Financial Markets Industry
Posts categorized "Data"
Numerix ran a great event on Thursday morning over at Microsoft's offices here in New York. "The Road to Achieving a Unified View of Risk" was introduced by Paul Rowady of the TABB Group. As at our holiday event last December, Paul is a great speaker and trying to get him to stop talking is the main (positive) problem of working with him (his typical ebullience was also heightened by his appearance in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, apparently involving nothing illegal he assured me and even about which his mother phoned him during his presentation...). Paul started by saying that in their end of year review with his colleagues Larry Tabb and Adam Sussman, he suggested that Tabb Group needed to put more into developing the risk management thought leadership, which had led to today's introduction and the work Tabb Group have been doing with Numerix.
Having been involved in financial markets in Chicago, Paul is very bullish about the risk management capabilities of the funds and prop trading shops of the exchange traded options markets from days of old, and said that these risk management capabilities are now needed and indeed coming to the mainstream financial markets. Put another way, post crisis the need for a holistic view on risk has never been stronger. Considering bilateral OTC derivatives and the move towards central clearing, Paul said that he had been thinking that calculations such as CVA would eventually become as extinct as a dodo. However on using some data from the DTCC trade repository, he found that there are still some $65trillion notional of uncleared bilateral trades in the market, and that these will take a further 30 years to expire. Looking at swaptions alone the notional uncleared was $6trillion, and so his point was that bilateral OTC and their associated risks will be around for some time yet.
Paul put forward some slides showing back, middle and front-offices along different siloed business lines, and explained that back in the day when margins were fat and times were good, each unit could be run independently, with no overall view of risk possible given the range of siloed systems and data. In passing Paul also mentioned that one bank he had spoken two had 6,000 separate systems to support on just the banking side, let alone capital markets. Obviously post crisis this has changed, with pressures to reduce operational costs being a key driver at many institutions, and currently only valuation/reference data (+2.4%) and risk management (+1.2%) having increased budget spend across the market in 2013. Given operational costs and regulation such as CVA, risk management is having to move from being an end of day, post-trade process to being pre- and post-trade at intraday frequency. Paul said that not only must consistent approaches to data and analytics be taken across back, middle and front office in each business unit but now an integrated view of risk across business units must be taken (echos of an earlier event with Numerix and PRMIA). Considering consistent analytics, Paul mentioned his paper "The Risk Analytics Library" but suggested that "libraries" of everything were needed, so not just analytics, but libraries of data (data management anyone?), metadata, risk models etc.
Paul asked Ricardo Martinez of Deloite for an update on the regulatory landscape at the moment, and Ricardo responded by focusing down on the derivatives aspects Dodd-Frank. He first pointed out that even after a number of years the regulation was not yet finalized around collateral and clearing. A good point he made was that whilst the focus in the market at the moment is on compliance, he feels that the consequences of the regulation will ripple on over the next 5 years in terms of margining and analytics.
Some panel members disagreed with Paul over the premise that bilateral exotic trades will eventually disappear. Their point was that the needs of pension funds and other clients are very specific and there will always be a need for structured products, despite the capital cost incentives to move everything onto exchanges/clearing. Paul countered by saying that he didn't disagree with this, but the reason for suggesting that the exotics industry may die is trying to find institutions that can warehouse the risk of the trade.
Satyam Kancharla of Numerix spoke next. Satyam said that two main changes struck him in the market at the moment. One was the adjustment to a mandated market structure with clearing, liquidity and capital changes coming through from the regulators. The other was increased operating efficiency for investment banks. Whilst it is probable that no in investment bank would ever get to the operational efficiency of a retail business like Walmart, this was however the direction of travel with banks looking at how to optimize collateral, optimize trading venues etc.
Satyam put forward that computing power is still adhering to Moore's law, and that as a result some things are possible now that were not before, and that a centralized architecture built on this compute power is needed, but just because it is centralized does not mean that it is too inflexible to deal with each business units needs. Coming back to earlier comments made by the panel, he put forward that a lot of quants are involved in simply re-inventing the wheel, to which Paul added that quants were very experienced in using words like "orthogonal" to confuse mere mortals like him and justify the repetition of business functionality available already (from Numerix obviously, but more of that later). Satyam said that some areas of model development were more mature than others, and that quants should not engage in innovation for innovation's sake. Satyam also made a passing reference to the continuing use of Excel and VBA is the main tool of choice in the front office, suggesting that we still have some way to go in terms of IT maturity (hobby-horse topic of mine, for example see post).
Prompt by an audience question around data and analytics, Ricardo said that the major challenge towards sharing data was not technical but cultural. Against a background were maybe 50% of investment in technology was regulation-related, he said that there were no shortage of business ideas for P&L in the emerging "mandated" markets of the future, but many of these ideas required wholesale shifts in attitudes at the banks in terms of co-operation across departments and from front to back office.
Satyam said that he thought of data and analytics as two sides of the same coin (could not agree more, but then again I would say that) in that analytics generate derived data which needs just as much management as the raw data. He said that it should be possible to have systems and architectures that manage the duality of data and analytics well, and these architectures did not have to imply rigidity and inflexibility in meeting individual business needs.
There was then some debate of trade repositories for derivatives, where the panel discussed the potential conflict between the US regulators wanting competition in this area, but as Paul suggested having competition between DTCC, ICE, Bloomberg, LCH Clearnet etc also led to fragmentation. As such Paul put it that the regulators would need to "boil the ocean" to understand the exposures in the market. Ricardo also mentioned some of the current controversy over who owns the data in the trade repository. One of the panelists suggested that we should also keep an eye open to China and not necessarily get totally tied up in what is happening in "our" markets. The main point was that a huge economy such as China's could not survive without a sophisticated capital market to support it, and that China was not asleep in this regard.
A good audience question came from Don Wesnofske who asked how best to cope with the situation where an institution is selling derivatives based on one set of models, and the client is using another set of models to value the same trade. So the selling institution decides to buy/build a similar model to the client too, and Don wondered how the single analytic library practically helped this situation where I could price on one model and report my P&L using another. One panelist responded that it was mostly the assumptions behind each model that determined differences in price, and that heterogenious models and hence prices where needed for a market to function correctly. Another concurred on this and suggested there needed to be an "officially blessed" model with an institution against which valuations are compared. Amusingly for the audience, Steve O'Hanlon (CEO of Numerix) piped up that the problem was easy to resolve in that everyone should use Numerix's models.
Mike Opal of Microsoft closed the event with his presentation on data, analytics and cloud computing. Mike started by illustrating that the number of internet-enabled devices passed the human population of the world in 2008 and by 2020 the number of devices would be 50 billion. He showed that the amount of data in the world was 0.8ZB (zetabytes) in 2009, and is projected to reach 8ZB by 2015 and 35ZB by 2020, driven primarily by the growth in internet-enabled devices. Mike also said that the Prism project so in the news of late was involving the construction of a server fame near Salt Lake City of 5ZB in size, so what the industry (in this case the NSA) is trying to do is unimaginable if we were to go back only a few years. He said that Microsoft itself was utterly committed to cloud computing, with 8 datacenters globally but 20 more in construction, at a cost of $500million per center (I recently saw a datacentre in Redmond, totally unlike what I expected with racks pre-housed in lorry containers, and the containers just unloaded within a gigantic hanger and plugged in - the person showing me around asked me who the busiest person was a Microsoft data center and the answer was the truck drivers...)
Talking of "Big Data", he first gave the now-standard disclaimer (as I have I acknowledge) that he disliked the phrase. I thought he made a good point in the Big Data is really about "Small Data", in that a lot of it is about having the capacity to analyze at tiny granular level within huge datasets (maybe journalists will rename it? No, don't think so). He gave a couple of good client case studies, one for Westpac and one for Phoenix on uses of HPC and cloud computing in financial services. He also mentioned the Target retailing story about Big Data, which if you haven't caught it is worth a read. One audience question asked him again how committed Microsoft was to cloud computing given competition from Amazon, Apple and Google. Mike responded that he had only joined Microsoft a year or two back, and in part this was because he believed Microsoft had to succeed and "win" the cloud computing market given that cloud was not the only way to go for these competitors, whereas Microsoft (being a software company) had to succeed at cloud (so far Microsoft have been very helpful to us in relation to Azure, but I guess Amazon and others have other plans.)
In summary a great event from Numerix with good discussions and audience interaction - helped for me by the fact that much of what was said (centralization with flexibility, duality of data and analytics, libraries of everything etc) fits with what Xenomorph and partners like Numerix are delivering for clients.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 17 June 2013 | 8:23 pm
There are (occasionally!) some good questions and conversations going on within some of the LinkedIn groups. One recently was around what use cases there are for unstructured data within banking and finance, and I found this comment from Tom Deutsch of IBM to be quite insightful and elegant (at least better than I could I have written it...) on what the main types of unstructured data analysis there are:
- Listening for the first time
- Listening better
- Adding context
Listening for the first time is really just making use of what you already probably capture to hear what is being said (or navigated)
Listening better is making sure you are actually both hearing and understanding what is being said. This is sometimes non-trivial as it involves accuracy issues and true (not marketing hype) NLP technologies and integrating multiple sources of information
Adding context is when you either add structured data to the above or add the above to structured data, usually to round out or more fully inform models (or sometimes just build new ones).
Posted by Brian Sentance | 10 May 2013 | 2:17 pm
I went over to NYU Poly in Brooklyn on Friday of last week for their Big Data Finance Conference. To get a slightly negative point out of the way early, I guess I would have to pose the question "When is a big data conference, not a big data Conference?". Answer: "When it is a time series analysis conference" (sorry if you were expecting a funny answer...but as you can see, then what I occupy my time with professionally doesn't naturally lend itself to too much comedy). As I like time series analysis, then this was ok, but certainly wasn't fully "as advertised" in my view, but I guess other people are experiencing this problem too.
Maybe this slightly skewed agenda was due to the relative newness of the topic, the newness of the event and the temptation for time series database vendors to jump on the "Big Data" marketing bandwagon (what? I hear you say, we vendors jumping on a buzzword marketing bandwagon, never!...). Many of the talks were about statistical time series analysis of market behaviour and less about what I was hoping for, which was new ways in which empirical or data-based approaches to financial problems might be addressed through big data technologies (as an aside, here is a post on a previous PRMIA event on big data in risk management as some additional background). There were some good attempts at getting a cross-discipline fertilization of ideas going at the conference, but given the topic then representatives from the mobile and social media industries were very obviously missing in my view.
So as a complete counterexample to the two paragraphs above, the first speaker (Kevin Atteson of Morgan Stanley) at the event was on very much on theme with the application of big data technologies to the mortgage market. Apparently Morgan Stanley had started their "big data" analysis of the mortgage market in 2008 as part of a project to assess and understand more about the potential losses than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac faced due to the financial crisis.
Echoing some earlier background I had heard on mortgages, one of the biggest problems in trying to understand the market according to Kevin was data, or rather the lack of it. He compared mortgage data analysis to "peeling an onion" and that going back to the time of the crisis, mortgage data at an individual loan level was either not available or of such poor quality as to be virtually useless (e.g. hard to get accurate ZIP code data for each loan). Kevin described the mortgage data set as "wide" (lots of loans with lots of fields for each loan) rather than "deep" (lots of history), with one of the main data problems was trying to match nearest-neighbour loans. He mentioned that only post crisis have Fannie and Freddie been ordered to make individual loan data available, and that there is still no readily available linkage data between individual loans and mortgage pools (some presentations from a recent PRMIA event on mortgage analytics are at the bottom of the page here for interested readers).
Kevin said that Morgan Stanley had rejected the use of Hadoop, primarily due write through-put capabilities, which Kevin indicated was a limiting factor in many big data technologies. He indicated that for his problem type that he still believed their infrastructure to be superior to even the latest incarnations of Hadoop. He also mentioned the technique of having 2x redundancy or more on the data/jobs being processed, aimed not just at failover but also at using the whichever instance of a job that finished first. Interestingly, he also added that Morgan Stanley's infrastructure engineers have a policy of rebooting servers in the grid even during the day/use, so fault tolerance was needed for both unexpected and entirely deliberate hardware node unavailability.
Other highlights from the day:
- Dennis Shasha had some interesting ideas on using matrix algebra for reducing down the data analysis workload needed in some problems - basically he was all for "cleverness" over simply throwing compute power at some data problems. On a humourous note (if you are not a trader?), he also suggested that some traders had "the memory of a fruit-fly".
- Robert Almgren of QuantitativeBrokers was an interesting speaker, talking about how his firm had done a lot of analytical work in trying to characterise possible market responses to information announcements (such as Friday's non-farm payroll announcement). I think Robert was not so much trying to predict the information itself, but rather trying to predict likely market behaviour once the information is announced.
- Scott O'Malia of the CFTC was an interesting speaker during the morning panel. He again acknowledged some of the recent problems the CFTC had experienced in terms of aggregating/analysing the data they are now receiving from the market. I thought his comment on the twitter crash was both funny and brutally pragmatic with him saying "if you want to rely solely upon a single twitter feed to trade then go ahead, knock yourself out."
- Eric Vanden Eijnden gave an interesting talk on "detecting Black Swans in Big Data". Most of the examples were from current detection/movement in oceanography, but seemed quite analogous to "regime shifts" in the statistical behaviour of markets. Main point seemed to be that these seemingly unpredictable and infrequent events were predictable to some degree if you looked deep enough in the data, and in particular that you could detect when the system was on a possible likely "path" to a Black Swan event.
One of the most interesting talks was by Johan Walden of the Haas Business School, on the subject of "Investor Networks in the Stock Market". Johan explained how they had used big data to construct a network model of all of the participants in the Turkish stock exchange (both institutional and retail) and in particular how "interconnected" each participant was with other members. His findings seemed to support the hypothesis that the more "interconnected" the investor (at the centre of many information flows rather than add the edges) the more likely that investor would demonstrate superior return levels to the average. I guess this is a kind of classic transferral of some of the research done in social networking, but very interesting to see it applied pragmatically to financial markets, and I would guess an area where a much greater understanding of investor behaviour could be gleaned. Maybe Johan could do with a little geographic location data to add to his analysis of how information flows.
So overall a good day with some interesting talks - the statistical presentations were challenging to listen to at 4pm on a Friday afternoon but the wine afterwards compensated. I would also recommend taking a read through a paper by Charles S. Tapiero on "The Future of Financial Engineering" for one of the best discussions I have so far read about how big data has the potential to change and improve upon some of the assumptions and models that underpin modern financial theory. Coming back to my starting point in this post on the content of the talks, I liked the description that Charles gives of traditional "statistical" versus "data analytics" approaches, and some of the points he makes about data immediately inferring relationships without the traditional "hypothesize, measure, test and confirm-or-not" were interesting, both in favour of data analytics and in cautioning against unquestioning belief in the findings from data (feels like this post from October 2008 is a timely reminder here). With all of the hype and the hope around the benefits of big data, maybe we would all be wise to remember this quote by a certain well-known physicist: "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong."
