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November 13, 2007

Making Alliances Work

Clearers Help Clients to Find Better Vendor Solutions

By Gregory Bresiger

Among other things, clearing firms must be good intermediaries in arranging outside services for clients. Although ticket charges and services are still very important when deciding on a clearer today, there's an increasingly critical factor in the specialized clearing business: Even some of the 800-pound gorillas of clearing don't do it all, so they must farm out some services to vendors and third parties.

And that, says a veteran sellside order management system executive, is when the clearer-correspondent relationship either strengthens or crumbles. Bob Mahoney is managing director in charge of the institutional trading division for online brokerage thinkorswim. The firm offers front-end platforms for electronic trading of equities, options, futures and other financial products.

Mahoney, in directing thinkorswim's institutional division, oversees strategy for thinklink. That's its order management system, which, according to some estimates, has roughly 200 installations. The company won't comment on that. Mahoney also oversees thinkpipes, an execution system for the buyside and broker-dealers. He says clearers must be very careful where they send their correspondents.

Mahoney is the former chief executive officer of OMS Arrowhead, which was acquired by thinkorswim. He says vendor service can be a critical factor in whether a client remains with a clearer or goes elsewhere. He recently discussed these issues with Traders Magazine.

TM: What are institutional broker-dealers looking for today in a clearer? What criteria do they use in finding a new one or in evaluating a current one?

Mahoney: First and foremost, the clearer should have a tight relationship with vendors. This is true whether it is with a trading order management system like ours or a market data provider, such as Thomson or Reuters.

TM: What do you mean by "a tight relationship"?

Mahoney: The broker, using a clearer's recommended third party, won't be left out on a limb if there's a problem with a vendor. The broker wants to be able to go to the clearer and know the clearer has some power to make things happen with the vendor.

TM: So in evaluating a clearer, the broker wants to know not only what are the clearer's capabilities, but the quality of his alliances as well?

Mahoney: Yes. It's one thing for an institutional broker to go down to National Financial Services (NFS), for example, and say, "I know you don't have an institutional trading system. Who do you recommend? Who do you have?"

TM: But the clearer must go beyond that.

Mahoney: Yes, it's a bad thing for the clearer to say, "Here are 10 people on the list. Go call 10. Good luck."

TM: So the clearer's responsibility doesn't end with a vendor recommendation?

Mahoney: Correct. The clearer's main responsibility is to their client's needs. They should continue to do their due diligence on the vendor and survey their clients for their level of satisfaction.

TM: So what you're looking for in a clearer is someone who has quality vendor and third-party relationships with many firms, but who also knows which ones are the best?