Isolating the real merits of fully outsourced hosting and FX connectivity services

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1 Isolating the real merits of fully outsourced hosting and FX connectivity services Opportunities in FX trading are enormous, but the risks are also considerable. In the current low volatility environment, the margins likely to be earned via most strategies are slender. Identifying a decent new trading strategy is hard and a miscalculation may not Outsourcing something as crucial as management of connectivity infrastructure may create concern through the loss of control, however, as Dan Barnes reports here, it can greatly improve flexibility around cost and market access. only lose a firm revenue through trading, but any investment in technology and infrastructure is a potential millstone around its neck. However the need for contact with an increasingly broad range of counterparties threatens to push firms into making technological commitments they cannot keep. The FX market is increasingly a global market, says Ralph Achkar, director for product at MarketPrizm, part of telecommunications provider Colt. If you look historically where people were trading pairs locally they are now doing so more and more over international markets. Even participants who are focusing on certain pairs in certain markets they are actually starting to focus on or expand their reach into other pairs and as a result of that they need global access. The moment you move into global access, what you had focused on regarding your costs and budgets for one region is probably more than multiplied. Regions such as Asia have costs that are far higher than the US and Europe. The fragmented nature of the marketplace and the considerable growth in electronic trading estimated to be 70% of volume by the end of 2013, up from 60% the year before, by analyst firm Aite Group makes issues of connectivity fundamental to supporting efficient FX trading, however the dramatic growth in algorithmic trading has created connectivity challenges for market participants. NETWORKS, HOSTING & CONNECTIVITY The moment you move into global access, what you had focused on regarding your costs and budgets for one region is probably more than multiplied. RIGHT TYPE OF CONNECTIVITY The right type of connectivity enables FX trading firms to differentiate themselves, capture alpha and gain strategic advantage in the marketplace, says Ganesh Iyer, product marketing director for Financial Markets Network at IPC. Consequently, FX trading firms are increasingly leveraging ready-made ecosystems to rapidly access electronic broking platforms, multi-bank trading systems, singlebank trading systems and providers of trade lifecycle services. Highperformance FX trading firms typically achieve this by partnering with a managed network service provider thereby ensuring best execution and capturing liquidity at the best available prices. With the Bank of International Settlements estimating an average daily turnover of US$5.3 trillion, FX still offers a lot of promise for firms focused on electronic trading strategies that require considerable liquidity. Iyer notes that a significant amount of the high daily turnover stems from HFT. [It is] taking place in the deepest and most liquid parts of the FX market such as the spot FX markets for the major currency pairs, he says. The emergence of smaller banks and retail investors trading in this market also accounts for the high daily turnover. The need to source liquidity from a combination of electronic broking platforms, multi-bank trading systems and single-bank trading systems to support electronic trading strategies is putting increasing pressure on FX trading firms to leverage the latest technologies in order to develop Ralph Achkar trading strategies that facilitate best execution while reducing market impact. To best achieve the connectivity required, these firms are increasingly looking to outsourced connectivity providers. MANAGING CONNECTIVITY There are two key challenges involved in managing connectivity to the growing number of liquidity sources in today s FX market, warns Mark Briant-Evans, head of marketing at Dealhub, and these can push firms towards an outsourced solution. The first is the obvious challenge of establishing physical connectivity; building and maintaining the complex web of infrastructure that meets the key latency and resilience criteria to remain competitive, he says. This is clearly a significant overhead for banks of all sizes. He continues, The second part of the challenge lies in either converting a bank s core price streams into the myriad of 158 october 2014 e-forex october 2014 e-forex 159

