Grim Rituals and Bad Omens

Disaster recovery and business continuity plans take center stage in 2017

Jim Rundle

London is my home town, as I'm sure it is for many of you reading this. Seeing the string of atrocities that have been committed on its streets and in its subways this year has hurt far more viscerally than I expected, probably because I’m watching it from a remove in New York.

That’s not to say that what’s happened in the UK is somehow more important than anywhere else in the world, or that the attacks have been more devastating—they haven’t, of course. But when you know areas like London Bridge, Finsbury Park, Westminster, or other parts of the UK like Manchester Arena as well as I do, then they naturally take on more significance.

As I’m sure is the case with most of you, there’s now a depressingly familiar pattern to what happens in the immediate aftermath of these attacks in my family and social circles, and a certain kind of grim ritual has grown up around it. First, there’s the establishment of what happened, as media reports are always confused.

Then, there are the checks in the family WhatsApp Group—the inevitable restrained panic from family who don’t know London and assume its quadrants are the size of villages, and the wider checks with friends by phone, text, and increasingly, social media. The worst part, every time, is the sense of unease you get when someone whom you know is in the area doesn’t respond immediately.

Usually, there’s a sense of hollow relief when they apologetically do so the next morning, and it turns out they’ve been sleeping off a particularly savage hangover in Mykonos or something similar. There’s a horrible, creeping dread that accompanies that wait, the feeling that maybe this is the time you didn’t escape unscathed. That, I suppose, is why acts such as these tend to be so effective—the psychological impact reverberates long after the injuries heal, and the shock wave radiates farther out from the epicenter than many think.

For those of you who work for larger companies, there are then the employee tracking systems that get activated, the check-ins with close colleagues in offices that may be located in affected areas, which adds another layer of risk management to the whole affair, and potentially another round of nail-biting waits. Waters, of course, knows this particular pain better than most in this space, given our unfortunate association and history with the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, which were remembered this week. As always, Peter Field’s harrowing account of that day is worth the time and difficulty to read.

How disappointing that, 16 years on from that awful day, we’re still unable to stop young men (because it is almost always men) from unleashing their rage, their fury and their mismanaged anger on the people around them, and we’re still so disconnected with our own citizens that some feel it necessary to take such measures against their neighbors. That there’s no other way to get their voices heard. Instead, the only lesson we seem to learn from the violence is that it begets more violence, and we listen a little less each time. It augurs poorly for the next 16 years, to be honest.

This week, I spent a few days in Chicago at the SS&C Deliver conference, meeting with a range of folks from the buy side, from small, single-family offices through to investment advisors and larger asset managers. They all said the same thing—that this year, they’ve had to enact their disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity plans (BCP) more than any other in memory, quite possibly in their firm’s history.

Part of this has been due to the rash of terrorist incidents that have happened across France, Denmark, Spain, Germany and Finland among other places, the false alarms such as the drunk driver in Times Square, New York, and the other incidents that have been seemingly inspired or been prompted by those very acts of terrorism, including the van attack in Finsbury Park earlier this year.

Other reasons have been due to the double whammy of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey that have devastated Texas, South Florida, Georgia and elsewhere these past few months. Indeed, one investment manager, who had managed to make it to the conference despite being based in Florida, told me how his area was swamped with several feet of standing water and had sustained widespread damage.

Our cover story in the next issue of Waters also features a Boca Raton-based asset manager that recently moved all its operations to the cloud, partly since it is based in a hurricane zone. The senior management must be counting their blessings in terms of foresight now—once we re-establish contact, given half of Boca is still without power, we’ll let you know.

The point of all this is that BCP and DR plans were once dusty documents kept in filing cabinets, but now, they’re an essential part of a firm’s toolkit in this dangerous, unstable and unpredictable global environment we’ve found ourselves in this year.

It’s just a shame that the aforementioned grim ritual of their process, either on a personal or a professional level, is being invoked more and more frequently now.

For those interested, US editor Anthony Malakian and I speak about this very topic on this week’s Waters Wavelength Podcast, which you can listen to for free here.

This Week on Buy-Side Technology:

  • SS&C Advent launched its Genesis tool for Moxy, which does some pretty impressive stuff with rebalancing portfolios and order creation. I spoke to a couple of its beta clients in Chicago and wrote about it here.
  • Just about scraping into what we can reasonably cover in this space, my colleague Miya David has a story on Orchard linking up hedge funds and other institutional investors who want exposure to loans with people who want such folks to underwrite them.
  • Speaking of fintech, Waters is hosting a fintech conference with a difference in November. This is purely focused on capital markets, so none of that “well, it is payments, but maybe it’ll be relevant” nonsense that you get at other fintech events where, invariably, you spend 45 minutes realizing the panel is totally irrelevant.
  • Let’s have some trad cap-markets meat, shall we? Here we have AcadiaSoft on the loudspeaker about margin rules again for non-centrally cleared derivatives. Phase two, as we all know, is something of a phantom deadline given it covers about six non-US banks. But phase three! Phase three, my friends, is when all those alchemical accounting chickens come home to roost.
  • And back to fintech, because we just can’t help ourselves, S&P gave capital markets fintech wunderkind Algomi a pile of money. We can’t tell you how much because people are more secretive in this space than characters in a John le Carré novel.
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