Posted by Brian Sentance | 7 May 2013 | 1:46 pm
Background - I went along to my first PRMIA event in Stamford, CT last night, with the rather grandiose title of "The Anthropology, Sociology, and Epistemology of Risk". Stamford is about 30 miles north of Manhattan and is the home to major offices of a number of financial markets companies such as Thomson Reuters, RBS and UBS (who apparently have the largest column-less trading floor in the world at their Stamford headquarters - particularly useful piece of trivia for you there...). It also happens to be about 5 minutes drive/train journey away from where I now live, so easy for me to get to (thanks for another useful piece of information I hear you say...). Enough background, more on the event which was a good one with five risk managers involved in an interesting and sometimes philosophical discussion on fundamentally what "risk management" is all about.
Introduction - Marc Groz who heads the Stamford Chapter of PRMIA introduced the evening and started by thanking Barry Schwimmer for allowing PRMIA to use the Stamford Innovation Centre (the Old Town Hall) for the meeting. Henrik Neuhaus moderated the panel, and started by outlining the main elements of the event title as a framework for the discussion:
- Anthropology - risk management is to what purpose?
- Sociology - how does risk management work?
- Epistemology - what knowledge is really contained within risk management?
Henrik started by taking a passage about anthropology and replacing human "development" with "risk management" which seemed to fit ok, although the angle I was expecting was much more about human behaviour in risk management than where Henrik started. Henrik asked the panel what results they had seen from risk management and what did that imply about risk management? The panelists seemed a little confused or daunted by the question prompting one of them to ask "Is that the question?".
Business Model and Risk Culture - Elliot Noma dived in by responding that the purpose of risk management obviously depended very much on what are the institutional goals of the organization. He said that it was as much about what you are forced to do and what you try to do in risk management. Elliot said that the sell-side view of risk management was very regulatory and capital focused, whereas mutual funds are looking more at risk relative to benchmarks and performance attribution. He added that in the alternatives (hedge-fund) space then there were no benchmarks and the focus was more about liquidity and event risk.
Steve Greiner said that it was down to the investment philosophy and how risk is defined and measured. He praised some asset managers where the risk managers sit across from the portfolio managers and are very much involved in the decision making process.
Henrik asked the panel whether any of the panel had ever defined a “mission statement” for risk management. Marc Groz chipped in that he remember that he had once defined one, and that it was very different from what others in the institution were expecting and indeed very different from the risk management that he and his department subsequently undertook.
Mark Szycher (of GM Pension Fund) said that risk management split into two areas for him, the first being the symmetrical risks where you need to work out the range of scenarios for a particular trade or decision being taken. The second was the more asymmetrical risks (i.e. downside only) such as those found in operational risk where you are focused on how best to avoid them happening.
Micro Risk Done Well - Santa Federico said that he had experience of some of the major problems experienced at institutions such as Merrill Lynch, Salomen Brothers and MF Global, and that he thought risk management was much more of a cultural problem than a technical one. Santa said he thought that the industry was actually quite good at the micro (trade, portfolio) risk management level, but obviously less effective at the large systematic/economic level. Mark asked Santa what was the nature of the failures he had experienced. Santa said that the risks were well modeled, but maybe the assumptions around macro variables such as the housing market proved to be extremely poor.
Keep Dancing? - Henrik asked the panel what might be done better? Elliot made the point that some risks are just in the nature of the business. If a risk manager did not like placing a complex illiquid trade and the institution was based around trading in illiquid markets then what is a risk manager to do? He quote the Citi executive who said “ whilst the music is still playing we have to dance”. Again he came back to the point that the business model of the institution drives its cultural and the emphasis of risk management (I guess I see what Elliot was saying but taken one way it implied that regardless of what was going on risk management needs to fit in with it, whereas I am sure that he meant that risk managers must fit in with the business model mandated to shareholders).
Risk Attitudes in the USA - Mark said that risk managers need to recognize that the improbable is maybe not so improbable and should be more prepared for the worst rather than risk management under “normal” market and institutional behavior. Steven thought that a cultural shift was happening, where not losing money was becoming as important to an organization as gaining money. He said that in his view, Europe and Asia had a stronger risk culture than in the United States, with much more consensus, involvement and even control over the trading decisions taken. Put another way, the USA has more of a culture of risk taking than Europe. (I have my own theories on this. Firstly I think that the people are generally much more risk takers in the USA than in UK/Europe, possibly influenced in part by the relative lack of underlying social safety net – whilst this is not for everyone, I think it produces a very dynamic economy as a result. Secondly, I do not think that cultural desire in the USA for the much admired “presidential” leader necessarily is the best environment for sound, consensus based risk management. I would also like to acknowledge that neither of my two points above seem to have protected Europe much from the worst of the financial crisis, so it is obviously a complex issue!).
Slaves to Data? - Henrik asked whether the panel thought that risk managers were slaves to data? He expanded upon this by asking what kinds of firms encourage qualitative risk management and not just risk management based on Excel spreadsheets? Santa said that this kind of qualitative risk management occurred at a business level and less so at a firm wide level. In particular he thought this kind of culture was in place at many hedge funds, and less so at banks. He cited one example from his banking career in the 1980's, where his immediate boss was shouted off the trading floor by the head of desk, saying that he should never enter the trading floor again (oh those were the days...).
Sociology and Credibility - Henrik took a passage on the historic development of women's rights and replaced the word "women" with "risk management" to illustrate the challenges risk management is facing with trying to get more say and involvement at financial institutions. He asked who should the CRO report to? A CEO? A CIO? Or a board member? Elliot responded by saying this was really a issue around credibility with the business for risk managers and risk management in general. He made the point that often Excel and numbers were used to establish credibility with the business. Elliot added that risk managers with trading experience obviously had more credibility, and to some extent where the CRO reported to was dependent upon the credibility of risk management with the business.
Trading and Risk Management Mindsets - Elliot expanded on his previous point by saying that the risk management mindset thinks more in terms of unconditional distributions and tries to learn from history. He contrasted this with a the "conditional mindset' of a trader, where the time horizon forwards (and backwards) is rarely longer than a few days and the belief is strong that a trade will work today given it worked yesterday is high. Elliot added that in assisting the trader, the biggest contribution risk managers can make is more to be challenging/helpful on the qualitative side rather than just quantitative.
Compensation and Transactions - Most of the panel seemed to agree that compensation package structure was a huge influencer in the risk culture of an organisation. Mark touched upon a pet topic of mine, which is that it very hard for a risk manager to gain credibility (and compensation) when what risk management is about is what could happen as opposed to what did happen. A risk manager blocking a trade due to some potentially very damaging outcomes will not gain any credibility with the business if the trading outcome for the suggested trade just happened to come out positive. There seemed to be concensus here that some of the traditional compensation models that were based on short-term transactional frequency and size were ill-formed (given the limited downside for the individual), and whilst the panel reserved judgement on the effectiveness of recent regulation moves towards longer-term compensation were to be welcome from a risk perspective.
MF Global and Busines Models - Santa described some of his experiences at MF Global, where Corzine moved what was essentially a broker into taking positions in European Sovereign Bonds. Santa said that the risk management culture and capabilities were not present to be robust against senior management for such a business model move. Elliot mentioned that he had been courted for trades by MF Global and had been concerned that they did not offer electronic execution and told him that doing trades through a human was always best. Mark said that in the area of pension fund management there was much greater fidiciary responsibility (i.e. behave badly and you will go to jail) and maybe that kind of responsibility had more of a place in financial markets too. Coming back to the question of who a CRO should report to, Mark also said that questions should be asked to seek out those who are 1) less likely to suffer from the "agency" problem of conflicts of interest and on a related note those who are 2) less likely to have personal biases towards particular behaviours or decisions.
Santa said that in his opinion hedge funds in general had a better culture where risk management opinions were heard and advice taken. Mark said that risk managers who could get the business to accept moral persuasion were in a much stronger position to add value to the business rather than simply being able to "block" particular trades. Elliot cited one experience he had where the traders under his watch noticed that a particular type of trade (basis trades) did not increase their reported risk levels, and so became more focussed on gaming the risk controls to achieve high returns without (reported) risk. The panel seemed to be in general agreement that risk managers with trading experience were more credible with the business but also more aware of the trader mindset and behaviors.
Do we know what we know? - Henrik moved to his third and final subsection of the evening, asking the panel whether risk managers really know what they think they know. Elliot said that traders and risk managers speak a different language, with traders living in the now, thinking only of the implications of possible events such as those we have seen with Cyprus or the fiscal cliff, where the risk management view was much less conditioned and more historical. Steven re-emphasised the earlier point that risk management at this micro trading level was fine but this was not what caused events such as the collapse of MF Global.
Rational argument isn't communication - Santa said that most risk managers come from a quant (physics, maths, engineering) background and like structured arguments based upon well understood rational foundations. He said that this way of thinking was alien to many traders and as such it was a communication challenge for risk managers to explain things in a way that traders would actually put some time to considering. On the modelling side of things, Santa said that sometimes traders dismissed models as being "too quant" and sometimes traders followed models all too blindly without questioning or understanding the simplifying assumptions they are based on. Santa summarised by saying that risk management needs to intuitive for traders and not just academically based. Mark added that a quantitative focus can sometimes become too narrow (modeler's manifesto anyone?) and made the very profound point that unfortunately precision often wins over relevance in the creation and use of many models. Steven added that traders often deal with absolutes, so as knowing the spread between two bonds to the nearest basis point, whereas a risk manager approaching them with a VaR number really means that this is the estimated VaR which really should be thought to be within a range of values. This is alien to the way traders think and hence harder to explain.
Unanticipated Risk - An audience member asked whether risk management should focus mainly on unanticipated risks rather than "normal' risks. Elliot said that in his trading he was always thinking and checking whether the markets were changing or continuing with their recent near-term behaviour patterns. Steven said that history was useful to risk management when markets were "normal", but in times of regime shifts this was not the case and cited the example of the change in markets when Mario Dragi announced that the ECB would stand behind the Euro and its member nations.
Risky Achievements - Henrik closed the panel by asking each member what they thought was there own greatest achievement in risk management. Elliot cited a time when he identified that a particular hedge fund had a relatively inconspicuous position/trade that he identified as potentially extremely dangerous and was proved correct when the fund closed down due to this. Steven said he was proud of some good work he and his team did on stress testing involving Greek bonds and Eurozone. Santa said that some of the work he had done on portfolio "risk overlays" was good. Mark ended the panel by saying that he thought his biggest achievement was when the traders and portfolio managers started to come to the risk management department to ask opinions before placing key trades. Henrik and the audience thanked the panel for their input and time.
An Insured View - After the panel closed I spoke with an actuary who said that he had greatly enjoyed the panel discussions but was surprised that when talking of how best to support the risk management function in being independent and giving "bad" news to the business, the role of auditors were not mentioned. He said he felt that auditors were a key support to insurers in ensuring any issues were allowed to come to light. So food for thought there as to whether financial markets can learn from other industry sectors.
Summary - great evening of discussion, only downside being the absence of wine once the panel had closed!
Posted by Brian Sentance | 25 April 2013 | 9:27 pm
Good post from Jim Jockle over at Numerix - main theme is around having an "analytics" strategy in place in addition to (and probably as part of) a "Big Data" strategy. Fits strongly around Xenomorph's ideas on having both data management and analytics management in place (a few posts on this in the past, try this one from a few years back) - analytics generate the most valuable data of all, yet the data generated by analytics and the input data that supports analytics is largely ignored as being too business focussed for many data management vendors to deal with, and too low level for many of the risk management system vendors to deal with. Into this gap in functionality falls the risk manager (supported by many spreadsheets!), who has to spend too much time organizing and validating data, and too little time on risk management itself.
Within risk management, I think it comes down to having the appropriate technical layers in place of data management, analytics/pricing management and risk model management. Ok it is a greatly simplified representation of the architecture needed (apologies to any techies reading this), but the majority of financial institutions do not have these distinct layers in place, with each of these layers providing easy "business user" access to allow risk managers to get to the "detail" of the data when regulators, auditors and clients demand it. Regulators are finally waking up to the data issue (see Basel on data aggregation for instance) but more work is needed to pull analytics into the technical architecture/strategy conversation, and not just confine regulatory discussions of pricing analytics to model risk.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 14 February 2013 | 2:50 pm
A little late on these notes from this PRMIA Event on Big Data in Risk Management that I helped to organize last month at the Harmonie Club in New York. Big thank you to my PRMIA colleagues for taking the notes and for helping me pull this write-up together, plus thanks to Microsoft and all who helped out on the night.
Introduction: Navin Sharma (of Western Asset Management and Co-Regional Director of PRMIA NYC) introduced the event and began by thanking Microsoft for its support in sponsoring the evening. Navin outlined how he thought the advent of “Big Data” technologies was very exciting for risk management, opening up opportunities to address risk and regulatory problems that previously might have been considered out of reach.
Navin defined Big Data as the structured or unstructured in receive at high volumes and requiring very large data storage. Its characteristics include a high velocity of record creation, extreme volumes, a wide variety of data formats, variable latencies, and complexity of data types. Additionally, he noted that relative to other industries, in the past financial services has created perhaps the largest historical sets of data and continually creates enormous amount of data on a daily or moment-by-moment basis. Examples include options data, high frequency trading, and unstructured data such as via social media. Its usage provides potential competitive advantages in a trading and investment management. Also, by using Big Data it is possible to have faster and more accurate recognition of potential risks via seemingly disparate data - leading to timelier and more complete risk management of investments and firms’ assets. Finally, the use of Big Data technologies is in part being driven by regulatory pressures from Dodd-Frank, Basel III, Solvency II, Markets for Financial Instruments Directives (1 & 2) as well as Markets for Financial Instruments Regulation.
Navin also noted that we will seek to answer questions such as:
- What is the impact of big data on asset management?
- How can Big Data’s impact enhance risk management?
- How is big data used to enhance operational risk?
Presentation 1: Big Data: What Is It and Where Did It Come From?: The first presentation was given by Michael Di Stefano (of Blinksis Technologies), and was titled “Big Data. What is it and where did it come from?”. You can find a copy of Michael’s presentation here. In summary Michael started with saying that there are many definitions of Big Data, mainly defined as technology that deals with data problems that are either too large, too fast or too complex for conventional database technology. Michael briefly touched upon the many different technologies within Big Data such as Hadoop, MapReduce and databases such as Cassandra and MongoDB etc. He described some of the origins of Big Data technology in internet search, social networks and other fields. Michael described the “4 V’s” of Big Data: Volume, Velocity, Variety and a key point from Michael was “time to Value” in terms of what you are using Big Data for. Michael concluded his talk with some business examples around use of sentiment analysis in financial markets and the application of Big Data to real-time trading surveillance.
Presentation 2: Big Data Strategies for Risk Management: The second presentation “Big Data Strategies for Risk Management” was introduced by Colleen Healy of Microsoft (presentation here). Colleen started by saying expectations of risk management are rising, and that prior to 2008 not many institutions had a good handle on the risks they were taking. Risk analysis needs to be done across multiple asset types, more frequently and at ever greater granularity. Pressure is coming from everywhere including company boards, regulators, shareholders, customers, counterparties and society in general. Colleen used to head investor relations at Microsoft and put forward a number of points:
- A long line of sight of one risk factor does not mean that we have a line of sight on other risks around.
- Good risk management should be based on simple questions.
- Reliance on 3rd parties for understanding risk should be minimized.
- Understand not just the asset, but also at the correlated asset level.
- The world is full of fast markets driving even more need for risk control
- Intraday and real-time risk now becoming necessary for line of sight and dealing with the regulators
- Now need to look at risk management at a most granular level.
