Alphacution Feed

Man or Machine: Who Are The Real Trading Champions?

Despite dramatic changes to the fortunes of quantitative trading strategies of late, they still represent the extremes of "technology leverage" in the global markets ecosystem. This means that due to a high level of workflow automation, these types of firms generate more output - as measured by revenue per employee (RPE) - than any others in the industry. Or, so we thought... In the context of its broader research mission, Alphacution has been focused - perhaps even a little obsessed - on modeling, measuring and benchmarking the interplay between the two primary engines of productivity within the global financial services ecosystem: technology capital and human capital. The value of this research - something we call "navigational intelligence" - is to help technology buyers understand where they fit amongst the constellation of peers and competitors, and for solution sellers to understand the needs and spending patterns of their clients. Until recently, high frequency trading and market-making operations - like those found at Virtu Financial and its newly acquired KCG Holdings - [...]

By | 2017-09-22T14:36:23+00:00 September 20th, 2017|Alphacution Feed|

Bulge Bank Headcount Index: Rare Uptick in Q2

It's only happened twice since the peak, recorded nearly 6 years ago (at the end of Q3 2011): Alphacution's bulge bank headcount index has recorded a rare uptick, as of the end of Q2 2017 (see Exhibit, below). Now, of course, it may be too soon to sound the trumpets that a major turn has been made for headcount in the global banking sector. The moves - in either direction - are still small. Although, who knows? Maybe the expectation of regulatory rollbacks has got bank hiring managers feeling more exuberant of late. Or, maybe - as we suggested in our prior post - that process automation, particularly among quant shops, actually requires more people is something that applies more broadly in financial services (given the push to implement more AI). One thing is for sure, most of our bulge banking tracking sample (7 of 9) is bigger in terms of headcount than they were more than 10 years ago. Only UBS and Citi are smaller, but that has been [...]

By | 2017-08-29T16:28:59+00:00 August 30th, 2017|Alphacution Feed|

Automation May Require More People

Here's  a quick jolt of provocative thought, just in case your brain - like mine - has become a little soft over these summer months: Talk of AI and various other forms of process automation have reached a fever pitch. With that phenomenon comes a flood of new intelligence - and also a heavy dose of mythology. Sometimes the difference between the two is not immediately obvious. The idea that automation has a tendency to kill jobs is one of those if-then statements that is rarely if ever questioned. In the world of trading, quantitative (aka - automated) strategies have earned a reputation for becoming incredibly successful with few employees, thereby supporting the prevailing wisdom. Well, it turns out that "quant shops" just might scale headcount relative to assets under management (AuM) differently than other managers with other trading strategies - and not in a way that is supported by prevailing wisdom... Alphacution just sent a completed draft of its first major asset manager study over to the editor. This [...]

By | 2017-09-23T10:31:27+00:00 August 24th, 2017|Alphacution Feed|

Operational Clues: Asset Managers Shifting Strategies

You can track shifting asset class and/or strategy allocations over several years for a long list of asset managers, and then add it all up to arrive at a data-driven industry trend. Easier said than done. This is an extremely heavy lift without the aid of a database that has already aggregated such information - if at all.  But, we think there is another way to generate such a signal that yields a similar conclusion (if you know how to read the tea leaves). Hint: As always, it still comes down to the people... That preamble aside for the moment, we will spare you the geek-speak and give you the cart before the horse: In the exhibit below, based on US Securities and Exchange Commission Form ADV data for 181 large asset managers (w/ AUM >$10 billion) over the 5 years ending March 2017, Alphacution's newest analytic - assets under management per employee, or AUM/e - indicates, upon calculation of total weighted average AUM/e for all reporting funds per period, that strategy trade durations have been lengthening. Translation: On average, asset [...]

By | 2017-06-27T22:19:55+00:00 June 28th, 2017|Alphacution Feed|

Technical Leverage in Context

Alphacution defines technical leverage as the difference between revenue per employee (RPE) and technology spending per employee. In the parlance of our T-Greeks benchmarking framework, this difference is also known as T-Spread. I stumbled over the chart below - 50 companies in the S&P 500 with the highest RPE rankings for 2016 - recently and thought it would be notable to add to the knowledgebase. Since our modeling and analysis currently focuses exclusively on companies related to the financial services sector, much of what we find in this exhibit provides illuminating context. Source: Craft Clearly, energy and healthcare companies dominate the RPE metric, with 3 companies producing astonishing RPE levels greater than $5 million. Only 3 companies from the Financials sector (2 insurance - Aflac, XL Group; and, 1 exchange - CME Group) make this list. From our own modeling, the highest RPE we have found to date is Virtu Financial - a high-frequency trading firm - with a 2016 RPE of $2.8 million. Among the world's major banking groups, Goldman Sachs [...]

