Moving Forward, Looking Backward

John introduces himself as the new deputy editor for Buy-Side Technology and considers how in times of upheaval, we look for the comforts of the past.


In his first editor’s letter for Buy-Side Technology, John considers what change means for asset managers.

As some of you will have seen from Anthony Malakian's final Buy-Side Technology editor's letter last week, this will be my patch of the Waters website going forward, and perhaps I should give you a short brief on myself.

In the year-and-a-half that I've been writing for Waters I have covered everything from Target2-Securities to transaction cost analysis, from fixed-income to foreign exchange, from dark pools to Brexit, and so on. I've also hosted a few of our Asia-Pacific conferences in Singapore

Without really aiming to, I gravitated toward the sell side of institutional investments, perhaps a natural slant given that I came to Waters without any prior experience reporting on the capital markets.

As Anthony detailed in last week's letter, before Waters I wrote for a few publications dealing in both consumer and corporate finance in the UK.

While it was interesting to see how the bankruptcy and insolvency process actually worked, it was also a cut-throat business and one that I don't have any desire to return to. Ditto for consumer credit.

It seems quite fitting then that during a period of remarkable upheaval, particularly in Europe, I should take over BST duties.

Brace for Change

In times of trouble people will often seek to escape the harsh realities around them and so far, 2016 has been one of the most eventful, chaotic and generally confusing years that I've ever witnessed, and there are still five months of it left.

It comes as little surprise then that so many people around the world seem to be fleeing from the disorienting events taking place and finding refuge in the comforting glow of nostalgia.

Between the release of a Ghostbusters movie, a female Conservative UK Prime Minister, and hordes of people roaming the streets in search of monsters following the launch of Pokémon Go, it feels like we've somehow taken a trip in time to the early 1990's, when things were radical and heroes came in half-shells.

As Mary Shelley wrote in Frankenstein: "Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change."

Far be it from me to argue with such an illustrious literary figure, but while change can be a frightening thing, it's also the base reason for our continued evolution.

Think of all the technological change that has occurred within the financial services industry in the past decade alone: Iconic trading pits have disappeared, replaced by desks covered in screens; cloud services have become the bedrock upon which so many tech stacks function; mobile devices mean traders and asset managers are no longer slaves to their desks. 

In short, change is innovation, change is forward momentum.

The buy side is often slower than the sell side on the uptake of new tech. As banks ruthlessly hunt down anything with a whiff of disruption about it, asset managers usually take a more cautious route, fully exploring their options before making the investment.

But asset managers aren't ignorant of the power of transformational change. When I interviewed Aberdeen's Iain Plunkett for the April cover feature, the theme of technology as the primary driver for change was the core of our conversation, and it is a recurring theme I hear from many other buy side participants, particualarly at our various conferences.

In other words, according to Nietzsche: "The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind."

Side Notes

• While the rest of the world is going mad over Pokémon Go (some of our very own journalists included—you know who you are), I have largely let the whole thing pass me by. Maybe it's because I grew up in the 90s and had a copy of the original on my beloved grey brick GameBoy, but I just can't get excited about wandering around London staring at my phone while searching for invisible monsters.

• As an avid football/soccer fan, I'll be your window into the upcoming English season and keeping you abreast of all the news relating to the country's *greatest* team, Reading FC. (Quit laughing—if Leicester can do it, anyone can.)

• Tonight sees the return of the annual Waters Rankings Awards, as voted for by you, our dear readers. While I won't be attending the ceremony itself I am heavily involved in putting together our website and magazine coverage, so if you're attending, have a drink for me while you're there.

• Speaking of events, it's a few months before our next London-based conference—the European Trading Architecture Summit in November—so if you can't wait that long to speak to me, drop me an email at [email protected].

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