The Finnish activist economist Akseli Virtanen has created a new cooperative hedge fund that mixes art and finance and challenges the entire space surrounding fintech.
I was invited to an advisory meeting with the London-based Danish film director Mette Reitzel who is planning to make a documentary about the Finnish political economist Akseli Virtanen and his futuristic hedge fund ‘Robin Hood Minor Asset Management Cooperative’ (you can see the trailer at http://www. robinthemovie.com). Virtanen’s project came to existence in 2012 at the University of Aalto near Helsinki in Finland inspired by a team of artists, economists and philosophers and it was considered not only a technologically advanced investment fund but also ‘a piece of economic performance art’. It is particularly the latter that excites me because as a futurist I believe that artists spot new trends in society long before politicians and economists.
The Robin Hood Cooperative has evolved a lot since its start five years and it is no longer just a happening but an interesting financial alternative fueled by fintech. Behind it is the Economic Space Agency (ECSA), comprising forty odd econauts ranging from economist and finance theorists over artists and lawyers to software architects and programmers – exactly what is needed if you want to re-imagine what the economic space may be in the future. The econauts want to create a new financial space of 21st century with new opportunities for all those who are excluded today and design platforms fit for a world where half of all current work becomes obsolete and still more people are living in a gig economy. The core of the Robin Hood Coop Hedge Fund is a trading algorithm called “the parasite” – it’s a “trend-following” algorithm that identifies herding behaviour among the big players in the stock markets and then make trades to try and profit from that. And it seems to work for Robin Hood. Part of the profit goes to the individual members of the cooperative and a part goes to various activists project decided by the collective; we see similar behaviour at Lemonade, the hyped New Yorker p2p insurtech startup.
At the moment ECSA is in the process of moving everything on a blockchain and turn Robin Hood Coop into a distributed autonomous organization (DAO) making it a hedge fund owned and run by nobody and everybody who has a share in the blockchain. Akseli Virtanen explains that financial technologies are moldable and just waiting for an artist’s touch to make something new; if we bring art to finance we can create entire new processes never thought of before. And this is why his project inspires me. The profit generated by Robin Hood compared to the big hedge funds is ridiculously little, although measured in 2 digits, but the Economic Space Agency reminds us that we can and indeed should try to re-define our financial future. Akseli Virtanen reminds me of Andy Warhol, the pop artist who made copies of the commercial icon’s of America in the sixties. He showed his originality in the copying. So does Virtanen with his Parasite algorithm; he mimics the market and doesn’t try to hide it! On the contrary – he plays their game on their field. He will never be able to beat the market with the ‘parasite’ but he will bring investing to new audiences and in the process he tries to change the rules and expand the game board. This is wonderful fintech pop art – and like the pop artists in the 50s and 60s helped us to better understand the society we lived in so does Virtanen help us understand and question fintech and future finance. He offers a new and needed dimension to fintech. Try to google “fintech and art” and you get 6 hits – this is unchartered territory that needs exploring. Consequently, I have just signed up for a share in Robin Hood Coop; I want to be an econaut too. It will cost me 30 euro to become a member of the collective but that is dead cheap for a trip into a new financial space where nobody has been before.
Consulting futurist and the founder of