton in the fall. Clinton has obviously had to move left rhetorically on Wall Street stuff to counter Bernie Sanders. But Wall Street knows Clinton (and has paid her very well for speeches over the years!), and I think feels pretty comfortable that she will drop a lot of the pitchfork populism should she actually get into the White House.
GUERRERA: European banks can’t stop complaining, privately of course, that U.S. banks are eating their lunch on their home turf due to the tougher European regulations. What do the U.S. banks say about that ?
WHITE: U.S. banks say stop whining — we have to deal with Dodd-Frank! I’m sure European bankers have fair points to make about their competitive disadvantage from a regulatory perspective. But I don’t think they get much sympathy from U.S.-based bankers that have had to deal with higher capital requirements, limits on trading and the like that came after the financial crisis. I think they’d say they are just better at executing than their friends over there in Europe.
GUERRERA: Most surprising thing you have found since you started writing Morning Money in 2009?
WHITE: That I can operate on limited sleep? Seriously though, the most surprising thing I’ve found is how engaged readers are, how much they want to get their voices and perspectives into the column, and how quickly I was able to make M.M. into something fun for all involved. The only way to stay sane doing a daily, early morning column is to get some fun out of it along with the serious stuff.
How about you? What’s your vision for Morning Exchange? Who do you think of as the typical reader?
GUERRERA: As you know, writing a newsletter for POLITICO is unlike any other job in journalism. It’s one part reporting, one part analysis and one part agony aunt/MC. It’s great fun, with or without sleep … As for Morning Exchange, our task is slightly different from Morning Money, whose main audience is in the “Acela Axis” of New York and Washington, I imagine.
Our readers are based in at least three places: Brussels, London and Frankfurt but also in Basel, Paris, Milan, Madrid and so on. They all have specific concerns and interests, not to mention cultural differences. I see our job as bringing them together under a big tent to discuss issues of common interest but also to explain each place to the other ones, so that we get a better understanding of the ideas and debates. If we can do that while having fun, then we’re on the right track.
WHITE: That makes perfect sense. Can I ask a personal question?
GUERRERA: Uh-oh … shoot.
WHITE: What’s it like coming from a place like The Wall Street Journal to POLITICO? How is it different? Why make the leap?
GUERRERA: Excellent question. You and I have worked at great, established publications, so you probably know how I felt. I was attracted by the idea of a digital platform with a great brand that wanted to build something new in Europe. I was a big fan of POLITICO in the U.S., and I thought that what you did in financial services there could work on our shores.
But you use a great word: “leap.” It was a leap for sure because the WSJ is a wonderful place and a terrific journalistic platform. But it was a worthwhile jump!
OK, man, best for last: sport. Who will win the title first, your Yankees or your Redskins?
WHITE: Tough one! The Yankees are getting old, but they still have some great pitching and veteran hitting. Can’t see them winning the World Series with this lineup, however. So I’d have to say my Skins and the great Kirk Cousins. But let’s be honest. That’s not going to happen anytime soon either. My sports fandom has been mostly pain and suffering for the last few years, and that’s not likely to change. What about your favorite “football” club?
GUERRERA: My sport fandom has been very very similar. Inter Milan, my Italian “soccer” team, has veered between frustrating and dreadful with little prospects of improvements. I think I’ll see you in the sporting wilderness soon.
WHITE: I know the feeling. Actually, I have one final tip for you.
GUERRERA: Go on …
WHITE: Invite me over often for culinary tours of continental capitals. Seriously, we should do an event together in London or Brussels, or both.
GUERRERA: Consider it done. In fact, I have to go make some restaurant bookings. Keep up the great work, and see you soon!
WHITE: See you soon, my friend, and good luck on the Pro launch.