Opening Cross: The Show Must Go On!

Max Bowie, editor, Inside Market Data

“Empty spaces—what are we living for? Abandoned places—I guess we know the score. On and on… does anybody know what we are looking for?” Freddie Mercury’s haunting lyrics could well be applied to another former icon, now fading. But with a revamped exhibition scheme of “neighborhoods” for different categories of vendors, will this year’s SIFMA show deliver the shot in the arm that it needs?

One of the ever-present themes of market data management—as discussed at length in this week’s story about Wells Fargo’s contracts renewal and compliance initiatives, and in panels from last week’s Paris Financial Information Summit—is the need to be aware of available services: not just to round out your content and functionality, but also to be aware of alternative services, which can be important knowledge when seeking to displace or negotiate with existing suppliers.

For example, according to a recent survey of investment firms by portfolio and risk management software vendor Principia Partners, 93 percent of structured finance investors use at least one independent pricing source for asset- and mortgage-backed securities and structured credit, with 73 percent using at least two sources, and 16 percent responding that they use at least four sources. But how do you gain exposure to potential sources before performing detailed evaluation of the suitability of each?

For many years, SIFMA fulfilled this role, allowing data and technology execs at consumer firms to expand their knowledge of new and different players in the marketplace, and providing those vendors with an eager audience for their services. To an extent, visitors can still find a broad range of data among those vendors exhibiting this year, including SIX Financial Information, Markit, Morningstar and Activ Financial, yet a long line of vendors are notably absent—former exhibitors such as Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg, Interactive Data and SunGard among them.

In recent years, the show has shrunk for various reasons—though it remains large by any standard—leaving fewer vendors exhibiting, which provides less reason for consumers to spend days strolling the floor looking for new technologies. Part of this is simply the economy, which has prompted many vendors to conserve budgets. Another aspect is that as the financial crisis bit deep into end-user firms’ profits and headcount, already-busy data managers found themselves overburdened, making it harder to tear themselves away from day-to-day tasks and devote significant time to attending the show. Another spanner in the works was that some vendors with the resources to run their own events decided to hold offsite events, piggybacking on SIFMA’s ability to draw attendees from across the US and beyond—while those without the resources hold court in the Hilton itself, eschewing the cost of an exhibition booth for a seat in Bridges Bar. And on a less cynical note, consolidation has reduced the number of large vendors that previously took separate space.

SIFMA remains an important venue for startups and smaller vendors to get their offerings in front of SIFMA’s membership of securities firms and all the other industry participants that use the opportunity to enrich their knowledge of the technology landscape. But SIFMA needs the support of its membership and the larger exhibitors if it is to remain that key shop window to the market, as many of the forces affecting the show are simply beyond SIFMA’s control.

Not only that, but smaller exhibitors also need the support of larger partners. For example, Sybase’s booth makes room for key partners among smaller vendors, to allow them to gain exposure through their relationship with Sybase, while smaller vendors Aqumin and ORATS are exhibiting side-by-side to show off a new partnership. It’s this spirit of partnership that should prevail around SIFMA: if we want SIFMA’s support and representation, we have to give support in return.

Perhaps guest speaker NY Giants quarterback Eli Manning can help SIFMA score a win with this year’s show.

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