2 There are very clear cost and operational benefits in outsourcing to a specialist connectivity provider including reduced latency and enhanced trade execution, James Banister different formats required for each distribution destination, or normalising incoming liquidity feeds into a common format for aggregation and hedging. In both cases, complex logic is required to manage the specific trading rules and pricing nuances of each source or destination, ensuring optimum trading performance. It is this second part of the challenge that can create much of the complexity for banks, Briant-Evans asserts, and thereby increasing their time to market for pricing into new venues or connecting up new liquidity sources. Significant resources [are needed] to manage ongoing changes to specifications as a result of regulation and market evolution, he says. THE PLUS SIDE The operational and technological benefits to an outsourced model are appealing to firms in the current trading environment, where capital expenditure is challenged, notes James Banister, CEO, of connectivity provider FXecosystem. There are very clear cost and operational benefits in outsourcing to a specialist connectivity provider including reduced latency and enhanced trade execution, he says. From a communications aspect, the consolidation of many lines into one means you can reach counterparties efficiently via the use of the networks these firms offer without the need to lease your own communications. The various hardware platforms deployed provide a fast and reliable connection without capex management. This would ordinarily come at a hefty cost, as support for devices and general maintenance has a price tag. Cost reduction is often the first benefit that Briant-Evans sees banks targeting when they discuss Dealhub s FX Distribution Hub service, he says, with firms hoping to eliminate infrastructure purchase and maintenance costs and cut overheads from both initial acquisition and maintenance or support. The second clear benefit is flexibility and time to market, he says. For many banks, building a new pricing or liquidity connection in-house is a multi-month undertaking, fighting for priority with every other project. Using FX Distribution Hub, however, our customers can be pricing into a new venue in just a few weeks. The majority of connectivity we have prebuilt and anything bespoke or new, we have the expertise to build very quickly - we have developers who do nothing but build and refine pricing and liquidity interfaces day in, day out. Most banks just don t have that level of expertise and flexibility. The final benefit he notes is improved performance. Smaller banks are not able to maintain the skillsets in-house that are required to monitor and manage the low latency and network performance levels that are required to remain competitive. As a result of our continued investment and ongoing infrastructure and software optimisation, we can deliver colocated, Tier 1 performance at a fraction of the cost and complexity of going it alone, he says. GENERATION FX Iyer reports that the latest generation of fully managed preand post-trade connectivity services are better enabling banks and FX sell-side providers to successfully hedge, arbitrage and generate alpha in the global currency markets. He says, Whether these firms are engaged in trading swaps, FX indices, options, outrights, nondeliverable forwards, structured products or the spot markets, they can easily source liquidity and distribute prices by leveraging fully managed pre- and post-trade connectivity service providers that offer quick access to a ready-made community of market participants that includes trading firms, liquidity venues, market data providers and independent software vendors. Partnering with the right provider of pre- and post-trade connectivity services ensures that firms not only get a transparent view of the markets but also trade more profitably by swiftly capturing spreads. The high liquidity and 24/7 market in FX mean that trading firms have highly demanding and exacting requirements, he notes. From a fully- 160 october 2014 e-forex

3 managed network provider he says they should expect follow-the-sun customer service, global coverage, and purpose-built automated call distribution with intelligent routing, event messaging and priority call routing. Typically, tools should be made available to gain a holistic view of network performance, be aware of bandwidth utilization and plan capacity proactively. Rapid activation of services with access to multiple service providers through a single network connection is also a given. Banister says that Concentrated Meet-Me-Room solutions that FXecosystem is providing are creating a central point that helps clients to connect with multiple sources of liquidity, cutting down the number of connections that banks and brokers would have to put in place to achieve the same thing. The biggest benefits are in terms of cost savings and efficiencies, he says. Briant-Evans adds that In addition to the headline advantages, FX Distribution Hub has been developed to offer users an element of commercial and infrastructural agility, that in practical terms can allow them to experiment with new trading venues and new relationships. It allows them to quickly adapt and optimise their liquidity sourcing and distribution strategies as the market evolves, he says. In particular, now that we have a critical mass of firms on the Hub, we re able to add new value with an increasing number of direct connections between customers who are looking either to source or distribute specialist liquidity for example, depth in specific regional currencies, or flow from specific customer groups. The Hub makes these connections fast and economical, where previously they would have involved months of development and negotiation. Connectivity providers need specialist knowledge of FX market CAREFUL CHOICES Providers all identify specialist knowledge of the FX market as the key prerequisite to taking the plunge with a connectivity provider. There are intricate rules and structural nuances associated with each trading venue and an intimate knowledge of these is required to ensure optimum trading performance and avoid lengthy and costly test and fix cycles, says Briant-Evans. Another key area to look at is your own infrastructure for banks taking their first steps in ecommerce, it s important to ensure your existing pricing, spreading and credit capabilities are going to be able to support the higher volumes and lower latencies required to take advantage of a high performance distribution architecture. If you re not confident in your existing technology, it would be wise to choose a partner who can help with the whole ecommerce workflow, not just the connectivity piece. Knowing who has ownership of underlying systems, colocation centres and networks is also an important element when technical issues occur says Achkar. Ganesh Iyer FX trading firms are increasingly leveraging readymade ecosystems to rapidly access electronic broking platforms, multi-bank trading systems, single-bank trading systems and providers of trade lifecycle services. 162 october 2014 e-forex

