Revenge of the Nerds

I’ve always been a bit of a data geek. I started working in the market data business 15 years ago, and I found the field to be really strange at first. It was a world that I never even realized existed until I really started to think through how quality information is so important in anything you do. The competitive advantage with market data then was more around human relationships and interaction and the data sourcing group was sitting in a basement closet next to Milton and his stapler.

But that has all changed. Now, data is king. Cool. BIG.

Everyone is on the data bandwagon, and why not? Data has taken on a role so integral, most people couldn’t have predicted it 15 years ago. Now, data—and the accompanying management, processing, consumption, and analytics—is the truly the lifeblood of any company.

A decade ago, everyone in financial services was talking about speed, and the most revered position after CEO was Chief Technology Officer or Chief Information Officer. People would have laughed if you handed them a business card with a Chief Data Scientist title. But in 2015, you’d be hard pressed to find a forward-thinking technology company that hasn’t expanded their data and analytics gurus over the past decade. What used to be a one- or two-person team housed in a back-office cube has morphed into a thriving, irreplaceable department.

And there’s still space for more. Why? Because data continues to expand and take on increasingly critical roles in our search for alpha. The number of data points that we have has grown exponentially – so much so that some firms have “data hunters” whose sole purpose is to find new unique content in the remotest of places and industries.

To be certain, the financial industry has always appreciated the importance of data. It’s critical for price discovery across asset classes, as well as important for surveillance, monitoring, and more. But even as recently as five or six years ago, some people weren’t sure that market data was worth the price, suggesting that it should be free of charge. But time has shown the extreme value of data – it has become indispensable. There are numerous and varied structured and unstructured data sets that give us the information we need in our search for alpha, not to mention new value-added analytics, and some that we can’t even conceive of yet.

And it’s not just in fintech. There’s so much crossover if you look at what technology companies such as Mint, Foursquare, Mastercard, Yodlee, Amazon, Google, Yahoo (to name a few) are able to do with the data they mine. They are only just beginning to tap into all of the possible analytics. Just to cite a recent example, McDonalds didn't deliver their strong Q3 results until October 22nd, yet Foursquare saw it coming several days earlier because they had been watching and analyzing foot traffic to the restaurants. And I believe that a data-driven insight such as this example is just the tip of the iceberg.

So, the final word for those data nerds is this: You’ve gotten your revenge. We all see how big and cool data is. The data transformation is still in early days and is going to get exponentially more interesting as technology expands into wearables and the Internet of Things.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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