Richard Nelson, Head of EMEA Trading for AllianceBernstein, shares his perspectives on navigating volatility, prospects for developing exchanges, new regulation and the balance between transparency and best execution.
FIXGlobal: How much does volatility affect the way that you trade and what are you using to measure volatility on the desk?
Richard Nelson, AllianceBernstein: We use an implementation shortfall benchmark, so the longer we take to execute an order, the wider the range of possible execution outcomes. Volatility, in particular intraday volatility, increases that potential range, so you could see very good or very poor execution outcomes as a result. In reaction to that, we take a more conservative execution strategy or stretch the order out over a longer time period. And, for instance, if we get a hit on a block crossing network, we will not go in with as large a quantity as we would in a less volatile market. In that way we try to dampen down the potential effects that volatility might have on the execution outcome.
FG: How is AllianceBernstein using technology to improve performance and cut costs on the trading desk?
RN: It plays quite an important part and has done so for quite a while. We are pretty lucky in that we have a team of quant trading analysts. Most of them are in New York, but we have one here on the desk in London, and they help us to analyze the changing market environment and recommend the best ways we can adapt to it. Our usage of electronic trading has increased in the last year, we benefit from the quant trading analysts looking at the results we are achieving with our customized algorithms. We are more confident about getting good consistent execution outcomes because they are monitoring the process and making the necessary changes to ensure the results are what we are expecting. This, in turn, increases the productivity of the traders I have on the desk. They can place their suitable orders into these algorithms and let them run which allows us to focus on trying to get better outcomes on our larger, more liquidity-demanding orders.
On top of that, as market liquidity has dropped significantly, we are trying to make sure we reach as much potential liquidity as possible, and ideally we want to do that under our own name rather than go to a broker who then goes to another venue. We believe that going directly into a pool of liquidity is better done under your own name rather than via a broker because we can then access the ‘meaty’ bits of the pool rather than the ‘froth’. We are looking into ways of doing that but one of the problems is that, potentially, you get a lot of executions from a number of different venues, which results in multiple tickets for settlement. Our goal is to access all these potential liquidity pools, yet also control our ticketing costs, which are a drag on performance for clients.
FG: Was it an intentional change to increase electronic trading or was it a byproduct?
RN: It was a little of both. Our quant trader has been with us for two years and when he first arrived he had to sort out the data issues that exist in Europe and to clean things up. Once the data integrity was sorted out, we looked at different ways of employing quantitative analyses. Having somebody here who is constantly monitoring the execution outcomes means we can proceed down this path with real confidence. As a London firm, we were a little behind in our adoption of electronic trading, but now we are in the middle of the pack in terms of usage. It makes sense from a business and productivity perspective that there are many orders that do not need human oversight, which are best done in algorithms.
BNP Paribas Dealing Services Asia’s Francis So opens up about their new structure, how they use Transaction Cost Analysis (TCA) and their preferences regarding dark pools and High Frequency Trading (HFT) flow.
The Hong Kong dealing desk has been restructured as an externalised/outsourced dealing desk for the buy-side. As a result we are now independent of the asset management group and belong to BNP Paribas Securities Services. Our current name is BNP Paribas Fin’AMS Asia Ltd but this will soon change to BNP Paribas Dealing Services, better reflecting the services we provide. BNP Paribas Securities Services provides middle and back office outsourcing services for buyand sell- side, as well as corporate clients. This new dealing service allows us to provide a full suite of front to back office solutions to meet the needs of the clients. The trend has been for the outsourcing of back office activities and I think it is only a natural progression to consider front office activities. Given the market environment, cost reduction is a key element for asset managers/asset owners. Outsourcing the dealing activity can help reduce cost but more importantly allows the asset manager to focus on delivering greater value to their clients. Our Paris office has been very successful in attracting external clients and in Asia we plan to ramp up activity in 2012.
We treat BNP Paribas Investment Partners (the asset management company of the Group) as one of our most sophisticated clients and as such must ensure that the services provided to them are kept to the highest standard. This will be the same for new clients as one of the keys to attracting and maintaining new client relationships is our ability to provide tailor made solutions and services. Clients can range from new start-ups to existing asset managers that already have a dealing desk. We offer flexibility to asset managers such that they can choose the asset class and/or geographical region they want to outsource. For example, some asset managers that already have dealing capabilities in their home market may decide to invest in overseas markets or new asset classes. They need to ask themselves whether it makes sense from a cost perspective to create a new dealing desk where initial volume is expected to remain low.
We have the knowledge, the expertise and the global reach. We have locations in Europe and Asia to cover all asset classes globally. We also serve fund managers located in different geographical regions.
It is important to stress that we are in no way competing against the sell-side. Our clients keep their contractual and daily relationships with brokers. We act as an agency-only trading desk and we do not have any prop flow or take any positions.
We work together with the portfolio manager to determine what benchmarks best suit their needs. They are able to send orders to our global Order Management System (OMS) with a specific benchmark. By doing so, we can measure our execution performance using their specified benchmark, be it Implementation Shortfall (IS), VWAP or a specific measurable benchmark.
Simo Puhakka, Head of Trading for Pohjola Asset Management, shares his experience trading in the Nordic markets, giving his opinions on interacting with HFT, using TCA and knowing whether you can trust your broker.
The prospects for High Frequency Trading (HFT) are really up to regulators. It will be a free market, but as we all know, regulatory changes affect the whole trading landscape. For example, we can see what is happening in France and the debate that is going on in Sweden, which are quite hostile towards HFT, so those countries.
Personally, I think that HFT is a good thing for the market, as long as you have the proper tools to deal with it. There are a number of small firms that have been suffering from HFT
since MiFID I because they lack the proper technology and tools to measure and deal with it. We have not suffered in our dealings with HFT, and I would actually say in many cases, it is the opposite. HFT firms seem to add liquidity and when you have the proper tools to deal with it, you can take advantage of it.
Speaking of tools, we started building our own Smart Order Router (SOR ) a year and a half ago. The goal was to create an un-conflicted way to interact with the aggregated liquidity. In this process we went quite deep into the data and turned processes upside-down with the result that we have full control of how we interact with the market.
On the other hand, I welcome technological innovation from the sell-side; for example, brokers now disclose the venues where they execute trades on an annual basis. The surveillance responsibilities that brokers have are beneficial. Many of the small, local brokers and buy-sides, however, are now finding it challenging to upgrade their technology.
Trusting your Broker
Our approach was to take control of our order flow and only use our brokers for sponsored access. We chose full control because, in some to deliver what I am asking.These questions first arose a few years ago, and we realized we needed to create a transparent, fully-controlled, non-conflicted path to the market. How you interact with different venues – even lit venues, where you have more transparency – will affect your choice of strategy. In most cases, you are better off without brokers making decisions for you. The root of the problem is, when you send an order to the broker, what happens before it goes to the venue? What control do we have over the broker infrastructure, including their proprietary flow, internalization, market making and crossing, not to mention the routing logic?
When we dug into the data, we were quite surprised to see that, although a broker was connected to all the dark liquidity, many of the fills were coming from that particular broker’s dark pool, suggesting there are preferences in the routing logic. Brokers want to internalize flow, which is not a problem, if you are aware of potentially higher opportunity costs. When it comes to dark liquidity, that is an even bigger problem, since our trades were often routed to the broker’s own dark pool or those it has arrangements with.