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Power to the People

Power to the People

Information is a valuable commodity in the financial services industry, although its real value is only fully realized when it is interpreted and shared across the business. This is the domain of Macrobond, which not only provides the broadest and deepest macroeconomic set across the capital markets, but crucially also the tools to analyze, visualize and share that data

Howard Rees, Macrobond
Howard Rees, Macrobond

If, as they say, information is power, then it stands to reason that the better the information, the greater the power. That argument holds true across the capital markets, as information quality—granularity, transparency, lineage and accuracy—directly impacts firms’ abilities to make the most judicious, repeatable and efficient business and investment decisions. 

But access to high-quality information for capital markets firms is only half the challenge—the other half revolves around their ability to quickly and efficiently share that information across the business and, crucially, digest huge volumes of data and represent its meaning through easily configurable and understandable graphics and charts. The latter functions are the realm of Macrobond, a distributor of economic intelligence for capital markets professionals, founded in 2008 and based in Malmö, Sweden. Macrobond also provides users with a rich suite of analytics tools to help them identify, analyze and visualize data critical to their roles. 

According to Howard Rees, chief commercial officer at Macrobond, the firm is more than just a provider of macroeconomic data—it is a provider of productivity and collaboration tools, he says, for anyone who looks at the world from a top-down perspective (economists, analysts and strategists, for example) and wants to spend more time thinking about what their data means and less time shoehorning it into and manipulating it through spreadsheets. 

“We’ve released a suite of products that address different types of users within an organization, which includes content creators and consumers, and links them together as an ecosystem, ensuring that the content they create actually flows into the investment workflow and processes,” Rees explains. 

“We’ve released a suite of products that address different types of users within an organization … and links them together as an ecosystem, ensuring that the content they create actually flows into the investment workflow and processes.”
Howard Rees, Macrobond

Three Pillars

Macrobond’s business is predicated on three pillars: data analysis, data visualization and data sharing. And, while the firm focuses the bulk of its day-to-day efforts on compiling and distributing huge volumes of macroeconomic data—it has 245 million time-services datasets in its cloud-based platform (as of the second quarter of 2021), 10 million of which have been added since the start of 2021 alone—Rees insists that it is as much a technology firm as it is a data one. The critical question, however, is what specifically does it allow its users to do that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to? 

“Macrobond doesn’t necessarily allow users to do anything they couldn’t otherwise do—but it does allow them to do it much quicker and better,” Rees says. “The charts that you can create in Macrobond you can create in Excel by downloading all of the data and manually building them, although we do offer certain datasets that you wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. But really, the key to it is the speed with which you can do things, the accuracy and the elimination of the kinds of errors that you get when you try and build complex analytics in Excel.”

Productivity 

On the all-important issue of how Macrobond differentiates itself from the handful of other providers in this mature and therefore well-saturated market, Rees cites productivity gains as the most immediate benefit, although he is quick to add that, given its nebulous nature, productivity tends to be difficult to quantify in terms of dollars and cents. 

“I always tell my guys that selling productivity is hard because it’s not easy to put a price on,” he says. “But you can give people a rough estimate based on how much time they waste checking all their links in Excel, loading data and updating chart packs into Excel. Then you multiply that by a group of people and the average cost of the person, which gives you an idea.” 

Closely allied to the issue of productivity is that of reducing duplication of effort where, by way of transparency and inter- and intra-departmental information sharing, Macrobond helps ensure the same tasks aren’t undertaken by multiple personnel in the same department or even across the entire business. “One of my guys tells the story of when he spoke to the chief economist at a US bank where he asked him how many people in his department did an analysis of US GDP in the last three months. ‘All of them,’ the economist replied,” emphasising just how important it is for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing and vice versa. “With Macrobond, you do a task once and everyone gets it,” Rees says. 

“Macrobond doesn’t necessarily allow users to do anything they couldn’t otherwise do—but it does allow them to do it much quicker and better.”
Howard Rees, Macrobond

Accuracy and Freshness

When it comes to the freshness of Macrobond’s data and the frequency with which it is updated, according to Rees approximately 97% is updated within three minutes of release. “That is monthly, quarterly and annual datasets—we’re not talking about high-frequency trading data here,” he explains. The firm has automated the various processes around the compilation and curation of its data where possible. Although, because Macrobond focuses on offering more esoteric datasets—emerging markets, for example, where data is harder to automate due to a lack of electronification—some of its data is only available as PDFs. “We actually have someone physically read the document and update the data and we’ve got the automation down to where it’s no longer possible to enhance. But I don’t think anyone has ever complained about the timeliness of our data and I don’t expect them to, given that the vast majority of it is almost instantaneously updated. And, because it’s automated, it’s updated quickly and accurately.” 

Onboarding 

In terms of onboarding new clients and getting them up and running as quickly as possible, because Macrobond often displaces incumbent systems, it typically has to convert 10–15 years’ worth of spreadsheets, fed by a competitor, into Macrobond equivalents. There are a number of steps in the process, Rees explains, the first of which is getting new clients to view this as an opportunity to clean up their desktops. “If they’ve just been saving Excel spreadsheets for 15 years, they probably have 1,000 or 1,500 of them, of which they only use a small percentage,” he says. Macrobond has a dedicated onboarding team that manages the Macrobond conversion for clients, underpinned by a proprietary machine learning algorithm that processes clients’ spreadsheets overnight and intelligently identifies the Macrobond equivalents. “That gets you about 70% of the way there,” Rees continues. “Then we have a team of specialists who finesse them so that they are ready for clients to use. So, when they start [with Macrobond as a client], they will have their spreadsheets in Macrobond format, either in our platform or in Excel fed by Macrobond. In terms of training, you get an account manager and you have online training, or you can arrange on-demand training in person. So, we’re cognizant of the fact that people want to be up and running quickly and successfully.”

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