Accepting the need for Electronic Trading

In its recent history,the Asian market has been characterized by the adoption of technology in a much more compressed time-frame as compared to its counterparts in the western world. This has been true of the industrial as well as the services sector, where it is also holds true for electronic equity trading. Asia is well poised for a rise in the share of electronic trading in the next few years. Markets such as Japan, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and India are seeing a lot of investment happening that is related to Direct Market Access (DMA), Smart Order Routing (SOR) and High Frequency Trading (HFT). The associated infrastructure such as market data services, co-location and so on are also being paid attention to, as is the requirement for helpful regulation. However, in some markets, the regulators are not very confident about and supportive of the needs of greater electronic trading. This is partly because of the financial crisis and rising requirements for risk management, and also due to the flash crashes that have occurred in the NYSE and OSE markets. We expect the regulatory framework to become more flexible in most markets, but there is still an important element that needs to be addressed across the board in the Asia-Pacific. That is the role of smaller brokerages and the buy-side. Unlike larger brokerages, these are still reluctant to adopt electronic trading and to make the investments required to have the same. While attitudes and capabilities do not change overnight, I believe that market investors in Asia need to be made aware of some harsh realities. To start with, the way HFT and algorithmic trading evolved in the US and European markets, there was very little time for market participants to react to and adopt such trading. The change happened so quickly that a number of brokerages and buy-side firms were unable to cope and had to operate in a more constrained fashion or even shut down. The incentive that HFT provides for those trading larger volumes means that the smaller players are at a relative disadvantage. This increases even more if they are slow to react and do not adopt electronic trading. So it is not just the speed of trading that is important to succeed, it is also the speed of thought. Hence, smaller brokerages and buy-side firms in Asia should be more positive and not be afraid of investing in DMA, SOR or HFT. The gains from these might not be apparent immediately, but if the lessons from the western markets teach us anything, it is that the quick and nimble-footed firms were the most successful during the rise of electronic trading. With the trading infrastructure in Asia changing so rapidly, there is little reason to believe things are going to be different here.

Market Data in Wealth Management: An Asian Perspective

One lesson of the recent crisis for wealth management firms is the need to address changes in client attitudes. Of late there has been a massive increase in the range of products leading to complex combination of investment scenarios. Wealth managers, in their aim to remain trusted advisors, have turned to market data providers to remain knowledgeable about market news and gain deeper insight into market analysis. Market data, considered a commodity till recently, is gaining importance for wealth managers for redesigning portfolios and to provide information from different sources in a single and user friendly space. The primary users of market data through wealth management applications include front office staff, including advisors, relationship managers, and investment specialists who use data to analyze existing portfolios and develop investment strategies. Market data is also used in the back and middle offices for handling the management, oversight, and administration of investments and trades. In Asia, different countries are at different levels of maturity in terms of wealth management. Japan is the biggest market and mostly institutional; Singapore and Hong Kong are sophisticated and closer to the Swiss private banking model. Outside Japan, Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, requirements are very local and domestic in nature in terms of product choices, regulatory and compliance requirements, and language issues. Investors in these countries prefer domestic asset classes, and mostly invest on their own without relying on advisors heavily. So far wealth management firms have mostly been relying on traditional portals like Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, etc. With greater regulatory oversight post-crisis, emerging focus on online channel and greater demand for global data, wealth management firms’ approach to market data is changing. Before the financial crisis, firms mostly preferred siloed solutions for separate job functions. This not only increased cost for data management systems but also resulted in duplicate data. This attitude is slowly changing, and firms are after an enterprise wide market data strategy. Move to web-based technology, request for specific services like email and mobile alerts are also notable trends in this market of late. Still, the market is not as sophisticated as those in the West. Many global market data vendors use the same central solution in Asia, with some customization required for local requirements. Celent has learnt that some vendors use a simpler version of their product in Asia by disabling many functions and having small, product-specific resources. Local data vendors have strong presence in Japan; many software vendors, working in conjunction with the content providers, are active in this space, especially in India and China. Other regions are mostly dominated by the global players.