Colleen explained some of the reasons why good risk management remains a work in progress, and that data is a key foundation for better risk management. However data has been hard to access, analyze, visualize and understand, and used this to link to the next part of the presentation by Denny Yu of Numerix.
Denny explained that new regulations involving measures such as Potential Future Exposure (PFE) and Credit Value Adjustment (CVA) were moving the number of calculations needed in risk management to a level well above that required by methodologies such as Value at Risk (VaR). Denny illustrated how the a typical VaR calculation on a reasonable sized portfolio might need 2,500,000 instrument valuations and how PFE might require as many as 2,000,000,000. He then explain more of the architecture he would see as optimal for such a process and illustrated some of the analysis he had done using Excel spreadsheets linked to Microsoft’s high performance computing technology.
Presentation 3: Big Data in Practice: Unintentional Portfolio Risk: Kevin Chen of Opera Solutions gave the third presentation, titled “Unintentional Risk via Large-Scale Risk Clustering”. You can find a copy of the presentation here. In summary, the presentation was quite visual and illustrating how large-scale empirical analysis of portfolio data could produce some interesting insights into portfolio risk and how risks become “clustered”. In many ways the analysis was reminiscent of an empirical form of principal component analysis i.e. where you can see and understand more about your portfolio’s risk without actually being able to relate the main factors directly to any traditional factor analysis.
Panel Discussion: Brian Sentance of Xenomorph and the PRMIA NYC Steering Committee then moderated a panel discussion. The first question was directed at Michael “Is the relational database dead?” – Michael replied that in his view relational databases were not dead and indeed for dealing with problems well-suited to relational representation were still and would continue to be very good. Michael said that NoSQL/Big Data technologies were complimentary to relational databases, dealing with new types of data and new sizes of problem that relational databases are not well designed for. Brian asked Michael whether the advent of these new database technologies would drive the relational database vendors to extend the capabilities and performance of their offerings? Michael replied that he thought this was highly likely but only time would tell whether this approach will be successful given the innovation in the market at the moment. Colleen Healy added that the advent of Big Data did not mean the throwing out of established technology, but rather an integration of established technology with the new such as with Microsoft SQL Server working with the Hadoop framework.
Brian asked the panel whether they thought visualization would make a big impact within Big Data? Ken Akoundi said that the front end applications used to make the data/analysis more useful will evolve very quickly. Brian asked whether this would be reminiscent of the days when VaR first appeared, when a single number arguably became a false proxy for risk measurement and management? Ken replied that the size of the data problem had increased massively from when VaR was first used in 1994, and that visualization and other automated techniques were very much needed if the headache of capturing, cleansing and understanding data was to be addressed.
Brian asked whether Big Data would address the data integration issue of siloed trading systems? Colleen replied that Big Data needs to work across all the silos found in many financial organizations, or it isn’t “Big Data”. There was general consensus from the panel that legacy systems and people politics were also behind some of the issues found in addressing the data silo issue.
Brian asked if the panel thought the skills needed in risk management would change due to Big Data? Colleen replied that effective Big Data solutions require all kinds of people, with skills across a broad range of specific disciplines such as visualization. Generally the panel thought that data and data analysis would play an increasingly important part for risk management. Ken put forward his view all Big Data problems should start with a business problem, with not just a technology focus. For example are there any better ways to predict stock market movements based on the consumption of larger and more diverse sources of information. In terms of risk management skills, Denny said that risk management of 15 years ago was based on relatively simply econometrics. Fast forward to today, and risk calculations such as CVA are statistically and computationally very heavy, and trading is increasingly automated across all asset classes. As a result, Denny suggested that even the PRMIA PRM syllabus should change to focus more on data and data technology given the importance of data to risk management.
Asked how best to should Big Data be applied?, then Denny replied that echoed Ken in saying that understanding the business problem first was vital, but that obviously Big Data opened up the capability to aggregate and work with larger datasets than ever before. Brian then asked what advice would the panel give to risk managers faced with an IT department about to embark upon using Big Data technologies? Assuming that the business problem is well understood, then Michael said that the business needed some familiarity with the broad concepts of Big Data, what it can and cannot do and how it fits with more mainstream technologies. Colleen said that there are some problems that only Big Data can solve, so understanding the technical need is a first checkpoint. Obviously IT people like working with new technologies and this needs to be monitored, but so long as the business problem is defined and valid for Big Data, people should be encouraged to learn new technologies and new skills. Kevin also took a very positive view that IT departments should be encouraged to experiment with these new technologies and understand what is possible, but that projects should have well-defined assessment/cut-off points as with any good project management to decide if the project is progressing well. Ken put forward that many IT staff were new to the scale of the problems being addressed with Big Data, and that his own company Opera Solutions had an advantage in its deep expertise of large-scale data integration to deliver quicker on project timelines.
Audience Questions: There then followed a number of audience questions. The first few related to other ideas/kinds of problems that could be analyzed using the kind of modeling that Opera had demonstrated. Ken said that there were obvious extensions that Opera had not got around to doing just yet. One audience member asked how well could all the Big Data analysis be aggregated/presented to make it understandable and usable to humans? Denny suggested that it was vital that such analysis was made accessible to the user, and there general consensus across the panel that man vs. machine was an interesting issue to develop in considering what is possible with Big Data. The next audience question was around whether all of this data analysis was affordable from a practical point of view. Brian pointed out that there was a lot of waste in current practices in the industry, with wasteful duplication of ticker plants and other data types across many financial institutions, large and small. This duplication is driven primarily by the perceived need to implement each institution’s proprietary analysis techniques, and that this kind of customization was not yet available from the major data vendors, but will become more possible as cloud technology such as Microsoft’s Azure develops further. There was a lot of audience interest in whether Big Data could lead to better understanding of causal relationships in markets rather than simply correlations. The panel responded that causal relationships were harder to understand, particularly in a dynamic market with dynamic relationships, but that insight into correlation was at the very least useful and could lead to better understanding of the drivers as more datasets are analyzed.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 8 February 2013 | 3:14 pm
I got my first tour around the NYSE trading floor on Wednesday night, courtesy of an event by Rutgers University on Risk. Good event, mainly around panel discussion moderated by Nicholar Dunbar (Editor of Bloomberg Risk newsletter), and involving David Belmont (Commonfund CRO), Adam Litke (Chief Risk Strategist for Bloomberg), Hilmar Schaumann (Fortress Investment CRO) and Sanjay Sharma (CRO of Global Arbitrage and Trading at RBC).
Nick first asked the panel how do you define and measure risk? Hilmar responded that risk measurement is based around two main activities: 1) understanding how a book/portfolio is positioned (the static view) and 2) understanding sensitivities to risks that impact P&L (the dynamic view). Hilmar mentioned the use of historical data as a guide to current risks that are difficult to measure, but emphasised the need for a qualitative approach when looking at the risks being taken.
David said that he looks at both risk and uncertainty - with risk being defined as those impacts you can measure/estimate. He said that historical analysis was useful but limited given it is based only on what has happened. He thought that scenario analysis was a stronger tool. (I guess with historical analysis you at least get some idea of the impact of things that could not be predicted even it is based on one "simulation" path i.e. reality, whereas you have more flexibility with scenario management to cover all bases, but I guess limited to those bases you can imagine). David said that path-dependent risks such as those in the credit markets in the last crisis were some of the most difficult to deal with.
Adam said that you need to understand why you are measuring risk and understand what risks you are prepared to take. He said that at Wachovia they knew that a 25% house price fall in California would be a near death experience for the bank prior to the 2008 crisis, and in the event the losses were much greater than 25%. His point was really that you must decide what risks you want to survice and at what level. He said that sound common-sense judgement is needed to decide whether a scenario is really-real or not.
Sanjay said that risk managers need to maintain a lot of humility and not to over-trust risk meaurements. He described a little of the risk approach used at RBC where he said they use over 80 different models and employ them as layers/different views on risk to be brought together. He said they start with VaR as a base analysis, but build on this with scenarios, greeks and then on to other more specific reports and analysis. He emphasised that communication is a vital skill for risk managers to get their views and ideas across.
Nicholas then moved on to ask how risk managers should make or reduce risks? - getting away from risk measurement to risk management. Adam said that risks should be delegated out to those that manage them but this needs to be combined with responsibility for the risks too. Keep people and departments within the bounds of what their remit. Be prepared to talk a different business language to different stakeholders dependent upon their understanding and their motivations. David gave some examples of this in his case, where endowment funds what risk premiums over many years and risks are translated/quantified into practical things for example such as a new college building not going ahead etc.
Hilmar said the hedge funds are supposed to take risks, and that the key was not necessarily to avoid losses (although avoid them if you can) but rather to avoid surprises. Like the other speakers, Hilmar emphasised that communication of risks to key stakeholders was vital. He also added the key point that if you don't like a risk you have identified, then try first to take it off rather than hedging it, since hedging could potentially add basis risk and simple more complication.
Nicholas then Sanjay about how risk managers should deal with bringing difficult news to the business? Sanjay suggested that any bad news should be approach in the form of "actionable transparency" i.e. that not only do you say communicate how bad the risk is to all stakeholders but you come along with actionable approaches to dealing with the risk. In all of his experience and despite the crisis, Sanjay's experience is that traders do not want to loose money and if you come with solutions they will listen. He concluded by saying that qualitative analysis should also be used, citing the hypothetical example that you should take notice of dogs (yes, the animal!) buying mortgages, whether or not the mortgages are AAA rated.
Nicholas asked the panel members in turn what risks are they concerned about currently? David said he believed that many risks were not priced into the market currently. He was concerned about policy impacts of action by the ECB and the Fed, and thought the current and forward levels of volatility are low. In Fixed Income markets he thought that Dodd-Frank may have detrimental effects, particular with the current lack of clarity about what is proprietary trading and what is market-making. He thought that should policies and interests rates change, he thought that risk managers should look carefully at what will happen as funds flow out of fixed income and into equities.
Hilmar talked about the postponement of the US debt ceiling limits and that US Government policy battles continue to be an obvious source of risk. In Europe, many countries had elections this year which would be interesting, and that the problems in the Euro-zone are less than they were, but problems in Cyprus could fan the flames of more problems and anxiety. Hilmar said the Japan's new policy of targetting 2% inflation may have effects on the willingness of domestic investors to buy JGBs.
Sanjay said he was worried. In the "Greenspan Years" prior to 2008 a quasi government guarantee on the banks was effectively put in place and that we continue to live with cheap money. When policy eventually changes and interest rates rise, Sanjay wondered whether the world was ready for the wholesale asset revaluation that would then be required.
Adams concerns where mainly around identifying what will be the cause of the next panic in the market. Whilst he said he is in favour of central clearing for OTC derivatives, he thought that the changing market structure combined with implementing central clearing had not been fully thought through and this was a worry to him.
Nicholas asked what do the panelists think to the regulation being implemented? David said that regulators face the same difficulty that risk managers face, in that nobody notices when you took sensible action to protect against a risk that didn't occur. He thinks that regulation of the markets is justified and necessary.
Sanjay said that in the airline and pharmacutical industries regulatory approval was on the whole very robust but that they were dealing with approving designs (aeroplanes and drugs) that are reproduced once approved. He said that such levels of regulation in financial services were not yet possible due to the constant innovation found in the markets, and he wanted regulation to be more dynamic and responsive to market developments. Sanjay also joined those in the industry that are critical of the shear size of Dodd-Frank.
Nicholas said that Adam was obviously keen on operational issues and wondered what plumbing in the industry would he change? Adam said that he is a big fan of automation but operational risk are real and large. He thought that there were too many rules and regulations being applied, and the regulators were not paying attention to the type of markets they want in the future, nor on the effects of current regulation and how people were moving from one part of the industry to another. Adam said that in relation to Knight Capital he was still a strong advocate of standing by the wall socket, ready to pull the plug on the computer. Adam suggested that regulators should look at regulating/approving software releases (I assume here he means for key tasks such as automated trading or risk reporting, not all software).
Given the large number of students present, Nicholas closed the panel by asking what career advice the panelists had for future risk managers? Adam emphasised flexibility in role, taking us through his career background as an equity derivatives and then fixed income trader before coming into risk management. Adam said it was highly unlikely over your career that you would stay with one role or area of expertise.
Hilmar said that having risk managers independent of trading was vitally important for the industry. He thought there were many areas to work with operational risk being potentially the largest, but still with plenty more to do in market risk, compliance and risk modelling. He added that understanding the interdepencies between risks was key and an area for further development.
When asked by Nicholas, David said that risk managers should have a career path right through to CEO of an institution. He wanted to encourage risk management as a necessary level above risk measurement and control. He was excited about the potential of Big Data technologies to help in risk management. David gave some interesting background on his own career initially as an emergining markets debt trader. He said that it is important to know yourself, and that he regarded himself as a sceptic, needing all the information available before making a decision. As such his performance as a trader was consistent but not as high as some, and this became one of the reasons he moved into risk management.
Sanjay said many of the systems used in finance are 20 years old, in complete contrast with the advancies in mobile and internet technologies. As such he thought this was a great opportunity to be involved in the replacement and upgrading of this older infrastructure. Apparently one analyst had estimated that $65B will be spent on risk management over the next 4-5 years.
Adam thought that there was a need for code of ethics for quants (see old post for some ideas). Sanjay added that the industry needed to move away from being involved primarily in attempting to optimise activity around gaming regulation. When asked by Nicholas about Basel III, Adam thought that improved regulation was necessary but Basel III was not the right way to go about it and was way too complex.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 1 February 2013 | 2:41 pm
Posted by Brian Sentance | 22 January 2013 | 3:14 pm
In relation to the Microsoft/PRMIA event that Brian moderated at last night in New York, I spotted this article recently that tries to map out all the different databases that are now commercially available in some form, from SQL to No SQL and all the various incarnations and flavours in between:
As Brian suggested in his recent post, It's amazing to see how much the landscape has evolved from the domination (mantra?) that there was the relational way, or no way. Obviously times have moved on (er, I guess the Internet happened for one thing...) and people are now far more accepting of the need for different approaches to different types and sizes of business problems. That said, I agree with the article and comments that suggest there do seem to be far too many options available now - there has to be some consolidation coming otherwise it will become increasingly difficult to know where to start. Choice is a wonderful thing, but only in moderation!
Posted by Chris Budgen | 16 January 2013 | 9:30 pm
Quick thank you to all those who came along to Xenomorph's New York Holiday Party at the Classic Car Club. Below is an extract from talk given by Paul Rowady of the Tabb at the event, followed by my effort and some photographs from the event.
There Is No Such Thing as Alpha Generation
The change in perspective caused by a subtle change in language can galvanize your approach to data, the tools you select, and even the organizational culture. That said, ‘alpha generation’ is a myth; there is only alpha discovery and capture.
By E. Paul Rowady, Jr.
We live in an age of superlatives: unprecedented market complexity and uncertainty caused, in part, by an unprecedented regulatory onslaught and unprecedented economic extremes. As a result, there is an unprecedented focus on risk analysis – and an unprecedented (and anxious) search for new sources of performance from all market demographics.
The big data era is here and will only become the bigger data era. What we need is a new perspective. But fostering such a new perspective may be as subtle as performing a little linguistic jujitsu.
