Putting the IBOR hype to the test

  The Truth is Out There

The Truth is Out There

In my last post, I laid out a data, ability, and asset class framework that helps investment managers understand their level of IBOR requirements. In this post I’ll examine categories of IBOR solutions and their applicability.

What options are out there?

  • In-house IBOR – fit for purpose, typically organically grown, rarely referred to as an IBOR.
  • Vendor solution based on accounting system – Currently has the most market share in IBOR. We’ll examine them without naming them, but you’ll know. :)
  • Vendor solution based on OMS – Every OMS vendor claims to have an IBOR. We’ll look at the leading vendor in big, customized deployments. Again, I will not name names but they are “in charge” like Scott Baio and they would love to make you one of their tributaries.

 

In-house IBOR:

Consultants might not have noticed (despite their deep industry knowledge) that every reasonably sized investment manager has/had an IBOR and uses it for investment decisions every day.

I was first assigned the task of building one over a decade ago for a diverse multi-strategy fund and have built several since. At the time, I was not an expert on the topic but I had a few things going for me:

  • My firm’s front-office and back-office teams worked very closely together. There were no silos and no turf wars.
  • There was a common technology platform: the front and back office leveraged the same data, valuation models, and other functions.
  • My boss understood the domain and problem better than anyone I have ever encountered (or ever will). He devised ingenious solutions to eliminate data consistency and accuracy problems (especially for swaps).

Our design leveraged the strengths of existing components:

  • The leading vendor Portfolio Accounting system -- By utilizing its bi-temporal views and a bit of query language magic, we were able to get exactly the data we needed at an acceptable frequency for front-office needs. This data was reasonably accurate as the accounting and middle-office functions needed it to be correct, so we were able to free-ride on the back-office data quality to serve front-office needs.
  • Valuation – We used a firm-wide valuation model library to calculate investment returns and risk metrics.
  • Visualizations – We reused the visualizations from our bespoke Portfolio Management System.
  • Current Day's Trading Activity – We utilized real-time interfaces to our Order Management Systems.

It is hard to generalize the in-house solutions (as they are custom by definition) but we have seen a few consistent traits in the many such solutions I have encountered:

  • Typically very functional, handle a lot of deep corner cases well. Each solution will invariably be narrow (to reflect the investment style and asset class mix of the firm).
  • Usually built without regard to the boundary between front and back office. Hence it doesn’t work when the back office is outsourced.
  • Organically grown: very rarely do we see firms take a step back and build completely new position management systems. This eventually leads to high maintenance costs and operational issues.

There are also cases of In-House IBORs where Portfolio Managers (PMs) have cobbled a solution using Excel. In these instances, PMs create their own front-office data "island" that doesn’t reflect the actual back-office positions (ABOR), causing issues with accuracy that can result in wasted time and sub-optimal trading decisions.

In-house IBOR Strengths:

Usual benefits of custom software – Can perform very specific functions catered to the authoring firm’s business.

In-house IBOR Weaknesses:

Usual problems with custom software – Expensive to build and maintain. Organic growth stretches the architecture beyond its original mandate, making it difficult to pivot to new investment styles and operating models (e.g. outsourcing Back Office).

Bottom line:

Sadly, this is currently the only game in town if you fall into the intermediate or advanced use-cases or have medium to high complexity asset classes (these categories are outlined in my part 1 blog post). Shameless plug trigger warning: My company, Adroit Trading Technologies, aims to provide the first vendor platform capable of delivering IBOR for investment managers at the high end of the complexity spectrum.

 

Vendor IBOR based on Accounting System

The particular accounting system vendor we reference does not have a front-office offering aside from a simplistic trade capture solution for Europe. They do have robust functionality in the middle and back-office space. We’ll examine it as if a fund were to use it as a standalone IBOR (i.e. assuming you didn't already have their accounting system) and also as an extension of the accounting system. 

