How does a typical day look for you with your responsibilities for trading in Europe, Asia including Australia within the US originated firm AllianceBernstein (“AB”)? Which are your key priorities?
I am Sydney-based Global Co-Head of Equity Trading for AllianceBernstein (AB), with my co-head, Frank Loughlin, who is based in New York. My direct responsibility area is everything outside of the US however we run the trading desk as a truly global platform. My working day starts and ends with talking to Frank. We cover technology, risk and compliance together globally in addition to our distinct geographical responsibility areas. We look after everything from oversight, risk, electronic trading, liaising with our quant team in New York to organising our electronic trading objectives and our traders. We have a huge amount of interaction with our investment team when they are either looking into trading into Asia or Europe and want expertise within these markets. From a day to day perspective I often trade in addition to my management and oversight duties.
It is very important to me that I work well with my co-head so we can manage the global business across all time zones. Like any relationship we work hard at having a constructive partnership that is centred on honesty, respect, collaboration and some fun.
The co-head structure means AB has oversight available from 7pm New York time on a Sunday through to Friday night. We split the coverage throughout this long timeframe which works well for both us, the firm and the firm’s clients.
I have been with AB for 18 years and have a flexible schedule in as much as you can as a trader. Some days of the week I can take my children to school before I go to the office and I work until the end of the Hong Kong working day. Thereafter I go home for family time and later in the evening I will work from home or attend conference calls. I adjust my day according to business needs and I have enough flexibility due to a great support network at home to be able to do this. The hours are long but that is, I think, part of what it is to work in finance.
Can you share your views on the recent approved launch by the UK and Chinese regulators on the London-Shanghai Stock Connect scheme?
We support the introduction of any mechanism that increases access to China. We have had a long history of trading in China with QFII, RQFII and of late with Stock Connect. Our commitment to China has increased over the last year with the establishment of an onshore China business in Shanghai.
What are the major developments in focus with the Asian capital markets today? Are Asian capitals or Australia gaining momentum in any particular areas? Are there any Asian markets scheduled to go through a major regulatory overhaul of securities trading?
China is the biggest focus in the Asian region for most investors. Head traders are spending a lot of time ensuring they are on top of the requirements and developments there. We do expect regulatory changes in China as this market adjusts to more international investment in its capital market.
As with all financial markets there will be some changes in Asia Pacific around the edges but we cannot see any major overhaul like what we had in EMEA with MIFID.
While each market in Asia has its own regulatory regime, we have noted a marked increase in regulators disclosing that they are discussing their positions on issues with each other, particularly in the more developed markets. While we do not expect any huge regulatory overhaul in any of the developed markets, on the scale of what we saw with MiFID II, we do think the regulators will continue to discuss different improvements that they feel are needed. Asian regulators benefit from being able to look at changes in other jurisdictions, watch the market impact of these regulations and then decide if they are right for their market.
Regulators in the region are no doubt considering MIFID-style best execution obligations and separation of research and execution and are reviewing the SEC decision relating to the fees charged by exchanges. We think that while in some instances they will wait to see if commercial pressures lead the industry to regulatory outcomes like those of Europe and the US; if this doesn’t happen, however, they will be ready to regulate certain areas. Best execution would be a good example of an area where regulators have high expectations.
There are areas where Asia is ahead of other markets. For example, the Hong Kong electronic trading rules. While it was a heavy lift for the industry in the initial set-up, now we see parts of these regulatory requirements as best practice. The HK regulations make sure when a trader has access to an algorithm, that they understand how it works, that it has been tested, that you have the controls in place should something go wrong. This encourages the buy side and sell side to take accountability for their interaction in the market.
Post MiFID II we have not seen any major changes in European liquidity opportunities or major changes in the cost of trading. There are currently some concerns around the share trading obligation for Switzerland and like most firms we are waiting for more clarity. We are also prepared for various Brexit scenarios.
How do you see your trading desk delivering value in the investment process?
Our global trading desk is integral to the investment process and we are a part of the investment teams. We take part in the investment discussions and are often part of discussions with Portfolio Managers or Analysts when they are considering new opportunities for their portfolio.
