Meet the New McDonough Faculty: Francesco D’Acunto
We are pleased to welcome new faculty members to the Georgetown McDonough community this fall.
In our Meet the New McDonough Faculty Series, learn more about the interests, specialties, experiences, and personalities behind the talented academics inside the Rafik B. Hariri Building on Georgetown’s campus.
We spoke with Francesco D’Acunto, A. James Clark Chair and associate professor of finance, about what he hopes to accomplish at Georgetown through his engagement with students, research, classroom teachings, and beyond.
What are you most looking forward to when it comes to working at Georgetown McDonough?
I’m especially excited about two features of Georgetown McDonough that convinced me to join as a faculty member. First is the strong sense of community, which is based on common and shared values among the faculty, students, and overall organization. The second crucial aspect is the unique position of McDonough to connect with regulators, policymakers, and the private sector. The Steers Center for Global Real Estate and the Psaros Center for Financial Markets and Policy have accomplished incredible achievements in this respect and they will become even more relevant and influential going forward.
What institution or previous line of work are you coming from?
I obtained my Ph.D. from the University of California Berkeley, and their focus on the social implications of economic forces and the financial sector strongly influenced my research. This research imprinting has cemented my vision of the important role of social scientists, which I developed during my earlier studies and experiences in Italy. I seek to understand how to better combine economic efficiency and productivity with a socially harmonic society in which everybody cares for others’ outcomes and does not seek the creation and aggravation of unnecessary inequalities, which is, unfortunately, a common problem in the financial sector.
What is your area(s) of expertise and which subject(s) are you most passionate about?
My work has been focusing on the “S” aspect of ESG, that is, the social implications of regulation in the financial sector and real estate in terms of increasing/decreasing inequalities and discrimination in society. For instance, some of my work, in conjunction with Alberto Rossi, is the first to document the unintended consequences of Dodd-Frank provisions on mortgages after the financial crisis and how such provisions have inadvertently increased wealth inequalities in the United States by decreasing low-and middle-income households’ access to mortgage credit and hence hindered their accumulation of wealth through ownership of real assets. My work has also focused on how households’ and firms’ lack of understanding of economic forces brings them to make mistakes in their economic and financial decisions and how these mistakes increase inequalities and could be addressed and reduced with policy and private interventions, such as FinTech robo-advising apps that are cheap and can improve the choices of those who are less knowledgeable of economics and finance.
What is your favorite quote and why?
My favorite quote is “Know Thyself” (gnothi seauton in the original ancient Greek). The quote’s origin is still debated but it has been fundamental in the history of human thought and has influenced many philosophers and thinkers over the centuries. My interpretation of this quote is that we can never approach our study of reality and understanding of the world if we first do not recognize our limitations as human beings, in terms of cognitive, knowledge, and physical abilities. Once we are aware of these limitations we can more easily understand what outcomes we can achieve, how we can contribute constructively rather than destructively to the advancement of knowledge and perfection of society, and how to emphasize the limitations of existing regulations and social organizations to improve their effectiveness and fairness.
What is your favorite podcast or book and why?
I have many podcasts and books I really like, but among the classics, my favorite is probably a very short pamphlet titled “Who Thinks Abstractly” (“Wer Denkt Abstrakt”) by Hegel. In this set of short stories and examples, Hegel gives us the fundamental insight that thinking through stereotypes or trying to connect facts and outcomes abstractly using existing models of the world is the exact opposite of what a researcher and educational institution should do, which instead is forming holistic and well-rounded minds that can critically approach any issues they face in their daily lives. Even if this pamphlet was written a long time ago, I find it incredibly contemporaneous. For instance, it clearly shows us the limitations of our current information era whereby we often praise algorithms that are designed by potentially biased individuals and that only use past data to form suggestions (what shoes we should buy, which videos we want to see on YouTube or TikTok, which movies should we watch on Netflix, etc.), when instead these algorithms perpetuate existing tastes and stereotypes with little scope for advancement and improvement.
How would you describe yourself in a few words?
I think I am a person who is very curious about the world and always eager to better understand and analyze the issues society faces, especially in the economic, financial, and real estate fields, so as to devise solutions to eliminate these issues. Doing this requires a critical mindset and, in my view, not being afraid to question existing rules and norms so as to emphasize their limitations and how they can be improved. I wouldn’t say I am a troublemaker in any respect, but I am definitely somebody who always questions worldviews of “we do something this way because we’ve always done it this way” or “we do this because some technical model tells us this is the best solution”.
What do you hope to ultimately bring to the McDonough community?
My hope is that I will be able to always exhort students in the classroom as well as other researchers, policymakers, and regulators, to never take anything for granted and always be ready to critically question any assumptions they make in their work and real-world interactions because this is the only way in which we can all thrive hard to improve society and advance going forward.