It's been a busy and fun Autumn on the London financial services conference circuit. I've been lucky enough to attend a healthy diversity of events with distinct though intersecting agendas. I've attended two alternative data events, both heady mixes of
vendor/user speed-dating interspersed with panel discussions, one up-and-coming Quant event and a couple of established Research events.
Across all conferences, there was a focus on responding to change, but with different emotional responses, despite attendees across all three seemingly interested in identifying alpha, managing beta and servicing customers in new ways. The alternative data
events embraced enthusiastically the emerging maturation of the alternative data industry and the ability of firms, particularly on the tech buyside, to accommodate it. The Quant event offered some grinning scepticism about the relevance (and hype) of machine
learning for prediction. The research events, on the other hand, featured MiFID II-induced unenthused introspection: "we're over the worst but badly shaken up".
There was some overlap between the Quant and Alternative Data events. Quants were a majority among the audience at the Alternative Data events, though arguably these agendas had a stronger discretionary feel. In turn, alternative data featured on a couple
of the panels at the Quant Conference; at least one panellist arguing that alternative data was more interesting to look at than machine learning.
The Research conferences tended to focus on how research should continue to be valuable and monetised hard-dollar post-MiFID II. However, there was surprisingly little discussion about the changing nature of the research product itself, more it's consumption
There was one exception, an American presenter, who observed the Stateside research community, a little less shaken than their European comrades but still affected by MiFID II, were realising new forms of client value in new data-sets and the delivery of
them, perhaps with a data science twist. They confirmed that bulge-bracket banks too had embraced this transformation, in part because their buy-side clients were expecting them to have a holistic view of new data sources and methodologies. A parting comment
from the speaker was that the best thing the London-based Research audience could do was to attend an alternative data event. "They offer opportunities for you to find new niches, build new differentiating expertise."
Amidst this backdrop, three additional recommendations.
First, whatever your background there is scope to look beyond MiFID II, to innovate with new data-sets and build good research from them.
Second, work together – Researcher, Quant/Data Scientist and Alternative Data specialist. We're all serving the same objectives, albeit from different starting points and with different skills – storytelling, data analytics and data supply.
Third, whatever your background, explore the fascinating universe of alternative datasets, for example image-derived data. It offers both a novel form of information and an opportunity for domain expert researchers to offer interesting new research angles.
There are plenty of helpful guides to getting started, and companies with the ability to help match need to availability.