Our business – trading and investment in capital and commodity markets around the globe – has a history of being cavalier or too casual about language; particularly how certain labels, terms or vernacular are used to describe the business and the markets. Some of this language is intentional – the use of certain terminology creates mystique, fosters mythology, manufactures a sense of complexity that only a select group of savants can tame -- particularly when it comes to activities around quantitative methods. And some of it is just plain laziness, stretching the use of labels far beyond their original meaning on the idea that these terms are close enough.
I have become increasingly sensitive to this phenomenon over the years. Call it an insatiable need to simplify complexity, bring order to chaos, to enhance a level of accuracy and precision in how we describe what we do and how we do it. I find that precision of language does impact how complex technical topics are communicated, understood and absorbed. It turns out, language impacts perspective – and perspective impacts strategy and tactics.
So let’s gain a little perspective on alpha generation and alpha creation...(full extract can be found on the TabbFORUM)
Paul in full speech mode at the Classic Car Club
Big thanks to Paul for the above talk. Here's is my follow-up:
Thanks Paul for a great talk, certainly I agree that people, process, technology and data are key to the future success of financial markets. In particular, I think attitudes towards data must change if we are to meet the coming challenges over the next few years. For example, in my view data in financial markets is analogous to water:
- Everyone needs it
- Everyone knows where to get it
- Nobody likes to share it
- Nobody is 100% sure where was really sourced from
- Nobody is quite sure where it goes to
- Nobody knows its true cost
- Nobody knows how much is wasted
- Everyone assumes it is of high quality
- And you only ever know it has gone bad after you have drunk it.
- (I should add, that if you own water you are also very wealthy, so wealthy your neighbor might even consider robbing you)
The problem of siloed data and data integration remains, but this is as much a political as opposed to purely technical problem. People need to share data more, and I wonder (I hope) that as the “social network” generation come through that attitudes will improve, but I guess this will also add different pressures to data aggregators as people are less hung up about sharing information. The focus needs to be on the data that business folks need, and should be less about the type of the data or the technical means by which it is captured, stored and distributed – for sure these are important aspects, but we need involve more people in realizing this cult of data.
And just as Paul has issues with the over-use of “Alpha”, I promise this will be the only time this evening I will mention “Big Data” but today I heard the best description so far of what big data is all about, which is “Big data is like watching the planet develop a nervous system”. Data is fundamental to all of our lives and we are living through some very interesting times in terms of how much data is becoming available and how we make sense of it.
So, a change of tack. When moving to the New York area a few years back, one of my fellow Brits said that you will find the Americans a lot friendlier than the English, but don’t talk to them about politics or religion. So rules are meant to broken, and religion aside I thought I would briefly have to mention the recent election as one of the big differences between the UK and the USA.
Firstly, wow you guys know how to have long elections. I think the French get theirs done in two weeks but even the Brits do it in a month. A few things struck me from the election: I don’t know whether the Democratic Party is generally supportive of legalizing drugs, but I think we can be certain that President Obama spent some time in the states of Colorado and Washington prior to the first debate.
And I hear from the New Yorker that the Republicans are trying a radical new approach to broaden the demographic of the supporter base, apparently to make it inclusive of people who have strong believers in “maths and science”.
Moving on from a light-hearted look at elections but sticking with the government theme, the regulation is obviously very high profile at the moment. To some degree this is understandable as financial markets have been doing a great job of keeping a low profile with:
- JPMorgan $7B London Whale
- Barclays and the Libor rigging
- Standard Chartered and Iranian money laundering
- Knight Capital with the biggest advertisement in history for automated trading
- ING feeling it was missing out on things with Cuba and Iranian money
- HSBC helping Mexican drug lords to move the money around
- Capital One deceiving its customers
- Peregrine Financial Group deceiving the regulators (generating alpha?)
All these occurred in 2012, when it seems that the dust had barely settled over MF Global and UBS. So it is possible to understand the reaction of people and politicians to what has gone on and the need for more stable capital markets, but my biggest concern is that there is simply too much regulation, and complex systems with complex rules is a great breeding ground for the law of unintended consequences. To illustrate how over time we humans, and in particular governments, seem to be regressing in terms of using more words to describe ever more complex behaviours I found the following list online:
- Pythagoras 24 words
- Lords Prayer 66 words
- Archidmedies Priciple 66 words
- 10 commandments 179 words
- Gettysburg Address 286 words
- Declaration of independence 1300 words
- US Govt sale of cabbage 26,991 words
Dodd-Frank is about 2,300 pages, which apparently is going to spawn some 30,000 pages of rules – that is enormous. Listening to a regulator speak last week, he said the regulators had about 10,000 pages done, 10,000 in progress and 10,000 not even started yet. Worse than this, he added that regulators were not trying to shape the financial markets of the future but rather dealing only with the current issues. Regulators should take their lead from quantum physics in my view, as soon as you observe something it is changed. Financial markets are complex, and making them even more complex through overlaying complex rules is not going to result in the stability that we all desire.
Anyway, thanks for coming along this evening and I hope you have a great time. Quick thank you to our clients and partners without whom we would not exist. Thanks to the hard work our staff put in over the year, but in particular thanks to Naj and Xenomorph's NYC team for organizing this evenings event.
Some photographs from the event below. Big thanks to NandoVision for some of the images:
Clients, partners and staff catch up over a drink or three
This waiter had a pleasant interuption in service prior to the fashion show by Hiliary Flowers
Jim Beck talks with PRMIA NYC members: Qi Fu, Sol Steinberg and Don Wesnofske
Cass Almendral, Hillary Flowers and Brian later at the bar
Not sure how this ballet-themed dress works in a convertible?
Russ Glisker and Mark O'Donnell talk cars with Paul
A far more practical outfit for this Porsche
Some of the fashion models rush to discuss the finer points of Alpha Harvesting with Paul...
Thanks again to all involved in putting the party together and for everyone who came along on the night. If I don't get round to another post over the Holiday Season, then best wishes for a fantastic break and a great start to 2013.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 19 December 2012 | 12:48 am
Good breakfast event from SAP and A-Team last Thursday morning. SAP have been getting (and I guess paying for) a lot of good air-time for their SAP Hana in-memory database technology of late. Domenic Iannaccone of SAP started the briefing with an introduction to big data in finance and how their SAP/Sybase offerings knitted together. He started his presentation with a few quotes, one being "Intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century" by Mark Getty (he of Getty images, but also of the Getty oil family) and "Data is the new oil" by both Clive Humby and Gerd Leonhard (not sure why two people quoted saying the same thing but anyway).
For those of you with some familiarity with the Sybase IQ architecture of a year or two back, then in this architecture SAP Hana seems to have replaced the in-memory ASE database that worked in tandem with Sybase IQ for historical storage (I am yet to confirm this, but hope to find out more in the new year). When challenged on how Hana differs from other in-memory database products, Domenic seemed keen to emphasise its analytical capabilities and not just the database aspects. I guess it was the big data angle of bring the "data closer to the calculations" was his main differentiator on this, but with more time I think a little bit more explanation would have been good.
Pete Harris of the A-Team walked us through some of the key findings of what I think is the best survey I have read so far on the usage of big data in financial markets (free sign-up needed I think, but you can get a copy of the report here). Some key findings from a survey of staff at ten major financial institutions included:
- Searching for meaning in instructured data was a leading use-case thought of when thinking of big data (Twitter trading etc)
- Risk management was seen as a key beneficiary of what the technologies can offer
- Aggregation of data for risk was seen as a key application area concerning structured data.
- Both news feed but also (surprisingly?) text documents were key unstructured data sources being processed using big data.
- In trading news sentiment and time series analysis were key areas for big data.
- Creation of a system wide trade database for surveillance and compliance was seen as a key area for enhancement by big data.
- Data security remains a big concern with technologists over the use of big data.
There were a few audience questions - Pete clarified that there was a more varied application of big data amongst sell-side firms, and that on the buy-side it was being applied more KYC and related areas. One of the audience made that point that he thought a real challenge beyond the insight gained from big data analysis was how to translate it into value from an operational point of view. There seemed to be a fair amount of recognition that regulators and auditors are wanting a full audit trail of what has gone on across the whole firm, so audit was seen as a key area for big data. Another audience member suggested that the lack of a rigid data model in some big data technologies enabled greater flexibility in the scope of questions/analysis that could be undertaken.
Coming back to the key findings of the survey, then one question I asked Pete was whether or not big data is a silver bullet for data integration. My motivation was that the survey and much of the press you read talks about how big data can pull all the systems, data and calculations together for better risk management, but while I can understand how massively scaleable data and calculation capabilities was extremely useful, I wondered how exactly all the data was pulled together from the current range of siloed systems and databases where it currently resides. Pete suggested that this was stil a problematic area where Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) tools were needed. Another audience member added that politics within different departments was not making data integration any easier, regardless of the technologies used.
Overall a good event, with audience interaction unsurprisingly being the most interesting and useful part.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 3 December 2012 | 2:12 pm
Launch event for Interactive Data's new reference data service Apex on Wednesday night, hosted at Nasdaq Time Square and introduced by Mark Hepsworth. Apex looks like a good offering, combining multi-asset data access, batch file and on-demand API requests from the same data store, plus hosted data management services, and a flexible licensing/distribution/re-distribution model.
Some good speakers at the event. Larry Tabb ran through his opinions on the current market, starting with regulation. He painted a mixed picture of the market, starting with the continuing exit by investors from the equity mutual funds market, offset to some degree by rapid growth in ETF assets (54% growth over past 3 years to $1,200billion). Obviously events such as the Flash Crash, Libor, the London Whale and Knight Capital have not increased investors confidence in markets either.
On regulation he first cited the sheer amount of regulation being attempted at the moment going through systemic risk/too big to fail, Dodd-Frank, Volcker, derivatives regulation, Basel III etc. Of particular note he mentioned some concerns over whether there is simply enough collateral around in the market given increased capital requirements and derivative regulation (a thought currently shared by the FT apparently in this article).
Given the focus of the event, Larry unsurprisingly mentioned the foundational role of data in meeting the new regulatory requirements, which for the next few years he believes will be focussed on audit and the ability to explain and justify past decisions to regulators. Also given the focus of the event, Larry did not mention his recent article on the Tabb Forum on federated data management strategies which I would have been interested to hear Interactive's comments on, particularly given their new hosted data management offerings. (You can find some of our past thoughts here on the option of using federated data.)
Mike Atkin of the EDM Council was next up and described a framework for what he thought was going on in the market. In summary, he split the drivers for change into business and regulatory, and categorised the changes into:
- Systemic Risk
- Capital and Liquidity
- Clearing and Settlement
- Control and Enforcement
He then that the fundamental challenge with data was to go through the chain of identifying things, descibing them, classifying/aggregating them and then finally establishing linkages. He then ended this part of his presentation with the three aspects he thought necessary to sort this out from industry data standards, to methods of best practice and on to having infrastructure in place to enable these changes.
Mike then went on to recount a conversation he had had with a hedge fund manager, who had defined the interesting concept of a "Data Risk Equation":
N x CC x S / (Q x V)
N: is the number of variables
CC: is a measure of calculation complexity
S: is the number of data sources needed
Q: is a measure of quality
V: is a measure of verifiability
I think the angle was the Hedge Fund guy was simply using a form of the above to categorise and compary the complexity of some of the data issues his firm was dealing with.
Aram Flores of Deutsche Bank then talked briefly. Of note was his point that the new regulation was forcing DB to use more external rather than internal data, since regulation now restricted the use of internal data within regulatory reporting. Sounds like good news for Interactive and some of its competitors. Eric Reichenberg of SS&C GlobeOp then gave a quick talk on the importance of accurate data to his derivative valuation services. The talks ended with a well-prepped conversation between Marty Williams and one of their new Apex clients, who jokingly refered to one of the other well-known data vendors as the Evil Empire which raised a few smiles - fortunately the speaker didn't start to choke at this point so obviously Darth Vader wasn't spying on the proceedings...
So overall a good event, new product offering looks interesting, speakers were entertaining and the drinks/food/location were great.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 26 October 2012 | 3:22 pm
Getting to the heart of "Data Management for Risk", PRMIA held an event entitled "Missing Data for Risk Management Stress Testing" at Bloomberg's New York HQ last night. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the topic of "Data Management for Risk", then the following diagram may help to further explain how the topic is to do with all the data sets feeding the VaR and scenario engines.
I have a vested interest in saying this (and please forgive the product placement in the diagram above, but hey this is what we do...), but the topic of data management for risk seems to fall into a functionality gap between: i) the risk system vendors who typically seem to assume that the world of data is perfect and that the topic is too low level to concern them and ii) the traditional data management vendors who seem to regard things like correlations, curves, spreads, implied volatilities and model parameters as too business domain focussed (see previous post on this topic) As a result, the risk manager is typically left with ad-hoc tools like spreadsheets and other analytical packages to perform data validation and filling of any missing data found. These ad-hoc tools are fine until the data universe grows larger, leading to the regulators becoming concerned about just how much data is being managed "out of system" (see past post for some previous thoughts on spreadsheets).
The Crisis and Data Issues. Anyway enough background above and on to some of the issues raised at the event. Navin Sharma of Western Asset Management started the evening by saying that pre-crisis people had a false sense of security around Value at Risk, and that crisis showed that data is not reliably smooth in nature. Post-crisis, then questions obviously arise around how much data to use, how far back and whether you include or exclude extreme periods like the crisis. Navin also suggested that the boards of many financial institutions were now much more open to reviewing scenarios put forward by the risk management function, whereas pre-crisis their attention span was much more limited.
Presentation. Don Wesnofske did a great presentation on the main issues around data and data governance in risk (which I am hoping to link to here shortly...)
Issues with Sourcing Data for Risk and Regulation. Adam Litke of Bloomberg asked the panel what new data sourcing challenges were resulting from the current raft of regulation being implemented. Barry Schachter cited a number of Basel-related examples. He said that the costs of rolling up loss data across all operations was prohibitative, and hence there were data truncation issues to be faced when assessing operational risk. Barry mentioned that liquidity calculations were new and presenting data challenges. Non centrally cleared OTC derivatives also presented data challenges, with initial margin calculations based on stressed VaR. Whilst on the subject of stressed VaR, Barry said that there were a number of missing data challenges including the challenge of obtaining past histories and of modelling current instruments that did not exist in past stress periods. He said that it was telling on this subject that the Fed had decided to exclude tier 2 banks from stressed VaR calculations on the basis that they did not think these institutions were in a position to be able to calculate these numbers given the data and systems that they had in place.
Barry also mentioned the challenges of Solvency II for insurers (and their asset managers) and said that this was a huge exercise in data collection. He said that there were obvious difficulties in modelling hedge fund and private equity investments, and that the regulation penalised the use of proxy instruments where there was limited "see-through" to the underlying investments. Moving on to UCITS IV, Barry said that the regulation required VaR calculations to be regularly reviewed on an ongoing basis, and he pointed out one issue with much of the current regulation in that it uses ambiguous terms such as models of "high accuracy" (I guess the point being that accuracy is always arguable/subjective for an illiquid security).
