IMP Hosts Industry Roundtable on Data Standardization for Investments

On October 8, 2014 IMP Consulting was pleased to host a roundtable featuring Frank Fitzgerald, the Chief Technology Officer of O’Shaughnessy Asset Management. Frank made a compelling case for a burgeoning initiative to standardize financial objects. Those data which drive the various systems on the Buy Side, including portfolios, accounts, models and securities, are the focal point of these efforts.

A self-proclaimed history buff, Frank began by drawing parallels to past examples of incongruent transport systems in the U.S. Starting with the ‘vast array’ of railroad track gauges in the nineteenth century, through the industry-wide conversion to standard sized shipping containers in the 1960s, and culminating in the dated File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Frank drove home the reality that our industry’s cargo is data. The absence of common standards for handing off data amongst firms, processes, and programs creates manual labor intensive and redundant work, which taxes the resources of professionals better deployed on other more profitable endeavors.

Frank went on to outline his vision for development of a toolset for finance, centered on object development, and supported by Application Programmer Interfaces (APIs) and common financial data functions, some of which is already underway. He espoused the view that a set of financial objects not only facilitates the movement of data but also ensures that it is accurately interpreted at the destination. As opposed to a protocol such as FIX, an object defines which characteristics need to exist and where originate, as well as the associated processes to use these data. Frank refers to these as the ‘nouns’ and the ‘verbs’ respectively.

There are a litany of benefits to moving in this direction, according to Frank, including faster development, reduced training overhead, and minimizing wheel reinvention by defining the family tree of object attributes. His term for this is ‘true data’ – controlling the flow, validating the quality, and tracing to the source. The next step toward adoption is to frame the initial data standards for agreement among the asset management community, whom he feels should drive the initiative. Frank’s next stop is the Boston TSAM conference on November 20, at which he’ll run a full Financial Programming track. Like the many railroad gauges of the 1880s, different firms will have the opportunity to meet and discuss improving the essential communications with one another.