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Asia's biggest fund takes an algorithmic passage to India

Published in Automated Trader Magazine Issue 26 Q3 2012

Jul 16th, 2012 - Eastspring Investments is the largest fund manager in Asia with some 2,000 employees. Adam Cox caught up with one of them, Sanjay Awasthi, a Singapore-based director at the firm who trades the fast-moving Indian markets. Sanjay got his start with India's financial regulator and has witnessed India's evolution from a cash-only market with three-week settlement periods to the hyper-fast, colourful market it is today. He says India has a reputation for being extremely porous, so when a fund the size of Eastspring wades in ($80 billion and counting), the use of algorithms becomes critical.

Sanjay Awasthi

Sanjay Awasthi

Adam Cox: We'll start with how you came to join Eastspring.

Sanjay Awasthi: I've been working with Eastspring Investments for close to seven years, and have been with the dealing desk for around four years now, looking at India and derivatives. India is my main market and that is what I focus on. Prior to joining Eastspring, I was an independent trader for close to two years and before that I was with the regulator in India, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), for nine years.

Adam Cox: So what attracted you to the trading side, why did you want to move on from SEBI?

Sanjay Awasthi: I joined SEBI straight out of management school when the Indian markets were going through a huge change. SEBI's role in those times was largely developmental, and I had the opportunity to be involved in many interesting developmental initiatives, like setting up the derivatives markets in India and setting up the surveillance systems. It was great fun and a deeply enriching experience. Nine years just flew by. I realised thereafter that I wanted to actually trade the markets. So, I just put in my papers one day and started to trade on my own. Although it was my first foray into trading, I was amongst the first group of options traders in the market. After trading on my own, I realised that I needed to experience work in an institutional environment. An opportunity with Eastspring Investments came along and I moved here to Singapore.

Adam Cox: Are there times when you feel more comfortable looking at parts of the market because of your experience at SEBI?

Sanjay Awasthi: In '95, when I began my career with SEBI, the Indian markets had a settlement cycle of 15 days. Settlements were largely paper settlements and dematerialisation processes were not in place. This meant that settlement actually occurred 21 days after the trade. Now, the Indian markets are cutting-edge in terms of technology, sophistication and processes. I was lucky to witness the entire transformation of the markets from a uniquely close perspective.

As a regulator you get a top-down view of the markets, which is very illuminating. I can relate to what previously existed and what has changed. In my day-to-day work, it does help to know a little bit about the market micro-structure and the various changes around it.

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