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Q&A: Embium’s new CEO Janice Robson on Rapidly Deploying Algo Strategies

Embium is the new name for Cyborg Trading Systems, providing a cloud-delivered, broker neutral, algorithmic trading platform.  As well as a new name, the company has a new CEO. IntelligentTradingTechnology.com caught up with Janice Robson to find out about the past, present and future.

Q: What is it about Embium that caused you to join as CEO?

A: Trading in the financial markets is undergoing the largest transition since the markets first came into existence – electronic and computer driven algorithmic trading now dominate.  To be at the helm of a young and vibrant company that’s building some of the most exciting technology in this space is a tremendous opportunity.  The ability to automate trading strategies quickly and cost effectively, to embed your trading ideas and risk controls in robust algorithms, which can be back tested and simulated in new environments prior to being deployed and monitored globally are key elements to success in today’s markets.  Embium provides traders with the ability to do just that, and more, and I’m here to ensure we continue to stay at the forefront of this evolutionary journey, providing the technology that is needed to stay in the game.

Q: What previous experience in the financial markets do you feel will be of most benefit in taking Embium to the next level?

A: My previous experience in the financial markets is rather broad; from strategy and risk on the trading floor of an ibank to designing and selling quantitative technology solutions to the buy side – which I’ve done independently, with a start-up, and for one of the largest fintech companies in the world.  This broad experience provides a unique perspective of the financial markets and the technological landscape on which it now implicitly relies.

The experience that will prove most beneficial in taking Embium forward will be that gained in my most recent role in Strategic Solutions at SunGard, the largest privately owned financial technology company in the world.  I was fortunate enough to work with a team of inspiring, high caliber people at the cutting-edge of what we did, and gain critical experience in the efficient and effective running of product design, development, marketing and sales.  I’ve always been a thinker and a problem solver, which is probably what led me into so many years of graduate level mathematics.  Being able to devise efficient and optimal solutions to real world business and technology problems, finding the right strategy and seamlessly executing it is what really drives me. Furthermore, to be able to do this for a company in such a happening area is tremendously exciting.

My experience has provided me with an understanding of what it really takes to build and grow a successful technology company, and that places me in an ideal position to lead Embium to the next level.

Q: How did Embium get started and what’s in the name?

A: Formerly known as Cyborg Trading Systems, Embium was founded in 2008 by Ben Bittrolff, James McInnes and Peter Metford, PhD. The name is derived from a sounded out acronym of the first letters of the founder’s last names, McInnes, Bittrolff and Metford or M – B – M.

Embium was officially founded in 2008; however, we need to go back to 2005 when McInnes and Bittrolff were derivatives traders at the Refco office in Montreal, Quebec. The downfall of Refco in late 2005 was around the time when there was a clear paradigm shift entering the market, from the “point-and-click” trader to the need for automation to remain competitive. Former CEO McInnes wanted to develop intelligent technology to automate trading activities. Of course this type of technology already existed; however, it remained proprietary, extremely expensive and heavily guarded. The addition of Peter Metford and his extensive background in stealth technology and mission critical systems provided a technological edge that our competition does not have. This led the three founding partners to build a globally scalable, low latency algorithmic platform.

“We enabled rule-based action for large streaming data sets where latency is of paramount importance. This has been achieved through a combination of math and science, coupled with artificial intelligence, where every trading rule, compliance requirement and decision rule becomes an algorithm. This results in swift response when changes are required,” said Ben Bittrolff, CFO.

Q: Your offering is called Cloud Trader – In overview, what is it a solution for, and for who?

A: Cloud Trader is a broker neutral, multi-asset algorithmic trading platform, enabling the rapid development, testing and global deployment of sophisticated algorithmic strategies. Our solution offers a full suite of prebuilt execution algorithms, as well as the ability to rapidly create custom strategies with our “drag-n-drop” Execution Blueprints or in our Algorithm Development Kit (ADK) to meet specific trading requirements.

The core focus of our technology is to simplify and expedite the design and deployment of systematic and high frequency trading strategies. Our current client base encompasses hedge funds, banks, brokerages, commodity trading firms and proprietary trading groups.

Q: What is the significance of the ‘Cloud’ word?  In what way are Cloud technologies/approaches utilised?

A: The industry is clamoring for greater transparency driven by regulatory pressures. From a business perspective, cloud computing allows for a more holistic view of a firm’s front and back office activities. From a trading perspective, we leverage the cloud to act as a relay point between the trader’s user interface and the collocated trading servers.

This creates a distributed system, effectively reducing our clients’ IT costs significantly. Additionally, one of the major benefits of a dedicated cloud platform is the ability to effectively access mission-critical systems from multiple geographic locations.

Cloud computing is the architecture of the future. It enables our clients to farm out computationally expensive activities, such as back-testing and complex event scanning. Our cloud technology makes it financially feasible for smaller hedge funds to join the complex world of automated trading.

Several of our customers have become disenchanted with their existing managed service providers, and are looking to consolidate the number of providers they use. Drawing from the discussions that we have had with clients, it is becoming clear that they want to achieve more with fewer vendors.

Q: What functionality does Cloud Trader incorporate as standard?

A: Our technology provides the ability to process, store and normalize considerably more data than firms could before. The financial landscape is becoming more and more complex; with our extensive background in trading and software engineering we know how important it is to remain innovative in order to maintain a competitive edge for our clients. We specialize in algorithm development, data management, cloud computing and complex event processing.

Q: How does Cloud Trader integrate with other systems and services – within a trading firm, and for market connectivity?

A: The system is coded in C# with splashes of F#, we provide a client API and Algorithm Development Kit (ADK) for direct access to our framework. Our market connectivity is primarily via Financial Information eXchange Protocol (FIX), the global finance communication language. This means that any client from North America to Africa to Europe to China can use the platform. We have the ability to go straight to exchanges or brokers. As opposed to purchasing a 3rd party FIX engine, we have built our own in order to remain flexible and accommodate client specific requests.

Q: How would a trading firm use Cloud Trader to build their own trading algorithms?

A: Within our framework, we have created ‘building blocks’ for our clients to assemble for the rapid creation of sophisticated algorithmic strategies. They take those building blocks and customize the parameters for their business needs, hence reducing their development and deployment time. Algorithms can be as simple or complex as necessary. By using our building blocks, a program that would have required 125,000 lines of code to write from scratch requires only 1-2000 lines of strategy specific code to write in our ADK. Moving from idea to execution in the shortest amount of time is the competitive advantage our clients need. Firms are migrating to a “Managed Services” model driven by cost pressures, renewed focus on core competency, and to remain competitive in areas where they make money – trading.

Q: How does Cloud Trader embrace/leverage low latency and big data functionality –what is important?

A: Our distributed trading architecture creates a hub and spoke model as opposed to the traditional peer to peer. This provides our clients with a highly flexible and intuitive user interface for real time risk analysis and algorithm status updates, while retaining the benefits of a collocated, low latency trading environment. This further enables our clients to control multiple collocated trading servers in any geographical location, from one holistic view.

Q: What is in the roadmap for Cloud Trader?

A: Managed services spending will double from $9.4 billion in 2013 to $18.6 billion by 2015, according to CEB TowerGroup. In addition to cost savings, it is clear that firms want a solution that offers improved availability, reliability, scalability and security. The amount of data to process is doubling every 18 months. As a result, by the end of 2014, all of the processed data in the world from the beginning of time will double.  Consequentially, firms that partner with the right technology vendors to manage this data, reduce their time to market and cost of ownership will ultimately prosper. This is where Cloud Trader will continuously succeed, effectively positioning it as the leading, complete automated trading solution for the financial industry.

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