Cognitive diversity is needed for technology companies to successfully navigate the substantial changes within trading desks at financial services firms.

Experiencing diverse perspectives

I joined Itiviti in June 2019, bringing to this new role significant experience during my career in seeing challenges from a variety of different perspectives. The first part of my career was in financial services, where I held senior leadership positions at UBS, Citi and Morgan Stanley. During the more than two decades I spent in the City, I worked with every asset class across the entire trade lifecycle, and held roles in trading, operations, technology and product management.

I joined Itiviti from Bloomberg, where I was responsible for defining and implementing the strategy of their sell-side equity OMS/EMS, and Tradebook Futures solutions. My move to Bloomberg happened after I ran a vendor review for a trading platform, and I realized that there was an opportunity to make a real difference to the industry. By going to the vendor side, there was an ability to be innovative, to do something different, to provide what was needed, but also to be able to do it in a different way.

Rethinking competitive advantage

Financial services firms are changing the way they think about their trading technology. At one time, firms considered their trading platforms to be a source of competitive advantage, and they would hire internal IT teams to create them.

Today, financial services firms are shifting their view on what drives competitive advantage in trading. There is a new understanding that trading workflow requirements really are the same across firms. Best practice approaches are also consolidating in areas such as how data should be displayed to traders, and ways in which to make traders – an expensive resource – more efficient in their activities.

Instead, to gain competitive advantage, financial firms are looking at other areas of trading, such as the algorithms and the analytics they use. Trading desks are investing in data scientists, and the new generation of traders are quants or technologists.

There are other seismic changes too. Regulations like the MiFID II require extensive trade and transaction reporting across asset classes. The data capture need for firms is quite heavy. It’s actually much easier for firms if the data capture is done in a uniform way by a vendor. That’s why we are seeing an increased demand for our multi-asset trading platform to provide greater flexibility - firms want to be able to ensure that their regulatory requirements are covered in a cost-effective manner.

Answering with cognitive diversity

Responding to this rapidly changing trading landscape requires the ability to explore a challenge from a variety of perspectives. As a result, an essential ingredient to creating trading technology platforms is diversity. Most companies have a proactive approach to ensuring diversity in gender or ethnicity in their hiring and promotions process.

To ensure this is possible there also needs to be a focus on ensuring all groups are represented to ensure a wide candidate pool at every level.  For example, I am a passionate advocate for STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) initiatives introducing coding to girls early on in school and supported in other ways educationally for careers in technology. I would also like to see more return to work schemes that encourage women taking a break to raise children to return so invaluable experience and unique skill sets are not lost. I have often pointed out that negotiating with a toddler to get him to put his socks and shoes on to go out is incredibly tough. Patience and negotiation are transferable skills. I have often found it very useful when dealing with high pressure, difficult scenarios on the trading floor, especially when dealing with traders who have been known to throw a tantrum or two.

However, does this really result in a diversity of thinking or just a diversity of looks. As you climb the ranks you will also notice a dearth of introverted men. Cognitive diversity moves away from the traditional diversity movement and focuses more on a diversity of thinking, in my opinion this is where you get the most success. 

Making diversity a reality

My own background in both financial services and technology has helped me think about the importance of cognitive diversity in other ways, too. For example, one of the first things I did on joining Itiviti was to hire more market expertise. There was a really strong team here, but improving cognitive diversity meant sprinkling market expertise in and around the different areas. Itiviti has brought in different people from different backgrounds and different places. When you pull it all together, it creates something quite special.

Cognitive diversity is so important. I’m very conscious of making sure that I have people around me who think differently to me. I think it stretches me more, and it also means that I learn a different way of thinking. When you have a team of people who are thinking differently, you get better results because they’re coming at it from different angles. My job as a leader is to make sure everybody sees the value in what everyone else is doing – this is incredibly rewarding if you get it right.

Opening out cognitive diversity

Cognitive diversity guides me in other ways too, such as in our approach to partnering. Sometimes, technology companies will find themselves in a space they don’t know front-to-back, and so while they will potentially provide what the client asks, they won’t create the best solution for the market. Partnership programmes mean that we, at Itiviti, don’t do something ourselves when it doesn’t make sense to. Instead, we work with a technology company that is an expert in that particular space.

For example, at the end of January 2020, Itiviti announced a new partnership with Imandra, a technology company focussed on cloud-scale automated reasoning, which pioneered scalable symbolic AI for financial algorithms. Imandra’s technology is being applied to improving the onboarding process for Itiviti clients to Itiviti’s Managed FIX global connectivity platform. Further plans are being developed to expand these AI capabilities across a number of Itiviti’s software solutions and services. 

It’s really exciting to work with people who are so passionate about their area. I’m passionate about sales and trading. I don’t know cloud-scale automated reasoning end-to-end. But I’m working with people who live, sleep and breathe it. Many small Fintech companies have great technology, energy, and passion. And in the end, by working with them, we can provide a better end-to-end solution for our clients.

Linda Middleditch

Written by

Linda Middleditch

EVP, Head of Product Strategy and Engineering, Itiviti Group

Linda is the Chief of Product Strategy and Engineering of Itiviti. She joined Itiviti in 2019 and she is responsible for defining and executing the product vision and strategy.
Prior to joining Itiviti, Linda held different executive positions at Bloomberg LP, where she was responsible for defining and implementing the strategy of their sell-side equity O/EMS and Tradebook Futures solutions.

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