Spot light on Paul Battams, Head of EMEA Equity Trading at BlackRock
Head of Trading Champion 2020
2020 has been a year of disruption – how has your desk coped with the pandemic? What key learnings can be made?
2020 was definitely a year of disruption and challenges but also opportunity. From a desk perspective it was a huge success. We had a robust BCP plan but as the pandemic escalated, we quickly had to pivot and issue Traders with kit to WFH. Within a couple of days each Trader had a PC, monitors, phones and enough ethernet cable to abseil down our building. The years of investment into developing and enhancing our platform really paid dividends. Traders were able to stay connected to markets and access liquidity throughout the entire period. We did not have to significantly change our execution channels or adopt new processes. It was as easy to execute from home as it was in the office, all be it with a heightened sense of vigilance and awareness.
So Technology was a real enabler, but it was the Traders themselves that made it such a success. The unwavering commitment to execution and our clients, the knowledge and experience along with the strength of relationships built over many years meant the desk excelled during some of the most volatile trading conditions ever.
Communication is key – both internally and externally. Traders are on the front line and their ability to disseminate information on market conditions and liquidity while using trader discretion in execution is crucial
Having a diverse and well-connected Team that really understand one another is essential and as a manager it was great to see everyone pulling together and really looking out for each other.
We recruited three new Traders during the pandemic and the process of onboarding and training remotely should not be underestimated – for the new joiners themselves or the colleagues that are helping to train them.
Which projects have you successfully worked on this year?
As Traders focussed on the huge increase in orders, market volatility and challenging liquidity conditions many projects and initiatives had to initially be de-prioritised. As conditions stabilised we were able to accomplish some significant milestones. These were focussed on further increasing platform efficiency and reducing operational risk. Initiatives like rules based order routing, one-click and auto-execution were broadened. Our alerting infrastructure for oversight and risk management was also expanded. Having Traders on the team with coding skills was invaluable in this regard. One project that couldn’t be delayed was preparing for Brexit. The months (and years) of planning and preparation resulted in a smooth transition with no impact on our ability to access liquidity.
How do you envisage the trading desk of the future post the pandemic?
The last year has been a real game changer with respect to working practices and work/life
balance. It’s effectively sped up some of the initiatives that the industry and BlackRock have been working towards.
Trading is the one function that was always considered not suitable for working from home but the last year has obviously proved otherwise. We will definitely take the positives out of the last year which will ultimately result in more flexibility going forward and I am optimistic about the future or buy-side trading. It will also be a huge positive in terms of retaining and attracting diverse talent.
What are your top tips to inspiring traders about how to reach to the top of their profession?
Stay open minded. Be inquisitive and don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Change is constant – so embrace it.
What top tips do you use to optimise your mental health? #buysidementalhealth campaign by the Buy-side Trading Community (BTC)
We all need to get comfortable talking about Mental Health and make it a part of everyday conversation.
Everyone has Mental Health in the same way that we all have Physical Health. It’s not something that some people have and others don’t. There is a spectrum where at one extreme you are healthy and well, at the other end you are in a crisis and really struggling and then there are various stages in between. Over time we all move up and down this spectrum. The important thing is that we all listen to our bodies and look out for signs for what might be affecting us – in just the same way that we do with Physical Health. If we have a physical injury, have over trained or are just tired – we think nothing of resting, talking about it to a friend or seeking medical advice etc. It needs to be the same approach with Mental Health. Be comfortable talking about it, look out for signs, seek help when we need to and look out for our friends and colleagues. For me it’s important that I allocate time to spending quality time with the family, exercising regularly, respecting work/life boundaries and switching off. Even small things like no meetings on a Friday afternoon, which BlackRock has implemented globally, are a great way for people to transition in to weekend mode. The afternoon is more relaxed, time can be spent on admin, cleaning up the inbox and catching up with colleagues more socially as opposed to barrelling into the weekend at 100mph at 6pm!
What has been your career path before your current role?
I studied engineering at university but was also intrigued by the City. After graduation I managed to get some work experience at LIFFE (London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange) as a clerk. I loved it. It was super exciting, a lot of fun and I got to wear a nice yellow jacket!! I managed to secure a permanent job working for some option traders, but within a year or so the open outcry activity began moving off the floor and started to trade electronically. I then moved to an operations role at Barclays Global Investors and after a couple of years secured a job on the trading desk. BGI was acquired by BlackRock back in 2009 so I’ve effectively been at the same firm for 21 years. I gained responsibility for managing the EMEA Equity desk back in 2016. It’s a busy desk executing equities and equity derivatives for passive and active strategies so there’s always something going on and every day is different. I’ve seen plenty of change over that period and it’s the people and culture that has kept me here so long.