The Gateway to Algorithmic and Automated Trading

Less Smoke; More Mirrors

Published in Automated Trader Magazine Issue 06 July 2007

Lets start with a quick multiple-choice quiz. What are Cobra, Ambush, Arid, Nocturnal and Covert? A) The line-up for a heavy rock weekender? B) A new range of toiletries for adolescent boys? or C) A new five-part Iraq War saga by Andy McNab? The answer of course is D) all of the above. Oh, and they’re also the names of algorithms, too. Add in a few references to dark books and deep pools of liquidity and you begin to understand how staff at certain marketing departments (mis)spent their youth.

Peek AheadAt AT however, we sympathise. We know that, unlike BMW or Mercedes, banks don't have the option of making their products sound distinctive and cuttingedge purely through a cunning juxtaposition of letters and numerals (the SLK algorithm anyone, or perhaps the X5?), if only because the financial markets are already too full of TLAs (three-letter acronyms).

For one thing, the AT editorial team is not populated by sneery types in black polo-necks who think that the "why is that bastard lying to me" line of questioning is appropriate when attending a MiFID seminar. Quite the reverse, in fact. We've given those seminars, we've written the brochures, goddammit we've even brainstormed the product names!

Which is why we know that the real reason so many algorithms have such menacing handles is that they - like their marketing managers - are forced to live in a world of shadows. After all, how do you market a product that enables users to become invisible? How do you promote a product the very value of which lies in its stealth. You can't say exactly what it does. You can't explain exactly how it works. And you certainly can't guarantee results. When differentiation is so difficult, the temptation is to fall back on clichés, jargon and latency statistics. The trouble with jargon of course is that no one really knows what anyone else is talking about and clients stick to what (or who) they know, because they know it works. In this scenario, innovation and growth simply isn't as fast as it might be. Which is bad news for us as well as you - because AT (and its extremely vocal readership) likes nothing better than to find out about genuine breakthroughs, new applications of technology, and changes in practice as well as theory. It's the reason why we write about algorithmic and automated trading, not accounting regulations (well, at least, not often).

As befitting an issue of AT that expects to be slipped into holiday suitcases, scrutinised through sunglasses and then smothered in sun lotion and mosquito repellant, we believe it is time for algorithms - and purveyors of algorithmic and automated trading services in general - to step boldly into the summer sunshine (apologies to the Southern hemisphere, we've been waiting a long time for our turn au soleil). We're not saying let it all hang out, simply that we're more able to illuminate our readers if we hold our mirror up to a beacon than a dark pool.

… and we're not so different from other magazines that we wouldn't welcome a cocktail on the terrace once in a while.