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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Real-Time Risk and Surveillance

Posted by Giles Nelson

Last week we heard of Société Générale and its $7B loss. Earlier this week, we at Progress announced that Turquoise, the European Multilateral Trading Facility (MTF), had selected Apama to support its market surveillance and anti-fraud operations (see the previous blog entry for more information on Turquoise). Following our Turquoise announcement therefore, a common question addressed to us has been: "how can technology, and more specifically Apama, be used for risk management and could it have prevented the SocGen loss?"

Specifically on SocGen, considering that the fraud was committed over an extended period of time and by someone well versed in the way that the bank's systems and processes operated, technology by itself certainly couldn't have prevented it. However fraud detection (as our Financial Services Authority and Turquoise customers show) and risk management is a key area where financial organisations have been investing in technology.

Trading and financial markets have accelerated substantially over the last few years. Take the New York Stock Exchange. Between 2001 and 2006 (the last year figures were available), the total number of transactions increased by nearly 400%. Such a change is happening elsewhere in the world. The total number of transactions on the London Stock Exchange for the same period increased by nearly 300%. These increases have been caused both by the total volume of shares traded going up and also by the average size per trade going down. Electronic trading in other products has also increased very substantially - foreign exchange for example.

With markets moving more quickly there is an increased need for organisations to have up-to-date information on their positions and risk exposure. By knowing when limits are breached or when markets have moved unfavourably positions can be adjusted or closed down quickly before things get out of hand. "Up-to-date" often has to mean "real-time" and with the right infrastructure, analysis and reporting technology then real-time really is possible. In particular this is where CEP technology, such as Apama, comes in.

The best known use for Apama in capital markets is algorithmic trading. Algo trading has been a cause, and a response to, the market velocity increases that have occurred. Organisations that have deployed algo trading systems are finding that their use is putting pressure on the middle-office risk function to have a real-time view on trading activity. This has led to the adoption of exactly the same CEP technology to monitor and analyse this trading activity and report in real-time on the associated risk positions. Many of our customers are using Apama for this purpose.

It is this real-time capability of CEP that appeals to both the FSA and Turquoise. As, respectively, a regulator and operator of a market they feel the pressure that comes from the increased velocity of market activity. Conventional market surveillance techniques, where perhaps activity is examined end-of-day or end-of-week are no longer viable. In fact, being able to detect abusive and fraudulent behaviour on a market is of particular importance to ensure the running of a fair market. Often such behaviour takes the form of planned, systematic and repeated interventions which are intended to move the market itself. If you can only find out what occurred days after the event then the markets have already been manipulated and the damage done. By detecting it as early as possible the behaviour can be investigated and stopped.

Can CEP technology used in this way actually create problems? A comment on the FinancialTech Insider blog makes the suggestion that having a real-time view on risk may throw up false positives and thus create more problems. Certainly this is possible, but it should be remembered that technology should always be supportive of a human-centred risk process. Only in the simplest cases will a person not be involved. In the majority of cases further analysis will need to be done and context brought to bear in order to reach a decision about what to do. The value of the technology is to identify issues and potential issues as soon as possible in order for them to be managed in a timely fashion.

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