High Demand for Conference on High-Frequency Trading

The Modeling High Frequency Data in Finance Conference that Stevens hosts each year isn’t the only event of its kind. But it has grown to be among the three largest in the country.

That’s what one high-profile visitor told Dr. Ionut Florescu, of the School of Systems and Enterprises, at the conclusion of the most recent conference, held at the Hoboken campus between Oct. 24 and 26.

Florescu, a research associate professor in financial engineering and the director of the Hanlon Financial Systems Lab, said a representative from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics told him the conference was a can’t-miss event for those in mathematical finance. And while that’s impressive, Florescu, the main organizer of the event, doesn’t want the focus to be too narrow as it goes forward.

That’s pushed him to rename the conference to Modeling High Frequency and Other Areas in Quantitative Finance as he begins writing the proposal for next year’s event.

“It makes sense to make it more mainstream,” Florescu said.

The event focused on sharing the latest research and applications of models for data sampled with HFT, or high-frequency trading — the kind of work that’s of keen interest to Wall Streeters tracking the ways technology is influencing their trade. HFT uses sophisticated, high-tech tools and systems, as well as computer algorithms, to trade securities in just seconds. Studies suggest HFT firms account for roughly half of U.S. equity trading volume.

That’s at least part of the reason that industry has been a growing portion of the audience, Florescu said, as is government.

Explore the Hanlon Financial Systems Lab at Stevens

“In the last two years, we increased the participation of the government,” he said. “We had very few people from government before; now, we have a lot of speakers coming from the government, which is great.” Even better, he said, is that the three branches that regulate the industry — the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation — each were represented in the past two years.

Keen interest from private sector

The dean of the Howe School, Gregory Prastacos, said the rapid changes technology has brought to the finance industry make this an area of key interest to the private sector.

“Both from a regulatory and a technology perspective, finance is in a state of continual evolution,” Prastacos said. “This conference is one of the few places where executives can get insight not only into how the government thinks about their industry, but also hear from some of the sharpest researchers at Stevens and elsewhere as to what innovations may be around the corner.”

And while he wants to tweak the title of his conference, Florescu said he knows this remains a topical area.

“Everyone wants to know how HFT affects the market — and whether or not, depending on what the answer is, we should ban HFT or not. The problem is, no one knows how to answer this.”

The event is getting a reputation for honestly addressing those questions, and it’s reflected on the university’s reputation.

“What is different this year is I’ve had numerous people coming up to me, saying, ‘This conference definitely puts Stevens on the map,’ ” Florescu said. “People in our area now know where Stevens is because of this conference.”

Florescu has been running the conference for five years now, and when he gives his welcoming address next year, it will be in July. The most recent conference was the first to be held in the fall, and he had trouble coordinating the event with the campus full, and meeting rooms and dorms unavailable to visiting guests.

And while the conference still brought in more than 200 people, a summer date — with the new name and broader focus — will be even more successful, he said.

“This particular conference was very select from the very beginning, very distinguished speakers,” he said. “That’s never going to change.”

Career advice

HFT continues to be a growth area on Wall Street and beyond. A Stevens degree in quantitative finance is a good start, and an education in the Howe School will offer you other advantages when seeking your first job.

Entrepreneurial thinking. Many HFT firms are small. A hiring manager will want to know what you can bring to the table that the company doesn’t have. Being able to think critically about solving problems will be an asset.

Exchange experience. Knowing how the trading exchanges work, possibly through an internship in Manhattan, will give you an edge and plenty to discuss in an interview.

Technical expertise. This is where spending time in the Hanlon lab will help. Being well-versed in using top-of-the-line software to run simulations and assess risk will help you stand out.

To learn more about how a Stevens education can prepare you for this dynamic field, visit the Financial Systems Center online at www.stevens.edu/fsc.