Forget about oranges, baseball, and Spring Break. If it’s March in Florida, it can mean only one thing: financial derivatives!

OK, that might be a bit of an overstatement, but for many of the world’s top financial professionals, springtime coincides with one the industry’s most important gatherings: the FIA’s annual International Futures Industry conference in Boca Raton (a.k.a “Boca”).

This year marked the 41st occurrence of the event, attended by a record 1,100 professionals from 27 countries. My mission (spoiler alert: I chose to accept) was to be onsite to provide media relations support to a key client – one of the world’s largest technology companies serving the financial markets business. 

The conference is well attended by many of the top financial journalists with whom Aspectus maintains strong relationships. Reporter attendees this year included influential staffers from The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Bloomberg, Reuters and others.

The first few hours of the four-day conference were relatively slow, as attendees trickled in throughout the day. By afternoon, however, things kicked into full swing. FIA chief Walt Lukken delivered the opening address, followed by a lively panel discussion on the future of the derivatives industry. This initial conversation would set the tone for the rest of the event – focusing on how the one-two punch of automated trading and regulatory reform is changing the way derivatives are traded and markets are structured.

After the panel, I sat down with our client expert and a former editor of Futures magazine to discuss how the rise of trading algorithms in derivatives have created some new and unique pressures from regulators. Much like the FBI recently demanded special access from Apple to unlock one of its iPhones, regulators are similarly threatening to force firms to reveal the “secret recipe” behind their algorithmic technologies. Revealing the source code behind their algorithms is something that the industry is understandably hesitant to do. As a result, there is a lot of speculation going on about what the final compromise between firms and regulators will look like.

Amid a full schedule of networking and seminars, I caught up with plenty of other journalists and industry leaders. Another recurring theme focused on consolidation among financial exchanges. After LSE and Deutsche Borse announced their plans to merge, reporters from Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal were circling like the local seagulls – both for news on that deal and others that might have been brewing. Attendees were tight-lipped, but there was a definite sense that the current wave of consolidation is likely to continue in the months ahead as electronic trading drives fundamental changes to exchanges’ business model.

There were many speakers from outside of the industry. At the ICE Energy Breakfast, former US House Speaker John Boehner delivered an address on the future of the industry, while Condoleezza Rice—at the Optiver Power Lunch – shared insights on the global economic and political landscape, as well as lessons learned during her tenure as US Secretary of State. A fantastic event overall, and the industry eagerly looks ahead to the next FIA event, the International Derivatives Expo, in London in early June.  While the weather may be a bit colder, the hot topics from Boca will probably stay that way.

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