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Goldman’s ex-head of e-trading explains the appeal of algo shops

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Alastair Hawker always wanted to be a professional skier, but instead he landed at Goldman Sachs before jumping to Quantitative Brokers.

Alastair Hawker cut his teeth at Goldman Sachs. He joined the firm in London in 2002 after graduating from the UK’s University of Birmingham and spent 12 years with the firm, rising to become the head of futures electronic trading at Goldman in New York. It was the sort of position other electronic trading professionals would give their eye teeth for, but in June 2015, Hawker quit. Today he works for Quantitative Brokers, a US agency-only brokerage house that provides execution algorithms to clients – most of which are large investment firms.

So, what’s the appeal? Partly, it’s the chance to get in on a “growth story” early on. It’s also the chance to get closer to the coding coalface.  “In some ways, I feel like I am now closer to my roots as I am at the cutting edge of algorithmic engineering, though obviously responsible for selling it, not building it,” Hawker says.

He adds that the kind of transaction cost analysis (TCA) that Quantitative Brokers provides its client is poised for “tremendous growth” and independent firms are well placed to benefit from this. “What we are doing will drive comprehensive assessments of different execution options across the industry, identifying where trading costs can be lowered, and perhaps we’ll move into other financial sectors in the future as well.”

Hawker has a mandate to build Quantitative Brokers up and the business is hiring. Its most recent recruit is Guy Cirillo, the former global head of business development at Credit Suisse, reporting to Hawker. In addition, the firm hired Michael Shanahan, previously a Goldman VP and most recently the Americas lead of the prime services execution real-time bidding (RTB) team at Barclays, as the algorithm execution desk support lead. He says he’s also hiring senior quantitative researchers, engineers, computer scientists, developers, in particular C++ programmers, and IT specialists, as well as people for sales and support roles. Data and coding skills are highly desired, as are archetypal “team players.”

Does he miss Goldman Sachs? Hawker says the move from London to New York after the financial crisis was harder than expected: “Goldman Sachs in New York is bigger than in London, as are most firms, so generally the energy and buzz is different. And of course, the industry as a whole had moved into a new post-crisis era: more politics, less camaraderie and humor.”

Quantitative Brokers is small, with fewer than 30 employees, according to LinkedIn. The implication is that camaraderie and good humor are both on offer there. Hawker might want to include that in his pitch to his ex-Goldman colleagues.

Photo credit: thinair28/GettyImages

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