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August 31, 2004

STA Taps the Great White North

By Gregory Bresiger

Also in this article

  • STA Taps the Great White North

James Duncan, senior vice president and director of international trading at

Canaccord Capital in Toronto, is a lucky man.

He has spent almost a quarter of a century working in a business that he loves. Still, it was a business that he almost fell into accidentally. And, after years of developing a reputation for cross-border trading and building professional associations, he is about to make history.

"I'm not only the first Canadian to become chairman of the Security Traders Association. I'm the first non-American," according to the 44-year old Duncan, a proud bi-lingual Canadian who grew up west of the Rockies. And he adds it is inevitable that the international side of the STA will continue to grow.

The STA, a U.S. trade group with offices in New York City, has affiliates in Canada and Europe.

"I think there will be more and more non U.S.-born traders in the STA leadership. Our marketplace is becoming increasingly global and our ability to trade worldwide on a single platform is available now," Duncan says.

Duncan quips that there are many Canadians who also want to be part of the STA leadership. And "as soon as they get rid of me they will be moving up." He added that Canadians are joining STA committees.

Duncan is an unlikely leader of the trading industry. He took the indirect route toward the STA leadership. And his career has been a bit of a surprise. Indeed, his higher education offered not a hint that he would end up in the securities industry. He received a degree in English Literature from the University of Alberta in 1982.

Almost by accident, he fell into the trading business. Now, over 20 years later, he is a trading executive at a huge Canadian investment firm, Canaccord, which is about to go public. He manages the firm's Toronto cross-border operation, overseeing 11 traders. Canaccord has 35 people in cross-border trading, working out of Toronto and Vancouver.

Duncan lives in the Toronto suburbs of Cedar Valley with his wife Cheryl and five daughters. His hobbies include a fanatical love of Canada's national sport, ice hockey, golf, and running a charity softball tournament that benefits disabled children.

Same Problems

Are Canada's markets just an extension of America's huge markets? Canadians often complain that Americans do not recognize their uniqueness. Yet there are many similarities between professionals on both sides of the border.

Duncan, in a wide-ranging interview with Traders Magazine, agreed that Canadian traders have had many of the same problems as their colleagues in the States; that lower margins have made the business much more difficult and that alternative trading systems are also making huge inroads. He also said that, on the institutional side, "it [the Canadian market] works almost exactly the same."

Still, Duncan, a sunny, perpetually optimistic person, also noted that Canada's market structure, despite many similarities and some dependence on the America market, still has some marked differences. Canada's market is more centralized than in the United States.