Sandhya Persad of Bloomberg said that there were many practical issues to consider such as exchanges that close at different times and the resultant misalignment of closing data, problems dealing with holiday data across different exchanges and countries, and sourcing of factor data for risk models from analysts. Navin expanded more on his theme of which periods of data to use. Don took a different tack, and emphasised the importance of getting the fundamental data of client-contract-product in place, and suggested that this was a big challenge still at many institutions. Adam closed the question by pointing out the data issues in everyday mortgage insurance as an example of how prevalant data problems are.
What Missing Data Techniques Are There? Sandhya explained a few of the issues her and her team face working at Bloomberg in making decisions about what data to fill. She mentioned the obvious issue of distance between missing data points and the preceding data used to fill it. Sandhya mentioned that one approach to missing data is to reduce factor weights down to zero for factors without data, but this gave rise to a data truncation issue. She said that there were a variety of statistical techniques that could be used, she mentioned adaptive learning techniques and then described some of the work that one of her colleagues had been doing on maximum-likehood estimation, whereby in addition to achieving consistency with the covariance matrix of "near" neighbours, that the estimation also had greater consistency with the historical behaviour of the factor or instrument over time.
Navin commented that fixed income markets were not as easy to deal with as equity markets in terms of data, and that at sub-investment grade there is very little data available. He said that heuristic models where often needed, and suggested that there was a need for "best practice" to be established for fixed income, particularly in light of guidelines from regulators that are at best ambiguous.
I think Barry then made some great comments about data and data quality in saying that risk managers need to understand more about the effects (or lack of) that input data has on the headline reports produced. The reason I say great is that I think there is often a disconnect or lack of knowledge around the effects that input data quality can have on the output numbers produced. Whilst regulators increasingly want data "drill-down" and justfication on any data used to calculate risk, it is still worth understanding more about whether output results are greatly sensitive to the input numbers, or whether maybe related aspects such as data consistency ought to have more emphasis than say absolute price accuracy. For example, data quality was being discussed at a recent market data conference I attended and only about 25% of the audience said that they had ever investigated the quality of the data they use. Barry also suggested that you need to understand to what purpose the numbers are being used and what effect the numbers had on the decisions you take. I think here the distinction was around usage in risk where changes/deltas might be of more important, whereas in calculating valuations or returns then price accuracy might receieve more emphasis.
How Extensive is the Problem? General consensus from the panel was that the issues importance needed to be understood more (I guess my experience is that the regulators can make data quality important for a bank if they say that input data issues are the main reason for blocking approval of an internal model for regulatory capital calculations). Don said that any risk manager needed to be able to justify why particular data points were used and there was further criticism from the panel around regulators asking for high quality without specifying what this means or what needs to be done.
Summary - My main conclusions:
- Risk managers should know more of how and in what ways input data quality affects output reports
- Be aware of how your approach to data can affect the decisions you take
- Be aware of the context of how the data is used
- Regulators set the "high quality" agenda for data but don't specify what "high quality" actually is
- Risk managers should not simply accept regulatory definitions of data quality and should join in the debate
Great drinks and food afterwards (thanks Bloomberg!) and a good evening was had by all, with a topic that needs further discussion and development.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 16 October 2012 | 3:21 pm
Bankenes Sikringsfond Selects Xenomorph's TimeScape for Faster Data Analysis and High-Quality Decision Support
Just a quick note to say that we have signed a new client, Bankenes Sikringsfond, the Norwegian Banks’ Guarantee Fund. They will be using TimeScape to fulfill requirements for a centralised analytics and data management platform. The press release is available here for those of you who are interested.
Posted by Sara Verri | 11 October 2012 | 10:50 am
Just back from a good vacation (London Olympics followed by a sunny week in Portugal - hope your summer has gone well too) and enjoyed a great evening at a Quafafew event on Tuesday evening, entitled "Reverse Stress Testing & Roundtable on Managing Hedge Fund Risk".
Reverse Stress Testing
The first part of the evening was a really good presentation by Daniel Satchkov of Rixtrema on reverse stress testing. Daniel started the evening by stating his opinion that risk managers should not consider their role as one of trying to predict the future, but rather one more reminiscent of "car crash testing", where the role of the tester is one of assessing, managing and improving the response of a car to various "impacts", without needing to understand the exact context of any specific crash such as "Who was driving?", "Where did the accident take place?" or "Whose fault was it?". (I guess the historic context is always interesting, but will be no guide to where, when and how the next accident takes place).
Daniel spent some of his presentation discussing the importance of paradigms (aka models) to risk management, which in many ways echos many of themes from the modeller's manifesto. Daniel emphasised the importance of imagination in risk management, and gave a quick story about a German professor of mathematics who when asked the whereabouts of one of his new students replied that "he didn't have enough imagination so he has gone off to become a poet".
In terms of paradigms and how to use them, he gave the example of Brownian motion and described how the probability of all the air in the room moving to just one corner was effectively zero (as evidenced by the lack of oxygen cylinders brought along by the audience). However such extremes were not unusual in market prices, so he noted how Black-Scholes was evidently the wrong model, but when combined with volatility surfaces the model was able to give the right results i.e. "the wrong number in the wrong formula to get the right price." His point here was that the wrong model is ok so long as you aware of how it is wrong and what its limatations are (might be worth checking out this post containing some background by Dr Yuval Millo about the evolution of the options market).
Daniel said that he disagreed with the premise by Taleb that the range of outcomes was infinite and that as a result all risk managers should just give up and buy and a lottery ticket, however he had some sympathies with Taleb over the use of stable correlations within risk management. His illustration was once again entertaining in quoting a story where a doctor asks a nurse what the temperature is of the patients at a Russian hospital, only to be told that they were all "normal, on average" which obviously is not the most useful medical information ever provided. Daniel emphasised that contrary to what you often read correlations do not always move to one in a crisis, but there are often similarities from one crisis to the next (maybe history not repeating itself but more rhyming instead). He said that accuracy was not really valid or possible in risk management, and that the focus should be on relative movements and relative importance of the different factors assessed in risk.
Coming back to the core theme of reverse stress testing, then Daniel presented a method by which from having categorised certain types of "impacts" a level of loss could be specified and the model would produce a set of scenarios that produce the loss level entered. Daniel said that he had designed his method with a view to producing sets of scenarios that were:
- not missing any key dangers
He showed some of the result sets from his work which illustrated that not all scenarios were "obvious". He was also critical of addressing key risk factors separately, since hedges against different factors would be likely to work against each other in times of crisis and hedging is always costly. I was impressed by his presentation (both in content and in style) and if the method he described provides a reliable framework for generating a useful range of possible scenarios for a given loss level, then it sounds to me like a very useful tool to add to those available to any risk manager.
Managing Hedge Fund Risk
The second part of the evening involved Herb Blank of S-Network (and Quafew) asking a few questions to Raphael Douady, of Riskdata and Barry Schachter of Woodbine Capital. Raphael was an interesting and funny member of the audience at the Dragon Kings event, asking plenty of challenging questions and the entertainment continued yesterday evening. Herb asked how VaR should be used at hedge funds, to which Raphael said that if he calculated a VaR of 2 and we lost 2.5, he would have been doing his job. If the VaR was 2 and the loss was 10, he would say he was not doing his job. Barry said that he only uses VaR when he thinks it is useful, in particular when the assumptions underlying VaR are to some degree reflected in the stability of the market at the time it is used.
Raphael then took us off on an interesting digression based on human perceptions of probability and statistical distributions. He told the audience that yesterday was his eldest daughter's birthday and what he wanted was for the members of the audience to write down on paper what was a lower and upper bound of her age to encompass a 99th percentile. As background, Raphael looks like this. Raphael got the results and found that out of 28 entries, the range of ages provided by 16 members of the audience did not cover his daughters age. Of the 12 successful entries (her age was 25) six entries had 25 as the upper bound. Some of the entries said that she was between 18 and 21, which Raphael took to mean that some members of the audience thought that they knew her if they assigned a 99th percentile probability to their guess (they didn't). His point was that even for Quafafewers (or maybe Quafafewtoomuchers given the results...) then guessing probabilities and appropriate ranges of distributions was not a strong point for many of the human race.
Raphael then went on to illustrate his point above through saying that if you asked him whether he thought the Euro would collapse, then on balance he didn't think it was very likely that this will happen since he thinks that when forced Germany would ultimately come to the rescue. However if you were assessing the range of outcomes that might fit within the 99th percentile distribution of outcomes, then Raphael said that the collapse of the Euro should be included as a possible scenario but that this possibility was not currently being included in the scenarios used by the major financial institutions. Off on another (related) digression, Raphael said that he compared LTCM with having the best team of Formula 1 drivers in the world that given a F1 track would drive the fastest and win everything, but if forced to drive an F1 car on a very bumpy road this team would be crashing much more than most, regardless of their talent or the capabilities of their vehicle.
Barry concluded the evening by saying that he would speak first, otherwise he would not get chance to given Raphael's performance so far. Again it was a digression from hedge fund risk management, but he said that many have suggested that risk managers need to do more of what they were already doing (more scenarios, more analysis, more transparency etc). Barry suggested that maybe rather than just doing more he wondered whether the paradigm was wrong and risk managers should be thinking different rather than just more of the same. He gave one specific example of speaking to a structurer in a bank recently and asking given the higher hurdle rates for capital whether the structurer should consider investing in riskier products. The answer from the structurer was the bank was planning to meet about this later that day, so once again it would seem that what the regulators want to happen is not necessarily what they are going to get...
Posted by Brian Sentance | 30 August 2012 | 1:44 pm
Seems like Thomson Reuters have finally caught up (been forced to catch up?) with Bloomberg on the more open usage of instrument codes with the lifting of restrictions on the usage of RICs (see Finextra article). They have not gone as far as open sourcing RIC codes as Bloomberg has with its Open Symbology intiative. Bloomberg are still going to push the virtues of going fully open source with their codes (see comment on the end of the Finextra article), but at least with RICs being usable outside of Thomson Reuters systems and customers, then at least the industry seems making some pragmatic steps forward on instrument identifiers.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 29 June 2012 | 5:00 pm
Just a quick note to say that the video, presentations and supporting documents have now gone up for our recent Wilmott event with Numerix on OIS Curves and Libor in New York. Somewhat topical at the moment given the current bad press for Barclays.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 29 June 2012 | 2:20 pm
Some recent thoughts in Advanced Trading on turning data management on its head, and how to extend data management initiatives from the back office into both risk management and the front office.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 22 June 2012 | 2:17 pm
I attended the Financial Information Summit event on Tuesday, organized in Paris by Inside Market Data and Inside Reference Data.
Unsurprisingly, most of the topics discussed during the panels focused on reducing data costs, managing the vendor relationship strategically, LEI and building sound data management strategies.
Here is a (very) brief summary of the key points touched which generated a good debate from both panellists and audience:
Lowering data costs and cost containment panels
- Make end-users aware of how much they pay for that data so that they will have a different perspective when deciding if the data is really needed or a "nice to have"
- Build a strong relationship with the data vendor: you work for the same aim and share the same industry issues
- Evaluate niche data providers who are often more flexible and willing to assist while still providing high quality data
- Strategic vendor management is needed within financial institutions: this should be an on-going process aimed to improve contract mgmt for data licenses
- A centralized data management strategy and consolidation of processes and data feeds allow cost containment (something that Xenomorph have long been advocating)
- Accuracy and timeliness of data is essential: make sure your vendor understands your needs
- Negotiate redistribution costs to downstream systems
One good point was made by David Berry, IPUG-Cossiom, on the acquisition of data management software vendors by the same data providers (referring to the Markit-Cadis and PolarLake-Bloomberg deals) and stating that it will be tricky to see how the two business units will be managed "separately" (if kept separated...I know what you are thinking!).
There were also interesting case studies and examples supporting the points above. Many panellists pointed out how difficult can be to obtain high quality data from vendors and that only regulation can actually improve the standards. Despite the concerns, I must recognize that many firms are now pro-actively approaching the issue and trying to deal with the problem in a strategic manner. For example, Hand Henrik Hovmand, Market Data Manager, Danske Bank, explained how Danske Bank are in the process of adopting a strategic vendor system made of 4 steps: assessing vendor, classifying vendor, deciding what to do with the vendor and creating a business plan. Vendors are classified as strategic, tactical, legacy or emerging. Based on this classification, then the "bad" vendors are evaluated to verify if they are enhancing data quality. This vendor landscape is used both internally and externally during negotiation and Hovmand was confident it will help Danske Bank to contain costs and get more for the same price.
I also enjoyed the panel on Building a sound management strategy where Alain Robert- Dauton, Sycomore Asset Management, was speaking. He highlighted how asset managers, in particular smaller firms, are now feeling the pressure of regulators but at the same time are less prepared to deal with compliance than larger investment banks. He recognized that asset managers need to invest in a sound risk data management strategy and supporting technology, with regulators demanding more details, reports and high quality data.
For a summary on what was said on LEI, then seems like most financial institutions are still unprepared on how it should be implemented, due to uncertainty around it but I refer you to an article from Nicholas Hamilton in Inside Reference Data for a clear picture of what was discussed during the panel.
Looking forward, the panellists agreed that the main challenge is and will be managing the increasing volume of data. Though, as Tom Dalglish affirmed, the market is still not ready for the cloud, given than not much has been done in terms of legislation. Watch out!
The full agenda of the event is available here.
Posted by Sara Verri | 14 June 2012 | 5:54 pm
Quick plug for Xenomorph's Wilmott Forum Event on OIS curves tomorrow in downtown Manhattan. The event is done in partnership with Numerix, and will be looking at the issue of OIS vs. Libor discounting from the point of view of a practioner, financial engineer and systems developer. You can register for the event here, and so we hope to see you at 6pm for some great talks and some drinks/socialising afterwards.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 30 May 2012 | 2:07 pm
Good Quafafew event in NYC this week, with Michael Markov of MPI on "Hedge Fund Replication: Methods, Challenges and Benefits for Investors". To cut a relatively long but enjoyable presentation short, Michael presented some interesting empirical evidence about hedge fund performance.
Firstly, he showed how many (most) hedge fund styles were able to deliver performance that had better risk/return profile than many mainstream investment portfolios, obviously including the ubiquitous 60% in equity 40% in bonds strategy. Given this relative outperformance in terms of risk and return for many hedge fund styles, Michael put forward the idea that asset managers seeking to invest in hedge funds should take more interest in indices of hedge funds than is currently the case.
For a particular hedge fund style, to obtain a performance level that was better than 50% of the managers was actually quite good, particularly when he showed that the risk level was approximately better than 75% of the hedge funds within each class. Also, when you look at the performance over longer time periods (rolling 3 years say) an index outperformed many more of the funds in a particular investment style (sounds like a bit of the advantages of geometric vs. arithmetic averaging at work somewhere in this to me).
As an aside, he said that most hedge fund replication products do not mention tracking error and often instead talk about near perfect correlation with the hedge fund index being replicated. He was at pain to point out that it was possible to construct portfolios with near perfect correlation that have massive tracking errors, and so investors in these products should be aware of this marketing tactic (or failing, depending on your viewpoint).
Michael should some good examples of how his system had replicated the performance of a particular hedge fund style index, and how this broadly uncovered what kinds of investments were broadly being made by the hedge fund industry during each time period under consideration. He is already doing some work with some regulators on this, but most interestingly he showed how he took a few hedge funds that were later found to be involved in fraudulent activity, and worked backwards to find out what his system thought were the investments being made.