By | 2017-06-20T15:38:59+00:00 June 20th, 2017|Alphacution Feed|

IT Services: A Force Multiplier?

The following is the opening segment from our most recent study - "IT Services and Strategic Impacts for Global Banks: The Force Multiplier" -  published via our partner, Aite Group. Learn more about how to access the full report here. Today, outsourced IT services are firmly embedded in all industries and most large corporations. Alphacution’s message to financial sector clients and other buyers of IT services is both blessing and curse: The global IT services sector continues to be dominated by lowest-cost, predominantly India-based human capital, and the motivation to engage with these services continues to be, as it seems to have been all along, about labor arbitrage, or the savings harvested from the reduction of high-cost, U.S.- or U.K.-based in-house human capital in favor of lowest-cost, leased human capital. Although the expectation to improve performance—via higher-quality output, more efficient output, or some other cocktail of innovation—is rarely made explicit, we believe that the potential for enhanced process efficiencies adds value to the equation. This is the blessing part. The potential [...]

By | 2017-06-12T22:07:35+00:00 June 13th, 2017|Alphacution Feed|

Global Banking Brain Drain Slowing

Brain drain - in this case meaning the loss of valuable human capital - is one of those silent malignancies in an organization that is difficult to measure, and the impacts from which are typically not realized until the damage has already been done. With the global banking sector - and its constituent business segments, from retail banking to wealth management to capital markets - still in the midst of unprecedented and persistent transformation, the risk of ongoing losses of intellectual capital and corporate memory that leave via the elevator each day is still quite high - or, at least, it is perceived to be so. (The knock-on effects to the supply chain are notable here, as well.) It is largely for this reason that we have been monitoring and measuring various headcount-dependent metrics in the financial services ecosystem: Interesting and telling on a per-company basis, fascinating and illuminating of broader trends on a composite basis. The former being a weaker intelligence signal, the latter being a much stronger signal. So, here's [...]

By | 2017-05-31T19:34:12+00:00 June 1st, 2017|Alphacution Feed|

The Dawn of Operational Alpha

They say, it is always darkest before the dawn. They don't say, however, that no one is up and working their asses off before the first light of a new day... By many accounts, the concept of operational alpha has been around for years. I first heard this term in the context of Citadel's launch of its eponymous, mid- and back-office technology externalization effort, Citadel Solutions - later known as Omnium. Citadel even went so far as to trademark the term, operational alpha. It was the exuberant days of late 2006. The timing for mainstream appreciation of such a seemingly hair-splitting concept was not particularly hospitable. Not too long later (during the immediate aftermath of the GFC), Till Guldimann - then Vice Chairman of SunGard - was loudly promoting his vision for operational analytics; a new category of data designed to help asset managers run their businesses better and respond to market shifts with greater agility. The timing was improving, but now market operators were way too distracted - by unprecedented dislocations and the specter of regulatory [...]

By | 2017-06-16T10:36:22+00:00 May 25th, 2017|Alphacution Feed|

Deconstructing Hewlett Packard: More Clues to Indigenous Productivity

Remember the game show, Name That Tune? (Look it up...) What if I told you that the basic rubric from that game show - naming a song in fewer notes than your opponent - was useful for predicting all kinds facts about trading and other financial businesses. Tell me your trading strategy and AUM, I can tell you how many employees you have. You are an investment bank with 30,000 employees, I can guess your total technology budget. The list of triangulations like this are actually quite long... Seem strange? Here's some insight: As many of you know, Alphacution is studying the engines of productivity for the full spectrum of financial services firms - and many of their supply chain counterparts - by measuring, modeling and analyzing technology spending patterns and other operational data. Though still relatively early in the game, this research mission has already given birth to a standardized benchmarking framework - "T-Greeks" - that allows us to quantify consensus behaviors within a community of similar entities and determine who is leading or [...]

By | 2017-05-24T21:28:30+00:00 May 16th, 2017|Alphacution Feed|

Nasdaq: Under Virtu Market Data Axe

A quick math assignment: @Nasdaq earned $540 million in information services (aka - #marketdata) revenue in 2016, up 5.5% over 2015 (and, not to put to fine a point on it, but this growth is slowing as 2015 v. 2014  was +8.2%). @KCGHQ spent $148 million on communications and data processing in 2016. @VirtuFinancial is on its way to acquiring KCG - and is on record with a strategy to ultimately consolidate both operations onto a single, unified trading platform. No doubt, this is not lip service. What is the impact on Nasdaq - and other exchanges - whose revenue growth has become so dependent on market data sales? If you are ambitious, here's some additional intelligence that you could use in the analysis: (We have more in the can if you need it.) BTW, you have to guess that all #HFT leaders have really spiffy axes, no?

By | 2017-04-28T11:24:28+00:00 April 28th, 2017|Alphacution Feed|