27 October 2012

Dark Pools: OPS Risk of Rogue Algorithms...

When you begin to think about the potential Operational Risks we face everyday, they are so wide and so numerous that each organization has developed their own methods for Enterprise Risk Management.  Depending upon the industry you are in and the speed of your business will determine the subject matter expertise that is required to deter, detect, defend and document your particular operational risks.

This is business as usual in the Financial Services industry.  Yet what about those low probability and high consequence incidents that are looming over the horizon?  The "Black Swans" as they have been defined in the past few years.  What if these "Black Swans" were known to exist everyday and could be witnessed swimming around in what are known as "Dark Pools."  You know, the places where the "Algo Bots", Quants and those who win, are doing so at the speed of light.  In the milliseconds of time it takes, for one algorithm to buy and another to sell within the trading exchanges, we can only continue to pray that the mathematics does not go rogue:
A news-breaking account of the global stock market's subterranean battles, Dark Pools portrays the rise of the "bots"- artificially intelligent systems that execute trades in milliseconds and use the cover of darkness to out-maneuver the humans who've created them.
In the beginning was Josh Levine, an idealistic programming genius who dreamed of wresting control of the market from the big exchanges that, again and again, gave the giant institutions an advantage over the little guy. Levine created a computerized trading hub named Island where small traders swapped stocks, and over time his invention morphed into a global electronic stock market that sent trillions in capital through a vast jungle of fiber-optic cables.  
By then, the market that Levine had sought to fix had turned upside down, birthing secretive exchanges called dark pools and a new species of trading machines that could think, and that seemed, ominously, to be slipping the control of their human masters. 
Dark Pools is the fascinating story of how global markets have been hijacked by trading robots--many so self-directed that humans can't predict what they'll do next. 
Managing Operational Risk with the underground "Dark Pools" is a stretch.  No different than trying to understand something as easy as CDO's or a tranche of sub-prime mortgages from a zip code in Las Vegas all packed up in a Wall Street product you now recognize as a Mortgage-Backed Security (MBS):
Low quality mortgage-backed securities backed by subprime mortgages played a major role in the 2007–2012 global financial crisis. By 2012 the market for high quality mortgage-backed securities had recovered and was a profit center for banks in the United States.
High Frequency Trading (HFT) is not new.  It has been evolving for years.  The battle for speed, has even changed the way organizations think about buying their circuits for telecommunications and data communications, between these increasingly complex and sophisticated computing critical infrastructures.  Here is one example:

Ridgeland, MS - September 17, 2012 -Spread Networks, LLC, a privately owned telecommunications provider, today announced the deployment of 100G technology on Spread's industry leading Chicago to New York fiber backbone. Spread's new service offers customers access to 100 gigabits per second of optical bandwidth, unregenerated, on Spread's 14.6 millisecond round-trip best-latency-in-class Ultra Low Latency Chicago-New York Wavelength service.  Spread's flagship Ultra Low Latency Chicago-New York Dark Fiber service is now operational at a roundtrip latency of 12.98 milliseconds roundtrip, a 100 microsecond improvement from Spread's previous 13.1 millisecond offering.  The latency improvement over Spread's dark fiber, which is already implemented, is the result of continuous route improvements that Spread has undertaken since going live in August, 2010.  Spread's 12.98 millisecond dark fiber offering provides customers with unlimited bandwidth on a 99.999% available service at the lowest latencies achievable by fiber optic networks between these two financial centers.  For financial customers who value low-latency and reliability for their mission critical trading applications, there is no other comparable solution.
Most people at the SEC, Federal Reserve and the DOJ fully understand the need for business to do whatever it takes to create a competitive advantage.  What however still remains our "Single-Point-of-Failure" is the math.  The mathematics that make up the algorithms.  The zeros and ones of software code that tell the computers what to do and when to do it.  How many people really can understand it and explain it?

So how do you mitigate the potential risk of a rogue algorithm?  Some have devised a mechanism called a circuit-breaker.  In other words, an alarm that something is not normal.  Let's slow down until we can understand what is going on here.  What are some other ways that we could potentially address the threat or the vulnerability?  Was the "Flash Crash" a weak signal of a pending melt down of the complete system?
We are increasingly dependent on computers for all that we do, and the government won’t always be able to prevent their malfunctioning from causing serious problems. But the many glitches that have plagued financial markets in the past couple of years should serve as a sobering reminder that financial markets have evolved much more quickly in the past decade than regulators have.As Scott Patterson, author of Dark Poolsa book about high-frequency trading, said to Yahoo Finance Monday, “We have seen a massive revolution in how exchanges work. It’s been put in place extremely fast . . . the problem is that the race for profits at the exchanges and at the high-frequency firms has outpaced their ability to manage risk.”  Read more: http://business.time.com/2012/08/08/high-frequency-trading-wall-streets-doomsday-machine/#ixzz2AWeXPorn

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