He then showed how by taking away the performance of the replicated fund away from the actual hedge fund results posted, the residual performance for these fraudulent funds was very large, and he implored investors in "stellar" perfoming hedge funds to do this analysis and really quiz the hedge fund manager for where this massive residual performance actually comes from before deciding to invest. In summary a good talk by an interesting speaker, which surprisingly for a New York Quafafew event was not interupted too many times by questions from the hosts.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 10 May 2012 | 7:44 pm
Xenomorph's analytics partner Numerix sponsored a PRMIA event at New York's Harvard Club this week on Credit Valuation Adjustment (CVA). The event also involved Microsoft, with a surprisingly relevant contribution to the evening on CVA and "Big Data" (I still don't feel comfortable losing the quotes yet, maybe soon...). Credit Valuation Adjustment seems to be the hot topic in risk management and pricing at the moment, with Numerix's competitor Quantifi having held another PRMIA event on CVA only a few months back.
The event started with an introduction to CVA from Aletta Ely of JP Morgan Chase. Aletta started by defining CVA as the market value of counterparty credit risk. I am new to CVA as a topic, and my own experience on any kind of adjustment in valuation for instrument was back at JP Morgan in the mid-90s (those of you under 30 are allowed to start yawning at this point...). We used to maintain separate risk-free curves (what are they now?) and counterparty spread curves, which would be combined to discount the cashflows in the model.
Whilst such an adjustment could be calibrated to come up with an adjusted valuation which would be better than having no counterparty risk modelled at all, it seems one of the key aspects of how CVA differs is that a credit valuation adjustement needs to be done in the context of the whole portfolio of exposures to the counterparty, and not in isolation instrument by instrument. The fact that a trader in equity derivatives was long exposure to a counterparty cannot be looked at in isolation from a short exposure to a portfolio of swaps with the same counterparty on the fixed income desk.
Put another way, CVA only has context if we stand to lose money if our counterparty defaults, and so an aggregated approach is needed to calculate the size of the positive exposures to the counterparty over the lifetime of the portfolio. Also, given this one sided payoff aspect of the CVA calculation, then instrument types such as vanilla interest rate swaps suddenly move from being relatively simple instrument that can be priced off a single curve to instruments that needed optionality to be modelled for the purposes of CVA.
So why has CVA become such a hot topic at the banks? Prior to the 2008/2009 crisis CVA was already around (credit risk has existed for a long time I guess, regardless of whether you regulate or report to it), but given that bank credit spreads were at that time consistently low and stable then CVA had minimal effects on valuations and P&L. Obviously with the advent of Lehmans then this changed, and CVA has been pushed into prominence since it has directly affected P&L in a significant manner for many institutions (for example see these FT articles on Citi and JPMorgan)
A key and I think positive point for the whole industry is the CVA requires a completely multi-asset view, and given regulatory focus on CVA and capital adequacy then as a result it will drive banks away from a siloed approach to data and valuation management. If capital is scarcer and more costly, then banks will invest in understanding both their aggregate CVA and the incremental contribution to CVA of a new trade in the context of all exposures to the counterparty. Looking at incremental CVA, then you can also see that this also drives investment into real or near-realtime CVA calculation, which brings me on to the next talks of the evening by Numerix on CVA calculation methods and a surprisingly good presentation on CVA and "Big Data" from David Cox of Microsoft.
Denny Yu of Numerix did a good job of explaining some of the methods of calculating CVA, and in addition to being cross asset and all the implications that requires for having the ability to price anything, CVA is both data and computationally expensive. It requires both simulation of the scenarios for the default of counterparties through time, but also the valuation of cross-asset portfolios at different points in time. Denny mentioned techniques such as American Monte-Carlo to reduce the computation needed through using the same simulation paths for both default scenarios and valuation.
So on to Microsoft. I have seen some appalling presentations on "Big Data" recently, mainly from the larger software and hardware companies try to jump on the marketing band wagon (main marketing premise: the data problems you have are "Big"...enough said I hope). Surprisingly, David Cox of Microsoft gave a very good presentation around the computation challenges of CVA, and how technologies such as Hadoop take the computational power closer to the data that needs acting on, bringing the analytics and data together. (As an aside, his presentation was notably "Metro" GUI in style, something that seems to work well for PowerPoint where the slide is very visual and it puts more emphasis on the speak to overlay the information). David was obviously keen to talk up some of the cloud technology that Microsoft is currently pushing, but he knew the CVA business topic well and did a good job of telling a good story around CVA, "Big Data" and Cloud technologies. Fundamentally, his pitch was for banks and other institutions to become "Analytic Enterprises" with a common, scaleable and flexible infrastructure for data management and analysis.
In summary it was a great event - the Harvard Club is always worth a visit (bars and grandiose portraits as expected but also barber shop in the basement and squash courts in the loft!), the wine afterwards was tolerably good and the speakers were informative without over-selling their products or company. Quick thank you to Henry Hu of IBM for transportation on the night, and thanks also to Henry for sending through this link to a great introductory paper on CVA and credit risk from King's College London. Whilst the title of the King's paper is a bit long and scary, it takes the form of dialogue between a new employee and a CVA expert, and as such is very readable with lots of background links.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 13 April 2012 | 2:56 pm
NoSQL is an unfortunate name in my view for the loose family of non-relational database technologies associated with "Big Data". NotRelational might be a better description (catchy eh? thought not...) , but either way I don't like the negatives in both of these titles, due to aestetics and in this case because it could be taken to imply that these technologies are critical of SQL and relational technology that we have all been using for years. For those of you who are relatively new to NoSQL (which is most of us), then this link contains a great introduction. Also, if you can put up with a slightly annoying reporter, then the CloudEra CEO is worth a listen to on YouTube.
In my view NoSQL databases are complementary to relational technology, and as many have said relational tech and tabular data are not going away any time soon. Ironically, some of the NoSQL technologies need more standardised query languages to gain wider acceptance, and there will be no guessing which existing query language will be used for ideas in putting these new languages together (at this point as an example I will now say SPARQL, not that should be taken to mean that I know a lot about this, but that has never stopped me before...)
Going back into the distant history of Xenomorph and our XDB database technology, then when we started in 1995 the fact that we then used a proprietary database technology was sometimes a mixed blessing on sales. The XDB database technology we had at the time was based around answering a specific question, which was "give me all of the history for this attribute of this instrument as quickly as possible".
The risk managers and traders loved the performance aspects of our object/time series database - I remember one client with a historical VaR calc that we got running in around 30 minutes on laptop PC that was taking 12 hours in an RDBMS on a (then quite meaty) Sun Sparc box. It was a great example how specific database technology designed for specific problems could offer performance that was not possible from more generic relational technology. The use of database for these problems was never intended as a replacement for relational databases dealing with relational-type "set-based" problems though, it was complementary technology designed for very specific problem sets.
The technologists were much more reserved, some were more accepting and knew of products such as FAME around then, but some were sceptical over the use of non-standard DBMS tech. Looking back, I think this attitude was in part due to either a desire to build their own vector/time series store, but also understandably (but incorrectly) they were concerned that our proprietary database would be require specialist database admin skills. Not that the mainstream RDBMS systems were expensive or specialist to maintain then (Oracle DBA anyone?), but many proprietary database systems with proprietary languages can require expensive and on-going specialist consultant support even today.
The feedback from our clients and sales prospects that our database performance was liked, but the proprietary database admin aspects were sometimes a sales objection caused us to take a look at hosting some of our vector database structures in Microsoft SQL Server. A long time back we had already implemented a layer within our analytics and data management system where we could replace our XDB database with other databases, most notably FAME. You can see a simple overview of the architecture in the diagram below, where other non-XDB databases (and datafeeds) can "plugged in" to our TimeScape system without affecting the APIs or indeed the object data model being used by the client:
Data Unification Layer
Using this layer, we then worked with the Microsoft UK SQL team to implement/host some of our vector database structures inside of Microsoft SQL Server. As a result, we ended up with a database engine that maintained the performance aspects of our proprietary database, but offered clients a standards-based DBMS for maintaining and managing the database. This is going back a few years, but we tested this database at Microsoft with a 12TB database (since this was then the largest disk they had available), but still this contained 500 billion tick data records which even today could be considered "Big" (if indeed I fully understand "Big" these days?). So you can see some of the technical effort we put into getting non-mainstream database technology to be more acceptable to an audience adopting a "SQL is everything" mantra.
Fast forward to 2012, and the explosion of interest in "Big Data" (I guess I should drop the quotes soon?) and in NoSQL databases. It finally seems that due to the usage of these technologies on internet data problems that no relational database could address, the technology community seem to have much more willingness to accept non-RDBMS technology where the problem being addressed warrants it - I guess for me and Xenomorph it has been a long (and mostly enjoyable) journey from 1995 to 2012 and it is great to see a more open-minded approach being taken towards database technology and the recognition of the benefits of specfic databases for (some) specific problems. Hopefully some good news on TimeScape and NoSQL technologies to follow in coming months - this is an exciting time to be involved in analytics and data management in financial markets and this tech couldn't come a moment too soon given the new reporting requirements being requested by regulators.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 4 April 2012 | 4:54 pm
Data visualisation has always been an interesting subject in financial markets, one that seems to always have been talked about about as the next big thing in finance, but one that always seems to fail to meet expectations (of visualisation software vendors mostly...). I went along to an event put on by the FT today about what they term "infographics", set in the Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Station New York:
One of my first experiences of data visualisation was showing a partner company, Visual Numerix (VNI), around the Bankers Trust 's London trading floor in 1995. The VNI folks were talking grandly about visualising a "golden corn field of trading oportunities, with the wind of market change forcing the blades of corn to change in size and orientation" - whilst maybe they had been under the influence of illegal substances when dreaming up this description, their disappointment was palpable at trading screen after trading screen full of spreadsheets containing "numbers". Sure there was some charting being used, but mostly and understandably the traders were very focussed on the numbers of the deal that they were about to do (or had just done).
I guess this theme ultimately continues today to a large extent, although given the (media hyped) "explosion of data", visualisation is a useful technique for filtering down a large (er, can I use the word "big"?) data problem to get at the data you really want to work with (quick plug - the next version of our TimeScape product includes graphical heatmaps for looking for data exceptions, statistical anomolies and trading opportunities, which confirms Xenomorph buys into at least this aspect of the "filtering" benefits of visualisation).
Coming back to the presentation, Gillian Tett of the FT said at the event today that "infographics" is cutting edge technology - not sure I would agree although given the location some of the images were very good, like this one representing the stock pile of cash that major corporations have been hoarding (i.e. not spending) over recent years:
There was also some "interactive" aspects to the display where by stepping on part of the hall floor changed the graphic displayed. Biggest problem the FT had with this was persuading anyone to step into the middle of the floor to use it (more of an English reaction to such a request, so the reticience from New Yorker's surprised me):
Videos from the presentation can be found at http://ftgraphicworld.ft.com/ and the journalist involved, David McCandless is worth a listen to for the different ways he looks at data both on the FT site but also in a TED presentation.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 27 March 2012 | 4:54 pm
I went along to "Demystifying Financial Services Semantics" on Tuesday, a one day conference put together by the EDMCouncil and the Object Management Group. Firstly, what are semantics? Good question, to which the general answer is that semantics are the "study of meaning". Secondly, were semantics demystified during the day? - sadly for me I would say that they weren't, but ironically I would put that down mainly to poor presentations rather than a lack of substance, but more of that later.
Quoting from Euzenat (no expert me, just search for Semantics in Wikipedia), semantics "provides the rules for interpreting the syntax which do not provide the meaning directly but constrains the possible interpretations of what is declared." John Bottega (now of BofA) gave an illustration of this in his welcoming speech at the conference by introducing himself and the day in PigLatin, where all of the information he wanted to convey was contained in what he said, but only a small minority of the audience who knew the rules of Pig Latin understood what he was saying. The rest of us were "upidstay"...
Putting this in the more in the context of financial markets technology and data management, the main use of semantics and semantic data models seem to be as a conceptual data model technique that abstract away from any particular data model or database implementation. To humour the many disciples of the "Church of Semantics", such a conceptual data model would also be self-describing in nature, such that you would not need a separate meta data model to understand it. For example take a look at say the equity example from what Mike Aitkin and the EDM Council have put together so far with their "Semantics Repository".
Abstraction and self-description are not new techniques (OO/SOA design anyone?) but I guess even the semantic experts are not claiming that all is new with semantics. So what are they saying? The main themes from the day seem to be that Semantics:
- can bridge the gaps between business understanding and technology understanding
- can reduce the innumerable transformations of data that go on within large organisations
- is scaleable and adaptable to change and new business requirements
- facilitates greater and more granular analysis of data
- reduces the cost of data management
- enables more efficient business processes
Certainly the issue of business and technology not understanding each other (enough) has been a constant theme of most of my time working in financial services (and indeed is one of the gaps we bridge here at Xenomorph). For example, one project I heard of a few years back was were an IT department had just delivered a tick database project, only for the business users to find that that it did not cope with stock splits and for their purposes was unusable for data analysis. The business people had assumed that IT would know about the need for stock split adjustments, and as such had never felt the need to explicitly specify the requirement. The IT people obviously did not know the business domain well enough to catch this lack of specification.
I think there is a need to involve business people in the design of systems, particularly at the data level (whilst not quite a "semantic" data model, the data model in TimeScape presents business objects and business data types to the end user, so both business people and technologist can use it without showing any detail of an underlying table or physical data structure). You can see a lot of this around with the likes of CADIS pushing its "you don't need a fixed data model" ETL/no datawarehouse type approach against the more rigid (and to some, more complete) data models/datawarehouses of the likes of Asset Control and GoldenSource. You also get the likes of Polarlake pushing its own semantic web and big data approach to data management as a next stage on from relational data models (however I get a bit worried when "semantic web" and "big data" are used together, sounds like we are heading into marketing hype overdrive, warp factor 11...)
So if Semantics is to become prevalent and deliver some of these benefits in bringing greater understanding between business staff and technologists, the first thing that has addressed is that Semantics is a techy topic at the moment, which would cause drooping eyelids on even the most technically enthused members of the business. Ontology, OWL, RDF, CLIF are all great if you are already in the know, but guaranteed to turn a non-technical audience off if trying to understand (demystify?) Semantics in financial markets technology.
Looking at the business benefits, many of the presenters (particularly vendors) put forward slides where "BAM! Look at what semantics delivered here!" was the mantra, whereas I was left with a huge gap in seeing how what they had explained had actually translated into the benefits they were shouting about. There needed to be a much more practical focus to these presentations, rather than semantic "magic" delivering a 50% reduction in cost with no supporting detail of just how this was achieved. Some of the "magic" seemed to be that there was no unravelling of any relational data model to effect new attributes and meanings in the semantic model, but I would suggest that abstracting away from relational representation has always been a good thing if you want to avoid collapsing under the weight of database upgrades, so nothing too new there I would suggest but maybe a new approach for some.
