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Tim Quast
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We're All HFTs Now

In this guest commentary, author Tim Quast looks back at the history of HFT and how the market has evolved to where many firms now fit the definition of high-frequency trader.

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November 13, 2007

Traders Dig Deep and Reach Out

By Hillary Jackson

Sure, traders can sometimes be loud-even pushy and impatient. Working in a competitive environment at breakneck speed will do that. But despite the quest to make money in a tough business, there's a softer side to traders and trading. It's easy to forget the many traders who devote countless hours to raising money for philanthropic activity.

Count brokerage firms in that mix, as well. Empire Financial Group, Jefferies & Co., and Instinet are but three examples of firms setting aside their trading revenues for a day and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to their stated causes.

For Gerry Mastrianni, director of trading at Empire Financial Group, the one-day charitable event sponsored by the Orlando-based broker each December is personal. Mastrianni, 40, is a two-time survivor of Hodgkin's disease, which first struck him in 1997 and then recurred in 2002, leading to a successful bone marrow transplant. Now cancer-free, Mastrianni insists that his focus is not on himself, but rather on the children he saw being treated for various cancers while going through his ordeal, and the other children who've been diagnosed since.

"When I was receiving my treatments, my wife and I would see these kids going through it-8- and 12-year-old kids. We wanted to give money to [Florida Hospital Cancer Institute's] pediatric oncology and bone marrow units," Mastrianni said. "When kids progress that far, there's very little hope."

Running his own firm, GMST World Markets Inc., at the time of his last battle with cancer, Mastrianni decided to launch a trading day dedicated to raising money for the Florida Hospital treatment units. After GMST was acquired by Empire a year later, the tradition continued and the money raised annually has increased. Last year, Empire donated $250,000 to the hospital. And on this year's trading day on Dec. 13, Mastrianni hopes to double that amount. "Every dollar we make trading goes to that fund...It's not about me; it's about these kids," he said.

Empire's Trading for a Cure day will take place two months after Jefferies & Co. raised $750,000 for Youth I.N.C., a charity that funds programs for New York City kids. Jefferies has run one-off charitable trading days in the past for event-related causes such as the victims of Sept. 11, 2001, the 2004 tsunami in Asia, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Its Trading Day on Oct. 15 has become an annual event for the New York firm, but commissions only go toward the charity if clients direct them there.

And earlier this year, Instinet celebrated the 20th anniversary of its LDX crossing system-the industry's first-by donating all of the commissions generated from LDX during the first full trading week of the year to Wings Over Wall Street, an organization that funds research for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Instinet donated $110,000, slightly more than the amount of commissions typically generated during that week by its end-of-day crossing system, according to Mark Dowd, vice president of corporate communications at Instinet.

"We were familiar with the work that [Wings Over Wall Street] has done and we're always very impressed with its accomplishments," Dowd said, explaining why the firm selected the charity. "We publicized this to our clients: the more you trade with us, the more we're going to donate. We knew clients were very familiar with Wings Over Wall Street."

These three firms are a small example of Wall Street's charitable side, which those involved with say is about feeling good and giving back. Jeff Kaplan, head trader at Deerfield Partners agrees. "There's something extremely powerful about partnering and connecting with others on the Street to make the world a better place," said Kaplan, who also runs a charity-called GOAL-that helps New York inner-city kids. In fact, as the business of trading has gone more electronic and seen increased regulatory scrutiny, charity events have become the glue that keeps traders in touch. "It's great to see old friends," Kaplan said, "and to contribute to a cause at the same time."