October 31, 2013

I recently attended the annual Zicklin-Capco Conference in Finance at the Zicklin School of Business of Baruch College in New York. It was great to see Capco sponsoring this industry conference and to meet the diverse Baruch students who are eager to join financial services -- a refreshing reminder that financial services is still an engine of opportunity for many.

Tom Farley, SVP of Financial Markets,  IntercontinentalExchange
Tom Farley, SVP Financial Markets, Intercontinental Exchange

The keynote speaker for the conference was Thomas W. Farley, SVP, Financial Markets, IntercontinentalExchange (ICE). Farley provided a good overview of the current state of the futures and swaps market, which he described (among other things) as one where prices are respected, where all customers are treated the same and where there is significant competition. In full disclosure, I don't know much about the market, but it certainly sounded like a capitalist's version of Eden. I'd be curious if others share his view.

In contrast, although the equities markets have similar customer types and goals, according to Farley the equities markets are "not exclusively lit" with dark pools and internalization of retail orders limiting transparency. He also cited mandatory interconnectedness, differential treatment of stakeholders and market fragmentation as factors that have led to "widespread customer dissatisfaction with the status quo."

[For more info on what may become of NYSE Technologies, read: Uncertain Future For NYSE Technologies.]

Most telling were Farley's revelations about what ICE is likely, post-acquisition, to do about it. While noting that he was limited in what he could say pre-merger, he said that improvements were clearly needed. Change is coming at a time where all of the players are equally unhappy. He noted that either regulators or market practitioners could be the catalyst.

In his view, the regulatory priorities are encouraging but regulator's actions can't be predicted. Hence, he expects the newly merged ICE/NYSE to act and provided six potential areas of focus post-closing:

  • Increase respect for displayed prices and price discovery throughout the industry
  • Reduce complexity of the cash equities markets
  • Identify the root of fragmentation and re-aggregate liquidity
  • Increase transparency and fairness of practices among exchanges, ATS/ECNs and broker-dealers
  • Improve operational and risk controls at each venue and market-wide
  • Evolve toward fairer and simpler pricing models throughout the industry

He also had positive views on the NYSE trading floor and, although he acknowledged he needed to learn more about it, said his instinct would be to "celebrate it and cement it into the structure." Finally, he said that an attitude of enforcement and compliance would prevail, where bad behavior would be acted on and punishment would be visible.

As a financial services industry professional and occasional stock purchaser, I found Farley's views to be encouraging (although there seemed to be some skeptics, particularly among the academics in the audience). In combination with the recent moves to re-focus the NYSE on its core mission, we will certainly see some significant changes to NYSE in the near future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer L. Costley, Ph.D. is a scientifically-trained technologist with broad multidisciplinary experience in enterprise architecture, software development, line management and infrastructure operations, primarily (although not exclusively) in capital markets. ...