Opening Cross: I Love the Smell of NAFIS in the Morning


There was something different in the air at this year’s North American Financial Information Summit. Not only was the event flush with delegates, but the panel discussions were also flush with questions from audience members, who genuinely wanted to engage with the conversation, reflecting—in my opinion—a new positive outlook and enthusiasm in the industry, as well as a need to understand the road ahead and the steps they need to take to respond to an economic sentiment that many now feel unfamiliar with: optimism.

At last week’s event, Richard Peach, senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, described how despite experiencing 15 consecutive quarters of growth, “Rebalancing the economy is turning out to be more difficult and slower than expected.”

Though Peach didn’t directly address any market data issues—instead covering economic topics ranging from business, government and the deficit as net savers or borrowers, to homebuilding and ownership trends—the audience lapped up his speech and followed it with an atypically active question and answer session, apparently hungry for every shred of information that could give the slightest insight into the environment in which they ply their data trade.

For example, Peach said that while the unemployment rate has been declining, and is now around 7.5 percent, most of this decline is the result of people leaving the labor force entirely—and not just those close to retirement age: the biggest decline has been among those aged 25 to 54. “So you would have to argue that we have not made much progress at all in reducing the amount of slack in the US labor market… [and] the idea that this is a demographic thing due to people retiring is just wrong,” he said.

The data industry has felt its own pain in recent years as a result of headcount cuts, and now that firms are preparing for growth, they realize that they need more people—and specifically, the right people—to support that.

Speaking about recruitment issues on a panel of end-users at last week’s event, Steve Listhaus, head of market data services at Wells Fargo, said the bank’s “non-traditional geographical footprint” in Charlotte, North Carolina, far from the main financial centers of New York and Chicago, has made it hard to hire people with direct industry experience, prompting to bank to look for other skills.

“We look for people with knowledge of the business, knowledge of the workflow, and also people who know how to get things done,” Listhaus said. “We want critical thinking to override experience every time. We’re not looking to do things the way they’ve been done in the past,” he added, perhaps in a nod to the practices that precipitated the financial crisis, or perhaps suggesting that data management could benefit from some fresh sets of eyes—not necessarily inexperienced eyes, but eyes experienced in solving problems in other business areas. And as winner of this year’s Market Data Executive of the Year as voted for by a panel of judges, Listhaus knows what he’s talking about.

Another individual honored in this year’s awards is Barry Raskin, who was inducted into the Inside Market Data Hall of Fame for his many years leading SIX Financial Information’s US business. In the interview for the profile of Raskin that appears elsewhere in this issue of IMD, he paid tribute to SIX for the opportunities that the company has allowed him over the years, and also to his colleagues, who—with no false modesty—he seemed to feel collectively deserved the award more than him, and who in turn I have no doubt would have no hesitation in correcting him. Because while some rise to prominence by trampling those around them, great managers inspire others to lift them to new heights. And as someone who has rebuilt a company several times over, others might well draw inspiration from Raskin’s management style as they look to rebuild their businesses in response to the more positive economic signs.

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