"The Beauty of Academia Is That It’s an Incredibly Democratic Institution"
The 10th Anniversary International Moscow Finance Conference organized by the ICEF Laboratory of Financial Economics, was held online in October 2021. At the end of the conference, Vladimir Sokolov, Head of the Laboratory and Associate Professor at ICEF, talked with Christian Juilliard, Research coordinator of the Laboratory and professor at LSE. In an interview Christian shared his impressions of LSE-ICEF cooperation, about digital fatigue and the interest in cryptocurrencies as an area of research.
On the conference and its special nature
The conference, that we started precisely ten years ago at ICEF, is a ‘big small’ conference. We are a boutique conference, with a set of 8-10 speakers of very high profile, with good exchange of ideas and a lot of interaction. And it’s a good thing that people want to be there. There is good feedback, there is good discussion, fueled by people from ICEF and invited speakers and discussants. The organizing committee, which includes Alexei Boulatov, Vladimir Sokolov and myself, did quite substantial work over these past ten years to achieve conference programmes that not merely looks attractive to the academic world, but are to some extent awaited events from a cultural and social perspective.
As organizers, we designed this conference to be a broad-interest conference. So, every year we try to keep it broad by inviting people representing very different fields of finance. For example, this year we had Marcin Kacperczyk of Imperial College London that presented a paper on Carbon Emissions and the Bank-Lending Channel. Marcin is a prominent researcher and has managed to connect insightfully the financial and environmental issues.
On academic networking
This latest conference was marked by intense interaction, and there has been networking across different sub-fields of finance, fueled by vibrant opinion exchange and collaboration prospects. I am glad to be a part of this and be working towards a platform for scientists to interact and achieve new breakthroughs in financial studies. As in any profession, networking is a big element that helps to promote the production of ideas. In this conference, it helps researchers meet, also through informal communication.
There has been a major increase in the quality of papers over these ten years. We, indeed, have quality research presented and we have prominent discussants, which makes us a high-profile and extremely salient conference in finance.
I think that’s where we wanted to be when we started a few years ago: we are attracting first class researchers that bring exciting papers
There is also the cultural side of the conference. The idea has been, from the very beginning, to bring people to Moscow to interact with the members of the Russian academic community and prominent economics schools – HSE, its laboratories and developments. This is how HSE and ICEF help start potential co-authorships. For example, we have people who come back to us with papers written jointly with someone from the previous conferences.
On academics who “don’t believe in passports”
We don’t choose topics for our programme, we let our speakers do that, based on their research. This year we had massive focus on networks: networks in banking, networks in asset pricing, networks in liquidity provision and so on. It was kind of representing the ability of the conference to capture the state of evolution and focus of the frontier research in finance. And the programme was reflecting that.
This year’s conference had speakers from practically everywhere. But is nationality really relevant? We are all academics, we are post-nationalists, we don’t believe in passports since ideas don’t have any.
We had people from the USA, Great Britain, China, Italy, Spain, India, Poland and Russia. Our keynote speaker, Christine Parlour, she is originally from Canada I think, but she currently teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.
Vladimir Sokolov contributed on behalf of ICEF, while Alexei Boulatov and Vincent Fardeau acted as discussants. Interestingly, Vincent, who has been working at ICEF since 2016, is French, educated in the UK, and was discussing the paper by Rafael Repullo from Madrid. This, I think, clearly reflects the transnational nature of top quality research.
We stand by the fact that we embrace diversity. We don’t care about gender or nationality, or university of origin. What we want is good research. We want to produce something that is in line with international academia, and in the international academia all the matters is the quality of the research work. The rest is largely irrelevant.
On keynote presentation
Cryptocurrency still seems to enjoy relatively less, yet growing, attention from eminent researchers. But this year it was the topic of our keynote paper, Decentralized Exchanges, presented by Christine Parlour of the University of California, Berkeley. Christine did some fundamental, unique research into cryptocurrency.
If you think about the numbers – of money, of dollar value in cryptocurrency, compared to other asset classes – it’s small. To give you the proportion: the daily trade in Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that is traded most, is roughly the daily amount of trading in Tesla. But, cryptos nevertheless are growing a lot and actually are changing the way we think about market design. That is exactly what Christine Parlour was focusing on in her talk – liquidity and allocation of resources and rents in this type of market.
I personally learned quite a bit from her talk. It was very actual and it was really introducing a new dimension to many researchers in finance, and also people outside of it, of course. There was this very nice element in it – from the point of view of finance as a social science and the study of the society we live in and what type of instruments we use, to share risk and allocate resources, that are evolving over time.
On HSE being a democratic community
ICEF is a place that is purely meritocratic and research-driven: people get a job and get promoted based on their ability of producing meaningful research. And that’s the international, top tier, norm. That’s the reason why ICEF is an excellent institution in terms of both quality of students produced and in terms of research.
So, ICEF is represented at the international level. I think one of the interesting elements, that has also been one of the motivations for us for starting this conference, is that not only we generate exposure of the local economists to the outside, we also generate exposure of the outside to the local economists. ICEF is progressively viewed as being on the map, and there are more and more prominent researchers who want to be on the programme next time.
In a sense this conference is a business card of the local finance research, with local economists presenting their contributions and discussing other people’s work. It helps keep ICEF on the map by showcasing the interesting research and researchers it is producing.
Nowadays it is well known, and so it’s much easier to bring people to Russia. It was much harder ten years ago. At the beginning we were leveraging our personal, individual networks, telling people “We are trying to get this started, to get this conference in Moscow. Can you do us a favour and come to Moscow?” That’s what it used to be. Now that people know about it, they come to us asking to be put on the programme.
On digital fatigue
We are all sick of being on Zoom. All professions are experiencing Zoom fatigue. We at LSE are restarting seminars in person. In December I’m giving a talk in the U.S. in person finally. We are going back to some sort of normality everywhere, although not at the same time and speed. But I do believe that a part of the online communication is here to stay.
I think that bureaucratic meetings – we used to fly quite a bit for bureaucratic meetings – I do hope that zillions of those meetings are going to stay online. While academic speakers instead will be using conferences as a live platform for presenting their papers and ideas.
Elements of informal communication are really a big component of the production function of ideas
We are all human beings. And you know, the meeting of minds, the meeting of interest, the intellectual discussion – live talk is always good, discussion during the talk is good. We are going to reverse to the face-to-face format, we have to. But it’s just that we have to move on, and we’ll soon be able to meet face-to-face.