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Who are the movers and shakers in finance?

A press release landed on my desk the other day with the headline: “Identify the movers and shakers in the financial services industry”. It had been released by a new company called PeerIndex.

Who or what is PeerIndex?

They describe themselves as: “the first company to provide a realistic individual ranking of social authority across all social web content. Using innovative algorithms to measure semantic values which link to the ‘aboutness’ of a topic, PeerIndex raises measurement above simple tracking of chatter and celeb driven popularity to a commercially relevant offering.”

Great, it’s going to be good to find out who are the most influential social authorities in finance, or the Financial Social Authority as we could call it, now that the Financial Services Authority is disappearing.

According to founder Azeem Azhar, “PeerIndex can identify from millions of users the opinion leaders from the merely opinionated. We take a new approach to identifying the authorities on topics globally. The individuals in this list have unique perspectives on financial services from within the industry and without; for anyone interested in this space, these are the key people to follow and engage with.”

They claim to do this by ranking the individual social authority across all of the social web to identify those who are genuine thought leaders in the space.

Here’s a bit more of the blurb:

“Almost 1,300 of the world's most influential financial services commentators are ranked in the PeerIndex list according to their online activities. The rating does not yet capture offline activity but provides a comprehensive list of the world's most prominent and respected financial authorities …

“Their presence on the social web is promoting ethical financial services, innovation, enlightened and lighter regulation while increasing public understanding of the industry. With specific vertical knowledge, these authorities are providing a context to financial services in the light of recent economic events and the changes still under discussion by the world’s banking regulators and governments.”

And so I was interested to see who made the list:

  1. Mark Thoma, University of Oregon economics professor, and econoblogger
  2. Heidi Moore, Financial journalist
  3. Yves Smith, Financial blogger, writer, advisor
  4. Bill Bishop, Co-founder of CBS Marketwatch and China watcher
  5. Jon Talton, Seattle Times economics columnist
  6. Ezra Klein, Washington Post and Newsweek writer, MSNBC contributor
  7. Sarah Butcher, Editor of eFinancialCareers
  8. Josh Brown, Money manager
  9. Lauren Tara LaCapra, Staff writer at theStreet.com
  10. Lawrence McDonald, Former Lehman trader, NYC best selling author, speaker

The next ten include:

  • Edward Harrison, founder of finance news site Credit Writedown
  • Tom Keene, Bloomberg program host
  • Aaron Task, Financial journalist
  • Ian Cowie, Head of personal finance at Telegraph Media Group
  • Mazi , Advisor at Nr of News Corp Units
  • Felix Salmon, Finance blogger at Reuters
  • Nick Baumann, Assistant editor at Mother Jones
  • John Carney, Senior editor at CNBC
  • Gady Epstein, Beijing Bureau Chief, Forbes
  • Daniel Gross, Columnist at Newsweek/Slate

Now I found it strange that this index appears to be mainly journalists who get eyeballs by the very nature of their journals. After all, social authorities should not be paid journalists, but those who are blogging or commentating socially surely?

According to PeerIndex, they index and analyse over 1.7 million of the most salient users on Twitter, adding an extra 20,000 per day. The ranking is then based upon activity during the past two weeks, and lists the leaders according to a complex algorithm that analyses dozens of factors including semantic features, social network features and the actual sharing behaviour of end users.

The services could be good if they can create some sort of recommendation capability around who’s opinion is worth following in the financial services space online, but their system appears to be badly flawed so I pinged them a note saying as much.

First, the list is mainly editors, bloggers and journalists, not people who actually matter in financial services or who are independent of old media.

Second, it’s missing some key influencers who are way higher on my lists. For example, it misses Paul Kedrosky. Missing out Paul in financial services is like missing Seth Godin when issuing a list of the greatest influences in marketing.

Third, the list is mainly people I don’t know because they don’t matter and don't actually influence banking or financial services. Certainly Mark Thoma and Bill Bishop would never hit my radar, even after looking at their details, and this industry is my passion.

As I like lists, but only if they are credible, I raised these points with PeerIndex founder Azeem, who previously worked at the Economist and then as Head of Innovation at Reuters.

He tells me that their system is complex.

It defines financial services broadly: “the list includes individuals from investment banks, venture capitalists, retail banks, hedge funds, insurance companies, journalists, analysts, influencers and policy-makers who are changing the financial services industry in terms of products, investments, regulation, remuneration, compliance, reputation and strategy.”

OK so it’s broad.

