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Call to Action from WFIC – Swifter, Higher, Stronger

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The task now facing market data practitioners is to innovate in order to generate an essential renewal of the financial markets, according to Jon Robson, president, Enterprise at Thomson Reuters, who set the tone for the rest of the bi-annual World Financial Information Conference (WFIC) in his opening keynote speech.

Relating the conference to the rather pleasing beach resort setting near Athens in Greece, Robson compared the goals of the industry in how it could facilitate such essential renewal with those of the Olympics, whose motto is ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ or Swifter, Higher, Stronger’.

Swifter, he said, relates to the “runaway rate of change”, both in terms of volumes but also with algorithmic trading generating an increasing proportion of overall transaction volumes. The industry needs to figure out how best to monitor the massive flow of information. And with such speed, is there an inherent drop in the level of transparency, he asked. This is where he suggests higher standards need to play a part, recounting how the lack of transparency and analysis of available sources of information led to the banks not understanding their true risk exposure or the impact of such financial markets disruption as we have recently experienced. As a result, Robson suggested, we need to build smarter, more resilient systems, driven by the need for risk management and underpinned by quality data, generated by “vital innovation in order to support the next era of financial markets”. He expects that 2010 will by no means be boring for the market data industry.

The WFIC conference, organised by the Financial Industry Services Division (FISD), was well attended with around 300 delegates (a far cry from my earlier WFIC experiences, such as in Amsterdam in 2001 with a small group of people around a board table in a small room). And this was a relief for the FISD team as its head Tom Davin said that the economic circumstances of the past year made this “the WFIC that nearly never was”.

It featured a wide range of panellists (you can find the full list here), but as WFIC is off the record I can’t quote anyone directly (not without chasing them all for approval by which time WFIC might be forgotten…). But the overall theme, perhaps predictably, was about the need to manage costs in such difficult times, but with a hint of optimism about the opportunities that now lie ahead.

There were some clear hotspots, many of which we’ve been covering in our news services and special reports, such as valuations data, high performance platforms, machine-readable news to feed algo models, and the convergence of market data with reference data.

Among the key points of the panels was a senior market data manager’s stark warning to vendors, echoed by several others: “We’ll remember the data vendors who work with us and share our pain (by cutting prices), and we’ll remember those who don’t.” One cheeky vendor representative mentioned to me that perhaps the financial institutions would like to share their profits when they have an upside, a suggestion that he said was shot down by the market data manager he suggested it to.

But what I heard most from the people I talked to, and what I would agree with, was that the event provided really valuable networking opportunities through a full schedule of social events. I didn’t arrive in time for the speed networking, but I heard it was an intense 90 minutes of non-stop talking in three minute segments, before participants were freed to go for drinks.

But I thoroughly enjoyed the awards dinner at a trendy venue with a large veranda overlooking the sea and the mountains and seeing our friend Stuart Clark, former CEO of Interactive Data Corp., receive his well deserved Lifetime Achievement award. But the highlight for me was the wonderful walled garden setting for drinks at the Vorres Museum, arranged by the rather generous long-time WFIC sponsors Deutsche Borse. This was followed by a tour of the museum’s byzantine and folk paintings and furniture, and then dinner in the contemporary Greek art hall, complete with Greek dancers who were joined by some of our own market data colleagues that we never knew could move like that.

I was also thankful for the WFIC rain jacket upon my return to the reality of a rainy London.

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