When we are accessing the markets, we add value with our technology and quantitative skills, in how we systematically trade orders, in consistently measuring the value added to client portfolios and reviewing our decisions based on this output, and by having a talented and diverse global trading team.
The brokers have historically played an important role in helping the buy side with trading intelligence in the very diverse Asian markets. Is the increased level of algo trading with diminishing profits for counterparties in USA and Europe impacting relationships in Asia?
We don’t see the challenges of trading in Asia any differently than we do with US or European trading. There are obviously no uniform regulations or market structures in Asia but that’s no reason, in our view, for us not to apply in APAC the same philosophies we apply elsewhere about achieving the best outcome for clients. We have a global approach to trading and how to achieve the best outcomes for our clients. That is one of the benefits of our co-head structure. Our views around the use of systematic and algorithmic trading, what makes a superior execution provider and our expectation from our broker partners are the same regardless of whether it is our trading desk at AB in London, Sydney, New York or Hong Kong.
K&KGC have seen that only 10% of our +900 buy-side trader contacts are women and a large proportion of these are based in Asia. Do you feel that some Asian workplaces have cracked the secret to building more diverse work places and what can investment firms and the industry do globally to achieve a better gender balance?
Firstly, one cannot generalise it applies to all of Asia but there are some certain places in Asia, like in Hong Kong, where we do tend to find more females in the industry. Some of this we think is cultural, with some cultures offering good support networks through family or affordable childcare.
Since becoming Co-heads of Equity Trading we have had some good success with hiring diverse candidates and have made active choices to support diversity. Some have been successful and others have not. Despite setbacks we will continue to seek diversity for our team as we see this as contributing to better client outcomes.
At AB diversity is something we actively pursue. We have had good success with supporting new mothers and fathers and the firm has demonstrated this on numerous occasions. I am a good example of this. I am often asked “do you think having children held back your career?”. People seemed surprised to hear that I was offered a promotion while on maternity leave with our second child, and another promotion when I was on leave after having our third. I wasn’t even present in the office and was being recognised for hard work and outcomes with promotions.
In addition to managers supporting diversity, this is also done at a firm level. Along with our Australian CEO, Jen Driscoll, I co-sponsor AB’s APAC employee resource group (“Synergy”) that supports the professional development of AB employees, with a focus on women. We arrange various events throughout the year that are open to all employees, with a focus on the development of women and an inclusive forum to raise and discuss challenges facing employees. This is just one of many resource groups available to AB employees.
Do you have any examples of how diversity impacts the global team effort and performance?
I find when people think about diversity they are often thinking about gender diversity. For us it is not specifically about gender diversity. What we are looking for is “diversity of thought”. This can be achieved with team members from different backgrounds, life experiences, employment history, education or gender. With a focus on diversity of thought, we find that people within the global trading team bring different experiences to the table when you are in discussions or trying to solve an issue. In our global trading team we have a very good mix in diversity of thought and a very collaborative team so definitely see the benefits in our decision making, how we implement various trading ideas and approach our clients’ issues or requests.
Who is Emma Quinn outside of the workplace? How do you manage work life balance and do you have any hobbies?
I am a mum to three children; a 13-year-old, a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old. My marriage is very important to me and I have been married for almost 20 years. This is a true partnership and his support, especially around meeting the needs of our children, form an important part of my support network. My sister and I are very fortunate to have an amazing mother who keeps our families on track and the three of us are very close.
I live in Sydney so a lot of our lifestyle is around the outdoors- beaches, walks, biking. I also spend a lot of time reading. I am very passionate about football with a strong interest in supporting women’s football so you often find me yelling on the side of a football pitch.
I don’t believe that it is possible to completely balance work and home commitments. I do my best to manage my time and am very conscious about the choices I make around where and how I spend it both at work and at home. While being tied to exchange hours does not allow for as much flexibility in my hours as other roles in asset management I have found that by being flexible and having a supportive employer and home support system it can work.
Emma with her global co-head, Frank Loughlin
Emma with her global co-head, Frank Loughlin