4 Isolating the real merits of fully outsourced hosting and FX connectivity services We don t own all parts of the value chain but at least we have control over parts that we own, he says. If you have an issue and the underlying assets are not owned assets then there is an issue with accountability; they have to contact the owner of those assets or even multiple vendors. If instead you outsource to a vendor who has an end to end solution, then you have one point of contact and transparency over management of your connectivity. AD Banister adds, Over reliance on one outsourcing provider could be a risk due to having a single point of failure both from a commercial and technical aspect. Having a robust network in place with resilient and redundant connections along with the technical expertise allows the effective mitigation of both risks. We begin by offering an insight into the correct network set up and an understanding of the flows. We can also manage the procurement of hardware, rack and stacking and the set up. We monitor the lines and use forensics when required to understand where flows are going wrong. One of the risks of working with a non-specialist is that they may try to apply a one size fits all model to a firm for whom operational optimisation is fundamental. Make sure your outsourcing provider has the flexibility to manage the custom workflows and requirements that allow you to build and exploit your unique competitive advantages, says Briant-Evans. It is also important that the outsourcer has a good understanding of their service delivery model and the service level agreements that underpin the agreement to make sure the provider can be held accountable. A clear understanding of what an agreement will mean for your business is crucial - you must not be focussed on cost-cutting if you want it to work, says Iyer. LOOKING FOR IMPROVEMENTS In selecting a partner, in addition to the cost one has to consider the fragmented nature of the market and the effect this can have on service provision. There are certain regional hubs so in New York you would have NY4 and in London LD4 and in Tokyo TY3. Singapore is starting to grow and make some noise so regionally there are certain hubs

5 Make sure your outsourcing provider has the flexibility to manage the custom workflows and requirements that allow you to build and exploit your unique competitive advantages, Mark Briant-Evans but globally you would need to be connected to all of these to become a global player, says Achkar. As the industry converges on these regional co-location hubs, the physical bottlenecks in the fragmented market are becoming easier to manage, argues Briant- Evans. However, the complex interactions between the many internal and external applications and platforms required to execute a trade can still introduce significant system latency which can be very hard to identify and remove, he says. Using FX Distribution Hub s built in latency analytics that can be extended into in-house and third party systems, one of our large bank customers was able to isolate and fix a number of issues in their infrastructure and distribution, significantly improving their ranking on a major ECN. Banister says that his firm also offers the ability to understand where bottlenecks are being introduced, which he notes is of upmost importance when trying to negate them. The monitoring systems FXecosystem have in place allow The global nature of the market is increasing demand for connectivity for detailed analytics and granular representation of trade data and flows, he says. Capacity can also create a bottleneck. We can identify when to allocate larger sizes of pipes to help to remove these obstructions. A managed network provider can potentially manage connectivity all the way from the buy-side firm which has created the order to the broker that places the order to any liquidity venue that executes the order and progressing further to clearing, settlement and reporting. All of this is a chain, plus, there is also connectivity between the front, middle and back office, says Iyer. IPC provides managed latencysensitive connectivity throughout the trade lifecycle that is backed by stringent SLAs. A GLOBAL MARKET The global nature of the market is increasing demand for connectivity and the hunt for better returns is placing that infrastructure under ever greater scrutiny. When firms were trading regionally the decision was simple but when they are trading globally they need to ask what parts of the infrastructure should be shared, in order to lower costs, Achkar says. So firstly you need to account for your increased costs of infrastructure but also you need to account for connectivity and hosting and everything that goes with it. When you are connecting globally like that you don t want to reproduce all parts of your infrastructure in different locations because that would be very expensive and inefficient. You need to make a choice; what to place where? Where is the best location for the matching engine? How are you disseminating prices for your underlying clients and where to do you do that from?, all of these are very important factors concludes Achkar. 166 october 2014 e-forex

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