How it works:
You integrate it with trading system(s) and feed it:

  • Trades or post trade allocations that you send to back-office like a ‘drop copy’

  • New Securities
  • Market data, valuation, corporate actions (unless you already use their accounting system)

Accounting Vendor IBOR graded by…

Data Sets:

Strengths

Weaknesses

Positions
Pretty accurate, handles corporate actions. Has historic positions. Positions cannot be assigned a custom hierarchy or managed at the sub-tax-lot-level. Position updates occur in batches, not real-time.
Valuations
NAV is fairly accurate. No risk measures.
Attribution
Attributed by static security terms (region, etc.) No factor based or granular attribution.
Cashflows
Cash ladder works. No swap, margin, or cash buffer support.

Abilities:

Strengths

Weaknesses

Visualization
Fairly good. HTML5. Can extract data for analysis. No dynamic calculation, pattern discovery.
Front-office Interface
Very little to write home about :) Lots of integration and maintenance work as mentioned above. Can not handle global trading (as described in last post).
Back-office Interface
Fairly good if you use their accounting system. A huge problem if you have another accounting system or have outsourced back-office. No way to reconcile this IBOR with back-office.

Security Types:

Strengths

Weaknesses

Listed
Works well for Equities. Issues in settlement (cash vs physical) for Futures and Options.
OTC
Can handle FX and basic bonds well. Very spotty functionality for Repos, Syndicated Loans, Converts, and ABS/MBS.
OTC Swaps, Structured
TRS, CFD mostly works. IR Swaps, Variance/Correlation swaps, CLO/CDO/CMO not supported.

Bottom line:

Accounting vendor IBOR solutions are worth considering if you haven’t already outsourced your back office, you already utilize their accounting platform, your data & ability needs are basic, and you can augment their IBOR solution with some custom development.

 

Vendor IBOR based on OMS:

This OMS we have in mind offers the ability to make customizations; hence, it is popular with bigger asset managers and hedge funds.

How it works:

You load positions and NAV at the start of trading day. Intraday trades are added to the held positions and you have your IBOR.

Data Sets:

Strengths

Weaknesses

Positions
Near real-time position updates for simple asset classes.
  • Not a position management system, falls painfully short if you attempt to use it in this way.
  • Cannot support historic positions (doesn't even have a field for position date).
  • Does not handle corporate actions. Relies solely on external update of positions.
  • Position cannot be at a custom hierarchy or sub-lot level.
Valuation
Simple exchange published prices supported. No risk measures. Cannot even value many types of bonds. No swap valuation.
Attribution
Attributed by static security terms (region, etc.) No time based attribution (as it doesn't maintain history), no attribution breakdown for FX or dividends (vs price movements). No factor based or granular attribution.
Cashflows
Very simple cash ladder works. No swap, margin, or cash buffer support. Settlement proceeds not calculated correctly.

Abilities:

Strengths

Weaknesses

Visualization
Just ok. The PDF reports with charts in them are a poor excuse for visualization. No dynamic calculation, pattern discovery.
Front-office Interface
Fairly good as OMS automatically feeds intraday trades. Integrating with internal reference data is hard but doable. Cannot handle global trading (as described in last post).
Back-office Interface
OK interfaces to export allocations to standard accounting systems. No way to reconcile this IBOR with back-office.

Security Types:

Strengths

Weaknesses

Listed
Works ok for Equities. Issues in settlement (cash vs physical) for Futures and Options. Equity corporate actions not handled.
OTC
Can handle FX and basic bonds well. Very spotty functionality for Repos, Syndicated Loans, Converts, and ABS/MBS.
OTC Swaps, Structured
Not much to report. IR Swaps, Variance/Correlation swaps, CLO/CDO/CMO don't work in practice.

Bottom line:

OMS Vendor IBOR solutions provide a narrow set of IBOR capabilities for a limited set of asset classes, netting very limited value for sophisticated investment managers.

 

In conclusion:

Front-Office and Back-Office vendors have each tried to stretch their platforms to bridge the chasm separating their worlds and capture the market for IBOR solutions. However, it's hard to retrofit a FO system to handle BO data, accuracy, and update cycles; and, similarly it's hard to retrofit a BO system to handle FO needs.

For investment managers on the medium to high end of the investment complexity spectrum, you need an IBOR solution that has been constructed from the ground up that considers the requirements of both FO and BO realms and keeps them in sync. For a refreshing new approach take a look at Adroit’s offering.