Alphacution Feed

The Dawn of Operational … Beta?

If you've heard of the term operational alpha, then you likely know that it is a trending concept - similar to digital transformation - that seeks to leverage the latest digital-era tools and methods to foster increasing operational agility and resilience, particularly among asset managers. (Think: Citadel, the creator of the term - and one who arguably walks this walk as well as anyone.) Moreover, if your current job is related to implementing tools and methods that are designed to foster operational alpha, then you are likely working with or for a leading, forward-thinking player that is culturally tuned to navigate real change. The problem with alpha of any kind is that you can't really have alpha unless it is measured in relation to something else. Beta. In any case, we have some illuminating news for you: It turns out that operational alpha does have something relative to it - which makes it more than a concept. It's also a number. And, that number is based on another number that [...]

By | 2017-10-31T20:51:47+00:00 November 1st, 2017|Alphacution Feed|

Context Machine: Introducing a Techno-Operational Benchmarking Framework for Asset Managers

Executive Summary Riding the wave of the FinTech juggernaut, technology now permeates all aspects of the financial services ecosystem; front-to-back, top-to-bottom and across the entire business segment spectrum. Any lingering gaps between technology strategy and business strategy are closing; making them indistinguishable from one another. And yet, for all the promise of the revolutions in artificial intelligence, cloud and big data, such attempts are met with unforgiving challenges. Most players in this ecosystem are still using dulled intelligence tools to navigate this rapidly changing and increasingly techno-centric landscape. Finding balance between the primary engines of productivity - information technology and human capital - continues to be conducted like a game of Marco Polo. Operational alpha - a kissing cousin of terms like digital transformation and process re-engineering - is a growing theme among the pantheon of new vernacular in this space that seeks to illuminate such challenges. However, despite its descriptive elegance, operational alpha remains an emerging and elusive concept. In the midst of an evolving supply chain, solution providers [...]

By | 2017-11-01T14:08:26+00:00 October 31st, 2017|Alphacution Feed|

Broker Tech Spend Speaks Volumes

Broker spending on technology is one of those topics that rises to the top of the headlines from time to time, particularly given how much the market landscape has shifted in the past several years - and how competitive, regulatory, and new market drivers threaten to change that landscape even more along the road ahead. So, during the course of developing research on a related topic, we had occasion to expand our modeling in the area of market makers, broker-dealers, and related specialist execution technologies - and stumbled upon a different lens through which to evaluate "broker" spending patterns. In the following chart, we share a common format for presenting these kinds of figures; a ranking of 5-year average total technology spending by 9 public broker and broker-like companies. Simple output.  Mildly interesting. Ten's or hundred's of millions of dollars spent on technology is notable. But, not particularly illuminating. However, as we benchmarked technology spending using employee headcounts - a technique we use regularly - the picture packs an entirely [...]

By | 2017-10-19T09:31:07+00:00 October 19th, 2017|Alphacution Feed|

JPMorgan’s Massive Collaboration Experiment

Sitting in on the Symphony Innovate 2017 conference last week in New York, the figure that stood out for me was not that Symphony had already achieved 250,000 users so far in 2017 - more than doubling over 2016 - but that J. P. Morgan (JPMC) represents about 60,000 of those users. (Did I hear that right?!) This is roughly 25% of JPMC's current total headcount of over 240,000 - and, upon further analysis, is likely concentrated within their corporate and investment banking division (48,748 employees for Q2-2017), asset management division (21,082 employees for Q2-20170), and to some extent the operations and infrastructure group known as corporate center (32,358 employees for Q2-2017). And while numerous other bulge banks (like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America) and large asset managers (like Blackrock and T Rowe Price, who claimed 6,800 users) are significant partners, backers and/or users of Symphony's communications platform, it occurred to me that with 60,000 seats, JPMC's footprint here just might represent that largest experiment in collaboration along the [...]

By | 2017-10-09T22:31:56+00:00 October 10th, 2017|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|