So in summary I was a little disappointed by the day, especially given the "Demystifying" title, although there were a few highlights with Mike Bennett's talk on FIBO (Financial Instruments Business Ontology) being interesting (sorry to use the "O" word). The discussion of the XBRL success story was also good, especially how regulators mandating this standard had enforced its adoption, but from its adoption many end consumers were now doing more with the data, enhancing its adoption further. In fact the XBRL story seemed to be model for regulators could improve the world of data in financial markets, through the provision and enforcement of the data semantics to be used with each new reporting requirement as they are mandated. In summary, a mixed day and one in which I learned that the technical fog that surrounds semantics in financial markets technology is only just beginning to clear.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 15 March 2012 | 2:58 pm
I attended the PRMIA event last night "Risk Year in Review" at Moody's New York offices. It was a good event, but by far the most interesting topic of the evening for me was from Samuel Won, who gave a talk about some of the best and most innovative risk management techniques being used in the market today. Sam said that he was inspired to do this after reading the book "The Information" by James Gleik about the history of information and its current exponential growth. Below are some of the notes I took on Sam's talk, please accept my apologies in advance for any errors but hopefully the main themes are accurate.
Early '80s ALM - Sam gave some context to risk management as a profession through his own personal experiences. He started work in the early 80's at a supra-regional bank, managing interest rate risk on a long portfolio of mortgages. These were the days before the role of "risk manager" was formally defined, and really revolved around Asset and Liability Management (ALM).
Savings and Loans Crisis - Sam then changed roles and had some first hand experience in sorting out the Savings and Loans crisis of the mid '80s. In this role he become more experienced with products such as mortgage backed securities, and more familiar with some of the more data intensive processes needed to manage such products in order to account for such factors such as prepayment risk, convexity and cashflow mapping.
The Front Office of the '90s - In the '90s he worked in the front office at a couple of tier one investment banks, where the role was more of optimal allocation of available balance sheet rather than "risk management" in the traditional sense. In order to do this better, Sam approached the head of trading for budget to improve and systemise this balance sheet allocation but was questioned as to why he needed budget when the central Risk Control department had a large staff and large budget already.
Eventually, he successfully argued the case that Risk Control were involved in risk measurement and control, whereas what he wanted to implement was active decision support to improve P&L and reduce risk. He was given a total budget of just $5M (small for a big bank) and told to get on with it. These two themes of implementing active decision support (not just risk measurement) and have a profit motive driving better risk management ran through the rest of his talk.
A Datawarehouse for End-Users Too - With a small team and a small budget, Sam made use of postgraduate students to leverage what his team could develop. They had seen that (at the time) getting systems talking to each other was costly and unproductive, and decided as a result to implement a datawarehouse for the front office, implementing data normalisation and data scrubbing, with data dashboard over the top that was easy enough for business users to do data mining. Sam made the point that useability was key in allowing the business people to extract full value from the solution.
Sam said that the techniques used by his team and the developers were not necessarily that new, things like regression and correlation analysis were used at first. These were used to establish key variables/factors, with a view to establish key risk and investment triggers in as near to real-time as possible. The expense of all of this development work was justified through its effects on P&L which given its success resulting in more funding from the business.
Poor Sell-Side Risk Innovation - Sam has seen the most innovative risk techniques being used on the buy-side and was disappointed by the lack of innovation in risk management at the banks. He listed the following sell-side problems for risk innovation:
- politically driven requirements, not economically driven
- arbitrary increases in capital levels required is not a rigorous approach
- no need for decision analysis with risk processes
- just passing a test mentality
- just do the marginal work needed to meet the new rules
- no P&L justification driving risk management
Features of Innovative Approaches - Sam said that he had noted a few key features of some of the initiatives he admired at some of the asset managers:
- Based on a sophisticated data warehouse (not usually Oracle or Sybase, but Microsoft and other databases used - maybe driven by ease of use or cost maybe?)
- Traders/Portfolio Managers are the people using the system and implementing it, not the technical staff.
- Dedicated teams within the trading division to support this, so not relying on central data team.
A Forward-Looking Risk Model Example - The typical output from such decision analysis systems he found was in the form of scenarios for users to consider. A specific example was a portfolio manager involved in event-driven long-short equity strategies around mergers and acquisitions. The manager is interested in the risk that a particular deal breaks, and in this case techniques such as Value at Risk (VaR) do not work, since the arbitrage usually requires going long the company being acquired and short the acquiror (VaR would indicate little risk in this long-short case). The manager implemented a forward looking model that was based on information relevant to the deal in question plus information from similar historic deals. The probabilities used in the model where gathered from a range of sources, and techniques such as triangulation where used to verify the probabilities. Sam views that forward-looking models to assist in decision support are real risk management, as opposed to the backward-looking risk measurement models implemented at banks to support regulatory reporting.
Summary - Sam was a great speaker, and for a change it was refreshing to not have presentation slides backing up what the speaker was saying. His thoughts on forward looking models being true risk management and moving away from risk measurement seem to echo those of Ricardo Rebanato of a few years back at RiskMinds (see post). I think his thoughts on P&L motivation being the only way that risk management advances are correct, although I think there is a lot of risk innovation at the banks but at a trading desk level and not at the firm-wide level which is caught up in regulation - the trading desks know that capital is scarce and are wanting to use it better. I think this siloed risk management flies in the face of much of the firm-wide risk management and indeed firm-wide data management talked about in the industry, and potentially still shows that we have a long way to go in getting innovation and forward looking risk management at a firm level, particularly when it is dominated by regulatory requirements. However, having a truly integrated risk data platform is something of a hobby-horse for me, I think it is the foundation for answering all of the regulatory and risk requirementst to come, whatever their form. Finally, I could not agree more easy analysis for end-users is a vital part of data management for risk, allowing business users to do risk management better. Too many times IT is focussed on systems that require more IT involvement, when the IT investment and focus should be on systems that enable business users (trading, risk, compliance) to do more for themselves. Data management for risk is key area for improvement in the industry, where many risk management sytem vendors assume that the world of data they require is perfect. Ask any risk manager - the world of data is not perfect and manual data validation continues to be a task that takes time away from actually doing risk management.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 14 December 2011 | 11:29 pm
My colleagues Joanna Tydeman and Matthew Skinner attended the A-Team Group's Data Management for Risk, Analytics and Valuations event today in London. Here are some of Joanna's notes from the day:
Andrew Delaney, Amir Halton (Oracle)
Drivers of the data management problem – regulation and performance.
Key challenges that are faced – the complexity of the instruments is growing, managing data across different geographies, increase in M&As because of volatile market, broader distribution of data and analytics required etc. It’s a work in progress but there is appetite for change. A lot of emphasis is now on OTC derivatives (this was echoed at a CityIQ event earlier this month as well).
Having an LEI is becoming standard, but has its problems (e.g. China has already said it wants its own LEI which defeats the object). This was picked up as one of the main topics by a number of people in discussions after the event, seeming to justify some of the journalistic over-exposure to LEI as the "silver bullet" to solve everyone's counterparty risk problems.
Expressed the need for real time data warehousing and integrated analytics (a familiar topic for Xenomorph!) – analytics now need to reflect reality and to be updated as the data is running - coined as ‘analytics at the speed of thought’ by Amir. Hadoop was mentioned quite a lot during the conference, also NoSQL which is unsurprising from Oracle given their recent move into this tech (see post - a very interesting move given Oracle's relational foundations and history)
Impact of regulations on Enterprise Data Management requirements
Virginie O’Shea, Selwyn Blair-Ford (FRS Global), Matthew Cox (BNY Melon), Irving Henry (BBA), Chris Johnson (HSBC SS)
Discussed the new regulations, how there is now a need to change practice as regulators want to see your positions immediately. Pricing accuracy was mentioned as very important so that valuations are accurate.
Again, said how important it is to establish which areas need to be worked on and make the changes. Firms are still working on a micro level, need a macro level. It was discussed that good reasons are required to persuade management to allocate a budget for infrastructure change. This takes preparation and involving the right people.
Items that panellists considered should be on the priority list for next year were:
· Reporting – needs to be reliable and meaningful
· Long term forecasts – organisations should look ahead and anticipate where future problems could crop up.
· Engage more closely with Europe (I guess we all want the sovereign crisis behind us!)
· Commitment of firm to put enough resource into data access and reporting including on an ad hoc basis (the need for ad hoc was mentioned in another session as well).
Technology challenges of building an enterprise management infrastructure
Virginie O’Shea, Colin Gibson (RBS), Sally Hinds (Reuters), Chris Thompson (Mizuho), Victoria Stahley (RBC)
Coverage and reporting were mentioned as the biggest challenges.
Front office used to be more real time, back office used to handle the reference data, now the two must meet. There is a real requirement for consistency, front office and risk need the same data so that they arrive to the same conclusions.
Money needs to be spent in the right way and fims need to build for the future. There is real pressure for cost efficiency and for doing more for less. Discussed that timelines should perhaps be longer so that a good job can be done, but there should be shorter milestones to keep business happy.
Panellists described the next pain points/challenges that firms are likely to face as:
· Consistency of data including transaction data.
· Data coverage.
· Bringing together data silos, knowing where data is from and how to fix it.
· Getting someone to manage the project and uncover problems (which may be a bit scary, but problems are required in order to get funding).
· Don’t underestimate the challenges of using new systems.
Better business agility through data-driven analytics
Stuart Grant, Sybase
Discussed Event Stream Processing, that now analytics need to be carried out whilst data is running, not when it is standing still. This was also mentioned during other sessions, so seems to be a hot topic.
Mentioned that the buy side’s challenge is that their core competency is not IT. Now with cloud computing they are more easily able to outsource. He mentioned that buy side shouldn’t necessarily build in order to come up with a different, original solution.
Data collection, normalisation and orchestration for risk management
Andrew Delaney, Valerie Bannert-Thurner (FTEN), Michael Coleman (Hyper Rig), David Priestley (CubeLogic), Simon Tweddle (Mizuho)
Complexity of the problem is the main hindrance. When problems are small, it is hard for them to get budget so they have to wait for problems to get big – which is obviously not the best place to start from.
There is now a change in behaviour of senior front office management – now they want reports, they want a global view. Front office do in fact care about risk because they don’t want to lose money. Now we need an open dialogue between front office and risk as to what is required.
Integrating data for high compute enterprise analytics
Andrew Delaney, Stuart Grant (Sybase), Paul Johnstone (independent), Colin Rickard (DataFlux)
The need for granularity and transparency are only just being recognised by regulators. The amount of data is an overwhelming problem for regulators, not just financial institutions.
Discussed how OTCs should be treated more like exchange-traded instruments – need to look at them as structured data.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 18 October 2011 | 12:44 am
Achieving regulatory approval can be challenging if we consider that regulators are concerned about both the risk calculation methodology in place but also the quality, consistency and auditability of the data feeding the risk systems used for regulatory reporting.
The data management project at LBBW (Landesbank Baden-Württemberg), for example, was initiated to support LBBW’s internal model for market risk calculations, combined with the additional aim of enabling risk, back office and accountancy departments to have transparent access to high quality and consistent data.
This required a consolidated approach to the management of data in order to support future business plans and successful growth and we worked with LBBW to provide a centralised analytics and data management platform which could enhance risk management, deliver validated market data based upon consistent validation processes and ensure regulatory compliance.
More information on the joint project at LBBW can be found in the case study, available on our website. Any questions, drop us a line!
Posted by Sara Verri | 22 September 2011 | 7:21 pm
Sitting by the sea, you have just finished your MATLAB reading and now are wondering what to read next?
We have just published our "TimeScape Data Unification" white paper. Not a pocket edition I am afraid, but some of you may find it interesting.
It describes how - post-crisis - a key business and technical challenge for many large financial institutions is to knit together their many disparate data sources, databases and systems into one consistent framework than can meet the ongoing demands of the business, its clients and regulators. It then analyses the approaches that financial institutions have adopted to respond to this issue, such as implementing a ETL-type infrastructure or a traditional golden copy data management solution.
Taking on from their effectiveness and constraints, it then shows how companies looking to satisfy the need for business-user access to data across multyple systems should consider a "distributed golden copy" approach. This federated approach deals with disparate and distributed sources of data and should also provide easy and end-user interactivity whilst maintaining data quality and auditability.
The white paper is available here if you want to take a look and if you have any feedback or questions, drop us a line!
Posted by Sara Verri | 27 July 2011 | 4:19 pm
For those who are wondering what summer reading to take on holiday, we have just published our white paper "TimeScape and MATLAB", a pocket edition which outlines how TimeScape and MATLAB can be combined to provide enhanced data analysis and visualisation tools to financial organisations.
Whilst swimming in the blue ocean, walking in the countryside or enjoying a new country, take a break and find out how TimeScape's best of breed data capture and storage can be combined with the analytical capabilities of MATLAB to produce compelling solutions to real-world problems encountered within financial services.
Ok, ok, kidding here. Just go on holiday and enjoy your time off from complex financial problems!
But when you are back or if you are very interested (or sadly not going on holiday soon), please take a look at our white paper. It details how:
- TimeScape data and analytics can be accessed from MATLAB
- MATLAB computational and visualization tools can be used to manipulate and analyse TimeScape data
- Complex data sets generated in MATLAB can be saved back to TimeScape for persisted storage
- MATLAB components can be called from TimeScape to enrich TimeScape hosted functionality
and much more.
Feel also free to suggest this summer reading to your friends (or enemies!).
Posted by Sara Verri | 22 July 2011 | 3:40 pm
Final presentation at the PRMIA event yesterday was by Clifford Rossi and was entitled "The Brave New World of Data & Analytics Following the Crisis: A Risk Manager's Perspective".
Clifford got his presentation going with a humorous and self-depricating start by suggesting that his past employment history could in fact be the missing "leading indicator" for predicting orgnisations in crisis, having worked at CitiGroup, WaMu, Countrywide, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. One of the other professors present said that he didn't do the same to academia (University of Maryland beware maybe!).
Clifford said that the crisis had laid bare the inadequacy and underinvestment in data and risk technology in the financial services sector. He suggested that the OFR had the potential to be a game changer in correcting this issue and in helping the role of CRO to gain in stature.
He gave an example of a project at one of the GSEs he had worked at called "Project Enterprise" which was to replace 40 year old mainframe based systems (systems that for instance only had 3 digits to identify a transaction). He said that he noted that this project had recently been killed, having cost around $500M. With history like this, it is not surprising that enterpring risk data warehousing capabilities were viewed as black holes without much payoff prior to the crisis. In fact it was only due to Basel that data management projects in risk received any attention from senior management in his view.
During the recent stress test process (SCAP) the regulators found just how woeful these systems were as the banks struggled to produce the scenario results in a timely manner. Clifford said that many banks struggled to produce a consistent view of risk even for one asset type, and that in many cases, corporate acquisitions had exascerbated this lack of consistency in obtaining accurate, timely exposure data. He said that the mortgage processing fiasco showed the inadequacy of these types of systems (echoing something I heard at another event about mortgage tagging information being completely "free-fromat", without even designated fields for "City" and "State" for instance)
Data integrity was another key issue that Clifford discussed, here talking about the lack of historical performance data leading to myopia in dealing with new products and poor defintions of product leading to risk assessments based on the originator rather than on the characteristics of the product. (side note: I remember prior to the crisis the credit derivatives department at one UK bank requisitioning all new server hardware to price new CDO squared deals given it was supposedly so profitable, it was at that point that maybe I should have known something was brewing...) Clifford also outlined some further data challenges, such as the changing statistical relationship between Debt to Income ratio and mortgage defaults once incomes were self-declared on mortgages.
