After watching the 2015 Oscar-winning movie The Big Short, which chronicled the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008, Danielle Hatem was changed. She recalls noticing that the movie left her friends feeling perplexed and overwhelmed by the financial jargon. The incident inspired her to start an initiative to educate people.
“This triggered the idea to [start] a page about finance ... I noticed that people thought [finance] was very complex [but it’s all] about how you translate the message to people.” She set off to find a simple way to deliver content to people interested in understanding the financial world and the system they live in.
Using Instagram as a medium was an obvious choice for Hatem. “Instagram was hot, it was a [widely] used tool back then,” she explains. At the time, “there were a lot of bloggers, related to fashion, fitness [and] food. And no one was really talking about finance.” She would help fill the gap.
“Back then, Bloomberg didn't have an account on Instagram, really, it was just nice pictures. There weren’t even videos back then.”
Hatem launched “D does Business” in 2017 as a passion project. It gained traction during the economic crisis in 2019, as Lebanon found itself grappling with uncertainty. Today, Hatem has nearly 50,000 followers and her posts are widely shared.
Hatem finds that when the economy is going well, financial matters don’t generate much interest among the wider public, but as soon as the situation directly affects them, people’s interest in financial matters spikes significantly. People “used to earn like seven, eight, even 15 percent interest. Why would they care to know what's going to happen with their money when they had electricity 24 hours [a day]?” she says. “They wouldn't care to understand about the economic situation in Lebanon. But then the crisis hit hard, this is when interest started. And the engagement on my page started increasing. And this is where I even changed my style of sharing information. I was mostly [covering] international [stories] before that, then I started focusing on Lebanon.”
In videos that are just 90 seconds or less, Hatem breaks down in simple and accessible language complex topics ranging from the Sayrafa rate and the numerous BDL circulars, to the electricity crisis. In a bid to “democratize finances,” Hatem makes seemingly complex and out of reach topics accessible to the interested layman.
Shereen, a Lebanese-American school principal living in Doha, Qatar, says she appreciates Hatem’s “bite-sized updates about the economy and how it relates to Lebanon.” Shereen has been following Hatem for a while.
“It’s especially useful that it’s in English,”she says. “Her posts were especially useful during the 2020 protests and [she] constantly visits her page to stay up to date with the news and how it relates to the region.”
Hatem’s resume is the cornerstone of her follower base. She holds a bachelor degree in Economics from AUB, a Masters in Finance from Warwick in the UK, and an Executive Masters from HEC in Paris. She also has 15 years’ experience in the financial sector at Merrill Lynch in the UK and FFA Private Bank in Lebanon.
Hatem revels in the world of finance and gets a rush from trading on the stock market. “I'm a bit of a risk taker, risk lover, let's say. So for me, I like the quick pace, as well as the world of finance, everything is changing on a daily basis. I like to keep up, it's in my personality, you know, to not be a routine person. So I find this challenge in the financial world.”
Before Hatem decided to join the ranks of traders and financial advisers in 2005, her father had hoped she might follow in his footsteps as a cardiac surgeon. While she excelled in biology class, her fear of blood ruled this out. She briefly considered civil engineering but eventually landed on finance. The field has always exerted a strong pull on her.
Hatem explains that at that time, Wall Street was booming, there was a lot of “hype around bankers,” and she knew she “wanted to be a banker at all costs.” Even after the sector came crashing down during the 2008 financial crisis, Hatem kept up with new rules and regulations put in place.
Lebanon’s financial crisis
Hatem channels more than just a passion for finances through her instagram page. She says that it has become akin to a civic duty to ensure her audience has the knowledge to make sound financial decisions.
“Once you educate people, this is when you can have change, it will not happen in a year or two. But you have to educate and to keep moving forward for people to change their mindset, and not just follow their [political] leaders blindly. And this is why education plays an important tool. This is why [the content] should be focused and this is why I do short videos,” she said.
Hatem feels proud when she sees the reach of her online content. “The one percent will impact another one percent. This is how it starts, you start by influencing one percent. And this influence grows [with time]. I'm most proud of the impact that it has made. And the way it's changing the mindset of Lebanese to [become] more aware, before they did, they wouldn't care, they cared more about politics.”
Johny, a digital art director based in Lebanon, said: “I really like the idea of someone local speaking about such topics, the Lebanese public really needs to expand its understanding in such matters, especially when it comes to finance and business. She's the only one I know of from Lebanon and, I follow quite a few international pages relevant to business and finances”
From online business influencer to financial consultant
As Lebanon cautiously settles into a new normal, Danielle Hatem expands her content to help her followers navigate the uncertain market. Hatem’s Lebanon content started becoming “repetitive,” she says, so she started looking at neighboring countries with a strong Lebanese presence like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Some of her most successful posts were ones covering Saudi Arabia’s economy and emerging tourist sector. One post in particular — which broached the topic of property acquisition in the Kingdom — reached over half a million views.
Hatem’s Instagram page generated so much interest from followers seeking guidance on how to invest that she and her business partner, Rim Fayad, co-founded DARE advisors in January 2023. The name of the consultancy blends both her (DAnielle) and her partner’s name (REem). The firm is based in Lebanon and advises businesses and individuals on the global market.
Hatem’s success hinges not only on her passion for the industry but also her relentless dedication to producing accurate content. Alongside Fayad, she says she pours hours of research into each post. She estimated that they spend an average of three hours on each one, ensuring they’re fact-checked and airtight. In this field, one mistake could cost her her credibility and cause her business to crumble, she said.
Appearances to the contrary, Hatem’s business has been fraught with challenges which she has been able to ride out with confidence. The financial world is still largely run by men, and that comes with its own set of problems. Online criticism is inevitable. “You need to have thick skin. I learned that the only way to respond to people is being indifferent. It's the best way. Today's story is going to be forgotten tomorrow.”