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July 31, 1999

The New Breed On theTechfest Block: The Super Trader': a Pro who Knows About Technology

By Peter Chapman

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  • The New Breed On theTechfest Block: The Super Trader': a Pro who Knows About Technology
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Aairam Thomas is the sort of sales trader who might make his colleagues and competitors blush.

When Thomas is not working with accounts for his desk at Dain Rauscher Wessels in Minneapolis, his attention is turned to technology. He is a sort of modern age trader with his eyes firmly on the latest technological breakthroughs, sorting the winners from the losers in equity trading.

Dain Rauscher has named him a vice president of technology. And just to show how serious the firm is about the title, it sent Thomas to New York this summer to train his eyes on one of the most popular annual techfests of them all: the Securities Industry Association's Technology Management Conference and Exhibit.

"Technology," Thomas said, "will decide who'll be around tomorrow. It will decide on the stronger competitor."

If one thing stood out for traders at this year's annual SIA Conference, held at New York's Hilton Hotel, it was the noti-

ceable presence of pros like Aairam Thomas who smoothly combine their expertise in technology and trading.

"Nowadays, it is important to have a few people from the desk who can stay abreast of technology," said Larry Elmore, head of listed trading at J.C. Bradford in Nashville. "I didn't attend this year's SIA conference but I did send two of my information technology (IT) people along to look at new trading and reporting systems."

Thomas said the conference "had everything I wanted. It covered both the macro and the micro issues including T+1." (T+1 is industry shorthand for a planned truncated U.S. settlement system - from three days after trade execution to one day after execution.)

The Verdict

SIA member firms paid $850 to attend while non-members paid $1,700. The cost reflects prevailing rates for lesser-known and smaller technology conferences on Wall Street. So, relatively speaking, the conference was not overpriced. The SIA, meanwhile, made more money renting out booths, starting at $3,100 for an 8' x 10' unit, up from $300 last year.

The cost of the conference notwithstanding, was the three-day summer techfest really worthwhile, as far as the trading and tech pros are concerned? Certainly there were some missed opportunities.

Connie Kreutzer, a trading supervisor at Chicago's Driehaus Securities originally planned to attend but cancelled in the end. The firm is busy looking for an order management system, in part to help it comply with the Order Audit Trail System mandated by regulators. "No one [at the conference] was showing anything that could have helped us," Kreutzer said.

Chandler Paris, a trading technology pro at San Francisco's Bank of America Securities, also chose not to attend. "I've been going for many years, but there is never anything really new," he said. "The focus is mainly on the buyside."

The SIA says the conference attracted a record 8,000 attendees and 300 exhibitors, up from 7,000 and 200 respectively in 1998. Pros with hands-on responsibilities on the trading desk were among some of the new faces, as technology becomes more important.