Moving on to consider analytics and models, Clifford outlined a lot of the concerns covered by the Modeller's Manifesto, such as the lack of qualitative judgement and over-reliance on the quantitative, efficiency and automation superceding risk management, limited capability to stress test on a regular basis, regime change, poor model validation, and cognitive biases reinforced by backward-looking statistical analysis. He made the additional point that in relation to the OFR, they should concentrate on getting good data in place before spending resource on building models.
In terms of focus going forward, Clifford said the liquidity, counterparty and credit risk management were not well understood. Possibly echoing Ricardo Rebonato's ideas, he suggested that leading indicators need to be integrated into risk modelling to provide the early warning systems we need. He advocated that the was more to do on integrating risk views across lines of business, counterparties and between the banking and trading book.
Whilst being a proponent of the OFRs potential to mandate better Analytics and data management, he warned (sensibly in my view) that we should not think that the solution to future crises is simply to set up a massive data collection and Modelling entity (see earlier post on the proposed ECB data utility)
Clifford thinks that Dodd-Frank has the potential to do for the CRO role what Sarbanes-Oxley did in elevating the CFO role. He wants risk managers to take the opportunity presented in this post-crisis period to lead the way in promoting good judgement based on sound management of data and Analytics. He warned that senior management buy-in to risk management was essential and could be forced through by regulatory edict.
This last and closing point is where I think where the role of risk management (as opposed to risk reporting) faces it's biggest challenge, in that how can a risk manager be supported in preventing a senior business manager from seeking a overly risky new business opportunity based on what "might" happen in the future - we human beings don't think about uncertainty very clearly and the lack of a resulting negative outcome will be seen by many to invalidate the concerns put forward before a decision was made. Risk management will become known as the "business prevention" department and not regarded as the key role it should be.
Posted by Brian Sentance | 24 June 2011 | 4:26 pm
Risk management and data control remain at the top of the agenda at many financial institutions. Many have said that the recent crisis highlighted the need for more consistent, transparent, high quality data management, which I totally agree with (but working for Xenomorph, I would I guess!). Although the crisis started in 2007, it would seem that many organizations still do not have the data management infrastructure in place to achieve better risk management.
I moved apartment last week and had to face the terrifying prospect of visiting IKEA to buy some new furniture. On walking through the endless corridors of furniture ideas I wondered whether the people at major financial institutions feel as I did: I knew I needed two wardrobes, I knew the dimensions of the rooms, I knew how many drawers I wanted. Then I got to the wardrobes showroom, sat in front of the “Create your own wardrobe” IKEA software and the nightmare started. How many solutions are there to solve your problems? And how many solutions, once you get to know of their existence, make you aware of a problem you didn’t know you had? That’s how I spent 2 days at IKEA choosing my furniture and still I wonder whether in the end I got the right solution for my needs.
Coming back to risk management, I imagine the same dilemma may be faced by financial institutions looking to implement a data management solution. How many software providers are out there? What data model do they use? Are they flexible enough to satisfy evolving requirements? How can we achieve an integrated data management approach? Will they support all kind of asset classes, even the most complex?
In these times of new regulations where time goes fast and budget is tight, selection processes have become more scrupulous.
As often happens in life, when we need a plumber for example, or a new dentist, we look for positive recommendations, people willing to endorse the efficiency and reliability of the service. So, with this in mind, please take a look at the case study we put together with Rabobank International, who have been using our TimeScape analytics and data management system at their risk department since 2002 for consolidated data management. More client stories are also available on our website here: www.xenomorph.com/casestudies.
I hope that many of you will benefit from reading the case study and for any questions (on IKEA wardrobes too!), please get in touch...
Posted by Sara Verri | 8 June 2011 | 10:07 am
Xenomorph has today released its white paper “Instrument Valuation Management: management of derivative and fixed income valuations in a multi-asset, multi-model, multi-datasource and multi-timeframe environment”.
The white paper expands on the “Rates, Curves and Surfaces – Golden Copy Management of Complex Datasets” white paper Xenomorph published recently (see earlier post) and describes how, despite the increasing importance of instrument valuation to investment, trading and risk management decisions, valuation management is not yet formally and fully addressed within data management strategies and remains a big concern for financial institutions.
Too often, says Xenomorph, valuations (and the analytics used to process input and calculate output data) fall between traditional data management providers and pricing model vendors. This leads to the over–use of tactical desktop spreadsheets where data “escapes” the control of the data management system, leading to an increased operational risk.
Whilst instrument valuation is certainly not the primary cause of the recent financial crisis, the lack of high quality, transparent valuations of many complex securities resulted in market uncertainty and in the failure of many risk models fed by untrustworthy valuations.
“A deeper understanding of financial products reduces operational risk and promotes quality, consistency and auditability, ensuring regulatory compliance”, says Brian Sentance, CEO Xenomorph. “Clients’ requirements have evolved and portfolio managers, traders and risk managers recognize that it is no longer sufficient to treat valuation as an external, black-box process offered by pricing service providers”, he adds.
Nowadays, regulators, auditors, clients and investors demand even more drill-down to the underlying details of an instrument’s valuation. It is therefore important to implement an integrated, consistent analytics and data management strategy which cuts across different departments and glues together reference and market data, pricing and analytics models, for transparent, high quality, independent valuation management.
“Our TimeScape solution provides a valuation environment which offers rapid and timely support for even the most complex instruments, allowing our clients to check easily the external valuation numbers, based on their choice of model and data providers”, says Sentance. “Otherwise, what is the point of good data management if the valuations and the analytics used are not based on the same data management infrastructure principles?”
For those who are interested, the white paper is available here.
Posted by Sara Verri | 4 May 2011 | 1:41 pm
Xenomorph has released its white paper 'Rates, Curves and Surfaces – Golden Copy Management of Complex Datasets'. The white paper describes how, despite the increasing interest in risk management and tighter regulations following the crisis, the management of complex datasets – such as prices, rates, curves and surfaces - remains an underrated issue in the industry. One that can undermine the effectiveness of an enterprise-wide data management strategy.
In the wake of the crisis, siloed data management, poor data quality, lack of audit trail and transparency have become some of the most talked about topics in financial markets. People have started looking at new approaches to tackle the data quality issue that found many companies unprepared after Lehman Brothers' collapse. Regulators – both nationally and internationally – strive hard to dictate parameters and guidelines.
In light of this, there seems to be a general consensus on the need for financial institutions to implement data management projects that are able to integrate both market and reference data. However, whilst having a good data management strategy in place is vital, the industry also needs to recognize the importance of model and derived data management.
Rates, curves and derived data management is too often a neglected function within financial institutions. What is the point of having an excellent data management infrastructure for reference and market data if ultimately instrument valuations and risk reports are run off spreadsheets using ad-hoc sources of data?
In this evolving environment, financial institutions are becoming aware of the implications of a poor risk management strategy but are still finding it difficult to overcome the political resistance across departments to implementing centralised standard datasets for valuations and risk.
The principles of data quality, consistency and auditability found in traditional data management functions need to be applied to the management of model and derived data too. If financial institutions do not address this issue, how will they be able to deal with the ever-increasing requests from regulators, auditors and clients to explain how a value or risk report was arrived at?
For those who are interested, the white paper is available here.
Posted by Sara Verri | 24 February 2011 | 5:45 pm
I went along to the Risk USA event yesterday and caught a good panel in the afternoon called “Garbage in, garbage out” Servicing the data supply and analytic needs for risk management.
In particular, one of the speakers, Frank R. Brown, described some work he had done as a consultant at one financial institution on tracking and rebalancing an index product. To do this, Frank had to integrate the constituent instrument symbology of the:
- Index Provider
- Real-Time Data Provider
- Rebalancing Software
- In-house Trading System
On top of this, corporate events might result in changes to symbology that not all providers would be up to date on, with various lags before all had caught up with the corporate action (rebalancing software often late, custodian often not changing symbol at all). He mentioned that he did all of this symbology management manually in Excel.
Of his time, he said he spent:
- 65% on managing the symbology and dealing with data issues
- 20% managing the various vendor APIs in Excel to update the data
- 15% on tracking and rebalancing
To sum up, he said that a productive work level of 15 cents in the dollar wasn't good value for the client and yet the issue continues on and on. I don't think that his example was particularly earth shattering in terms of newness, but it put in a very simple and pragmatic context the importance of doing some of the simple things right and the benefits of a more automated approach to data management, even before you delve into the data quality/validity issues of the market data itself.
Just to end on an entertaining note, then back to the title of the talk on "Garbage-in, garbage-out..." the panel moderator (Domenic Iannaccone of Sybase) put forward a good quote he had heard:
"If everyone used the same garbage at least that would be a step forward!"
Transparency and consistency can take many forms, but I didn't know it needed to apply to incorrect data too!...
Posted by Brian Sentance | 4 November 2010 | 7:15 pm
Last Thursday, I went along to an event organized by the Club Finance Innovation on the topic of “Independent valuations for the buy-side: expectations, challenges and solutions”.
The event was held at the Palais Brongniart in Paris, which, for those who don’t know (like me till Thursday), was built in the years 1807-1826 by the architect Brongniart by order of Napoleone Bonaparte, who wanted the building to permanently host the Paris stock exchange.
Speakers at the roundtable were:
- Eric Benhamou, CEO Pricing Partners
- Francis Cornut, Président DeriveXperts
- Jean-Marc Eber, Président LexiFi
- Patrick Hénaff, Associated Professor at the University of Bretagne (see model validation paper for additional background)
- Claude Martini, CEO Zeliade Systems
The event focussed on the role of the buy-side in financial markets, looking in particular at the concept of independent valuations and how this has taken an important role after the financial downturn. However, all the speakers agreed that remains a large gap between the sell-side and buy-side in terms of competences and expertise in the field of independent valuations. The buy-side lacks the systems for a better understanding of financial products and should align itself to the best practices of the sell-side and bigger hedge funds.
The roundtable was started by Francis Cornut of DeriveXperts, who gave the audience a definition of independent valuation. Whilst valuation could be defined as the “set of data and models used to explain the result of a valuation”, Cornut highlighted how the difficulty is in saying what independent means; there is in fact a general confusion on what this concept represents: internal confusion, for example between the front office and risk control department of an institution, but also external confusion, when valuations are done by third-parties.
Cornut provided three criteria that an independent valuation should respect:
- Autonomy, which should be both technical and financial;
- Credibility and transparency;
- Ethics, i.e.: being able to resist to market/commercial pressure and deliver a valuation which is free from external influences/opinions.
Independent valuations are the way forward for a better understanding of complex, structured financial products. Cornut advocated the need for financial parties (clients, regulators, users and providers) to invest more and understand the importance of independent valuations, which will ultimately improve risk management.
Jean-Marc Eber, President LexiFi, agreed that the ultimate objective of independent valuations is to allow financial institutions to better understand the market. To accomplish this, Eber pointed to the fact that when we speak about services to clients, we should first think of what are their real needs. The bigger umbrella of “buy-side” implies in fact different needs and there is often a contradiction on what regulators want: on one side, having independent valuations provided by independent third parties; on the other side, independent valuations really mean that internal users/staff do understand what there is underline the products that a company have.In the same way, we don’t just need to value products but also measure their risk and periodically re-value them.It is important, in fact, to have the whole picture of the product being evaluated in order to make the buy-side more competitive.
Another point on which the speakers agreed is traceability: as Eber said, financial products don’t exist just as they are, but they go under transformation and change several times. Therefore, the market needs to follow the products across its life cycle till its maturity stage and this pose a technology challenge, in providing scenario analysis for compliance and keeping track of the audit trail.
At the question, ‘what has the crisis changed’ panellists answered:
Eber: the crisis showed the need to be more competent and technical to avoid risk. He highlighted the need to understand the product and its underlying. Many speak of having a central repository for OTCs, obligations, etc but this needs more thinking from the regulators and the financial markets. Moreover, the markets should focus more on quality data and transparency.
Eric Benhamou, CEO pricing Partners, sees an evolution of the market as the crisis showed underestimated risks which are now being taken in consideration.
Claude Martini, CEO Zeliade, advocated the need for financial markets to implement best practices for product valuations: buy-side should apply the same practices already adopted by the sell-side and verify the hypotheses, price and risk related to a financial product.
Cornut admitted things have changed since 2005, when they launched DerivExperts and nobody seemed to be interested in independent valuations. People would ask what value they would get from an investment in independent valuations: yes, regulators are happy but what’s the benefit for me?
This is changing now that financial institutions know that a deeper understanding of financial products increases their ability to push the products to their clients. The speech I enjoyed the most was from Patrick Hénaff, associated professor at the University of Bretagne and formerly Global Head of Quantitative Analysis - Commodites at Merrill Lynch / Bank of America.
He took a more academic approach and contested the fact that having two prices to confront is thought to reduce the incertitude on the product but highlighting as this is not always the case. I found interesting his idea of giving a product price with a confidence interval or a ‘toxic index’ which would represent the incertitude about the product and reproduce the model risk which may originate from it.
We speak too often about the risk associated to complex products but Hénaff, explained how the risk exists even on simpler products, for example the calculation of VAR on a given stock positioning. A stock is extremely volatile and we can’t know its trend; providing a confidence interval is therefore crucial. What is new instead, it is the interest that many are showing in assigning a price to a determinate risk, whilst before model risk was considered a mere operational risk coming out from the calculation process. Today, a good valuation of the risk associated to a product can result in less regulatory capital used to cover the risk and as such it is gaining much more interest from the market.
Henaff describes two approaches currently taken from academic research on valuations:
1) Adoption of statistic simulation in order to identify the risk deriving from an incorrect calibration of the model. This consists in taking historical data and test the model, through simulations and scenarios, in order to measure the risk associated in choosing a model instead of another;)
2) Have more quality data. Lack of quality data implies that models chosen are inaccurate as it is difficult to identify exactly what model we should be using to price a product.
Model risk, which as said above was before considered an operational risk, now becomes of extremely importance as it can free up capital. Hénaff suggested that is key to find for model risk the equivalent of the VAR for market risk, a normalized measure. He also spoke about the concept of a “Model validation protocol”, giving the example of what happens in the pharmaceutical and biologic sectors: before launching a new pill into the market, this is tested several times.
Whilst in finance products are just given with their final valuation, the pharmaceutical sector provides a “protocol” which describes the calculations, analysis and processes used in order to get to the final value and their systems are organized to provide a report which would show all the deeper detail. To reduce risk, valuations should be a pre-trade process and not a post-trade.
This week, the A-Team group published a valuations benchmarking study which shows how buy-side institutions are turning more and more often to third-parties valuations, driven mainly by risk management, regulations and client needs. Many of the institutions interviewed also admitted that they will increase their spending in technology to automate and improve the pricing process, as well as the data source integration and the workflow.
This is in line on what has been said at the event I attended and confirmed by the technology representatives speaking at the roundtable.
I would like to end with what Hénaff said: there can’t be a truly independent valuation without transparency of the protocols used to get to that value.
Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day (and as it is my city we’re speaking about, I can say there is still much to build, but let’s not get into this!) but there is a great debate going on, meaning that financial institutions are aware of the necessity to take a step forward. Much is being said about the need for more transparency and a better understanding of complex, structured financial products and still there is a lot to debate. Easier said than done I guess but, as Napoleon would say, victory belongs to the most persevering!
Posted by Sara Verri | 28 October 2010 | 5:50 pm