From The GME Saga to Decentralised Finance

When two of the biggest trends in finance converge

Matt Bartlett


Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

While the wild fight over the GameStop stock in the last few weeks might seem like an amusing flash in the pan, don’t underestimate the sheer depth of feeling that has unified so many people against banks and hedge funds. Society’s grievances against Wall Street, festering since the GFC, are starting to boil over. In an interesting quirk of history, the war over GME has come at the same point that autonomous financial protocols — self-driving banks — are starting to pick up serious momentum. The stage is set for a seismic shift, where the young and tech-savvy start to migrate to this new world of autonomous finance.

It’s fair to say that the subreddit ‘WallStreetBets’ is an unlikely protagonist for this story about profound change in the global financial system. Subreddits are subject-specific online communities of Reddit users, and WallStreetBets — a group of mostly young investors — is as rowdy as they come. The WallStreetBets subreddit, now 9 million strong, is dominated by viral memes and maverick characters with pseudonyms like u/DeepFuckingValue. The rag-tag and chaotic appearance of the subreddit obscures a surprisingly close-knit and powerful community of young investors. The strength of this collective was on display last month, with the subreddit successfully executing a short squeeze against the gigantic hedge funds shorting the failing retailer GameStop (GME).

Screeds and screeds have been written by journalists around the world about GME and the showdown between the foul-mouthed Redditors and the Wall Street bankers. It’s a fascinating story (and will make a great movie) but the real takeaway has little to do with GameStop, and everything to do with the surging undercurrent of frustration driving WallStreetBets to enter the fray in the first place. What started as a long-shot bet on a written-off stock rapidly turned into an ideological crusade, with millions of young investors upvoting posts about “how to fuck the bankers”. Some of the most popular posts were investors confessing that they were buying GameStop stock even though they knew it was overvalued, in order to keep “hedge funds bleeding”.

This saga is not about retail investors actually thinking they will get rich from…