Argumentation in Finance
The course introduces students to the argumentative dimension of financial communication and interactions. As a discourse aimed at justifying a claim on reasonable grounds, argumentation intervenes in finance to achieve two main interconnected goals, which are considered in this course:
(1) Support sound decision-making. Both corporate managers and investors make use of argumentation to improve the quality of their decisions by removing or at least reducing uncertainty, by assessing the credibility of a disclosed or signaled piece of information and the reliability of a prediction or forecast, by detecting possible biases or signs of hubris in corporate reporting, and more in general by connecting in a relevant way available information to evaluations and investment decisions.
(2) Persuade investors and other market actors. The legitimation, diffusion and success of financially-relevant corporate initiatives significantly depend on management’s ability to offer convincing reasons that persuade investors, regulators, analysts and media in relation to various issues emerging in corporate life. These issues may refer to ordinary business activities, such as the evaluation of quarterly/annually announced earnings; extraordinary transactions, such as the desirability of an IPO or an M&A deal; and situations of crisis which create the exigency of preserving or restoring corporate image and trustworthiness in front of shareholders and other stakeholders.
The course is composed of three units:
Unit 1. Analysis of arguments and argumentative strategies in the financial context
We will familiarize with instruments that support the identification and analysis argumentation structures and strategies in the context of several market activities on the basis of different kinds of text genres produced in the financial sector, such as: corporate announcements to shareholders and other stakeholders (including takeover documents, earning releases, financial reporting, profit warnings, and shareholders meetings), letters and newsletters to investors, rating agencies´ decisions, analysts conference calls, interventions in financial media, ad campaigns, public debates on governments bailouts, central banks announcements and fiscal policies. The main objective is to understand that these text genres are argumentative and be able to extract and map arguments from these texts. To this purpose, argument visualization software tools for collaborative analysis will be demonstrated during the course. The rhetorical means – including thematic choices, framing of issues and events, polyphony – by which managers maneuver strategically in order to make their arguments more persuasive will be considered too.
Unit 2. Evaluation of the quality of financial argumentation
On the basis of the argumentative analysis, it is possible develop an assessment of the quality of argumentation with a view of fostering the quality financial decisions. Selected case studies will be examined to accomplish a crucial evaluation at three levels: (1) inferential, i.e. the logical strength of the reasoning underlying the argument); (2) dialectical, i.e. the contextual/dialogical conditions for sound argument exchange and decision-making; (3) rhetorical, i.e. the social acceptability and adaptation to audience demand of the argumentative strategy. Particular attention will be devoted to the detection of fallacies that might reveal cases of ill-conceived decisions, hubris and overconfidence or even accounting obfuscation and manipulation.
Unit 3. Presentation and public speech addressing the investment community
Drawing on modern rhetorical approaches to public speaking, students will be invited to practice the persuasive presentation of an investment proposition in a public or small group setting. Special attention will be given to the correct and effective management of complex information and to the integration of speech and visual supports in the presentation of quantitative information. Students will learn to deliver context sensitive and decision oriented talks respecting time constraints. An exercise simulating a roadshow will be proposed in which students will have the opportunity to apply the different argumentative skills acquired during the whole course.
Teaching is based on a markedly dialogical style, combining theoretical lessons with class discussions, group exercises and students’ presentations.
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