He then tells me that the calculations are based upon who has the most influential retweeters based upon influence hubs.

And there’s one of the flaws.

Y’see most of the influence hubs are in the USA, and so the list is skewed to America.

But the big thing for me was this lack of a credible model, and here’s the reason why.

Under my Chris Skinner social network, which is my widest with over 1,500 twitter followers and over 1,000 Facebook and LinkedIn connections, I have an authority of 25 in Financial Services and sit in the Top 50%, according to PeerIndex. Meanwhile, for Apple, I scored 35 and sit in the Top 25%. My overall PeerIndex is 54 and sits in the Top 5% (the nearer 100, the more impressive).

Under my FSClub twitter account – which has much of the same content as my Chris Skinner twitter account but leaves out the fun stuff, is far less networked and has no Facebook profile – I have far more authority (81) and my PeerIndex is 70, in the Top 1%. In financial services, this profile has an authority of 50 and sits in the Top 5%.

In other words, the less social you are, the more authority you have and the more old media you are, the more likely to be at the top of their lists.

Hmmm … this sounds more like some conformity index to constrain Financial Social Authorities than anything else.

Now don't get me wrong.

I like to see new economic models and new ways of working, but PeerIndex falls well short in the credibility stakes right now. To be appropriate, it needs to find the worthwhile from the worthless, the needed from the needy and the useful from the useless. It seems to fail on all counts right now.

Finally, if you want to know my own PeerIndex, you only need to look at who I’m following and conversing with the most: Sean Park, Dave Birch, Brett King, Christophe Langlois, Bo Harald, Michal Kisiel, Jeffry Pilcher, Andrew Carrier, John Avery, Pol Navarro, Jose Maria Fernandez, Aden Lane, Darren Armitage, Rob Findlay … the list is long.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here…

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  • Hey Chris
    Nice blog post–just a few points I think worth (in the interests of disclosure to your readers):
    a. I think you slightly mis-understood what and how the model calculates–sorry we didn’t go into the maths on our call, partly because it’s non-trivial unless you have pretty good maths. It is important to note that we don’t really like using the word ‘influence’–in particular because most influence models are either trivial (in that the simply look at first order not second order effects) or not robust. What we do look at is ‘authority’, or the sense that someone says things that other ‘smart people’ will tend to agree or positively evaluate. This is slightly different to influence–and it is a distinction worth noting.
    b. As I mentioned to you on our call–and have previously mentioned on a video interview with Robert Scoble (

    ) we do have an immediate question around practitioners and commentators. The issue is not really one of technology, it is one of policy. How do you weigh up the authority of a niche specialist against the authority of a broad generalist? One useful analogy is in conferences and conference panels–one will often find the highly specialist sitting on panels with the generalist (in my history, it was common to for an Economist journalist who covered a vast sweep of an industry to sit next to someone with many years of practice in a niche area). In the next couple of weeks we’ll introduce some new ways of search for authority which might address this issue–but it’s absolutely not clear that their is a simple answer.
    c. Seth Godin – I recall that I told you that we didn’t include Seth Godin in marketing and that this was one of the classic data loopholes that we would need to fix in our data aggregation. It’s disingenuous for you to suggest that we didn’t know about that — and it would be appropriate for you to note that PeerIndex specifically identified Seth Godin as someone whose impact we needed to calculate, rather than give the impression to your readers that you spotted this yourself.
    d. Finally, a lot of people have a lot of opinions of their own impact or authority. Just look at the number of people who believe Fox news and hate the BBC, and vice versa. We’re not really in a position to judge which school of thought is better. What we can do is social network analysis to help describe the strength of particular nodes or cliques. What isn’t robust is a methodology of looking at your two twitter accounts in isolation and attempting to make generalisations from them. (A more robust sample would be to look at a thousand accounts). I suspect the issue is more likely to come from the fact that your Chris Skinner account is much more active (in terms of tweets) than your FSClub account–and this means it will take us a little longer to accurately track the Chris Skinner account. (At this point we are rather gentle with how we access each individual account, and it has thrown up some issues around accounts that are very active. We sometimes miss activity in highly active accounts–your personal account being one of them–this will be rectified shortly).
    best wishes
    Azeem

  • Chris Skinner

    Thanks Azeem
    Clarification – I didn’t even realise you hadn’t included Seth Godin in Marketing. We didn’t mention his name in our call etc, I just used it as an analogy of what would be a weakness.
    Sounds like you’ve got a ways to go, but good luck with it,
    Chris