Tech Spending Remains Soft

Terry Flanagan

For firms that provide software and technology services to institutional traders and investors, demand remains weak and a rebound remains elusive.

There have been some indications that so-called fintech spending notched slightly higher since earlier this year, but evidence is anecdotal and any increase may just be a function of levels bumping along bottom. Market participants and observers say a true recovery will make itself clear, and the current market is not it.

“Firms are still really under the gun in terms of expenditures, head count and infrastructure,” said Matt Samelson, principal at Woodbine Associates. “There is still a lot of tightness and focus around spending intelligently and appropriately.”

In the area of trading infrastructure, Samelson said certain upgrades must be made to keep up with technological developments and regulatory advances, and such spending should not be mistaken for a broad improvement in underlying demand.

“People need to step up and make certain kinds of expenditures,” Samelson told Markets Media. “If you have an OMS (order management system) or EMS (execution management system) that is slowing things down, there comes a critical point where you need to turn that over. Those types of expenditures are still being made.”

Technology spending in the securities and investment-services sector will increase 5.6% this year, information-technology consultancy IDC projected in a March report. Capital markets firms will focus spending on new software and enterprise application upgrades; primary motivations behind the rise in spending include compliance with new regulations and controlling costs.

For technology providers such as Fidessa, SunGard, and IPC, the uptick in business is appreciated, but they’re still waiting for a broad-based increase based on improving economic and market conditions. “The environment is still tight,” Samelson said. “Things have been relatively flat…I wouldn’t say it’s appreciably greater or stronger versus what we’ve seen” over the past year or two, he added.

The regulatory push to move derivatives from trading over the counter trading to trading on exchanges and central clearing will drive some technology spending. “Where you get changes in market structure, you need changes in infrastructure and technology — not only the hardware, but programming and software around how these things work,” Samelson noted.

But ultimately the most important factor is how much money buy-side firms are managing, and how the market is doing. “If you get an increase in assets under management and an increase in returns, that generally corresponds to firms not only increasing head count, but opening their coffers a bit and making necessary technology-infrastructure changes,” Samelson said.


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