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Banking Relations

Can You Save on Trading Costs with FX Algos?

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July 26, 2017

Can FX Algos Save You MoneyFX managers are discovering the benefits of algo trading, particularly the one that can save on trading costs. 

Can FX algos save you money? In an increasingly uncertain and volatile market environment, trading and execution takes on renewed importance. In a session at a recent meeting of the NeuGroup's second FX Managers' Peer Group (FXMPG2), led by sponsor Thomson Reuters' Karen Phillips, senior director and head of relationship management for transactions, Americas, members looked at the improvements FXall is implementing to make execution more efficient. Also during the session, one member gave an overview of the results of a recent test phase of an FX algo trading program at his company.

To set the stage for the session, Ms. Phillips noted that as FX market structure evolves and new regulations such as MiFID II are coming into effect, banks are also faced with higher capital costs and therefore less prone to risk-taking and are instead increasing their agency trading. As a result, corporate treasurers are increasingly pressured to demonstrate best execution, which raises demand for execution tools that provide more transparency and better performance. In that context, algo orders and other advanced execution methods will take on more important roles in the overall corporate risk management setting.

Algos come into the mainstream

Algo trading in FX has grown tremendously in recent years. On FXall alone algo trading increased 206% in average daily volume from 2014 to 2016, and not only in the very-large trade space but also in the under-$20 million range. What explains it? Algos help access fragmented markets.

An algo is a sole-source trade that executes over time, in small increments, in the bank's name, using proprietary algorithms to mimic a style of trading. The customer (corporate) takes the risk and pays a fee vs. the bank taking the risk and charging a spread. By leveraging advanced trading techniques like algos, corporates can navigate the increasingly fragmented trading landscape that is evolving, and optimize execution with access to providers' proprietary algorithmic strategies that capture spread and minimize market impact. FXall users can choose from over 100 proprietary algorithms from 14 banks.

Without prior experience in algo trading, one FXMPG2 member company was faced with some large upcoming transactions and wanted to decide if it would be better served executing those via algos instead of "regular" trades with select banks. By allowing an experiment using mainly "passive" strategies with around a handful banks over a few dozen trades totaling more than $4 billion in seven currencies, the company was able to determine that it could save enough money to make the effort worthwhile by executing with algos, and it has since incorporated algo execution in its program for larger trades.

The member noticed no major differences in execution quality between the banks they used in their test phase; the major differentiator was the fee. The member recommends negotiating those down to similar levels for all the banks you plan to use. Also, because emerging markets currencies have naturally higher spreads, the potential for savings there may exceed those in major currencies.

Other algo benefits: efficiency

Although algos technically perform a large number of trades over time, a big benefit is the treatment of the algo as one trade, which enables straight-through processing and other efficiencies.

FXall's execution quality analysis (EQA), which users will soon be able to access themselves via the platform rather than get by request, has been enhanced since Thomson Reuters' acquisition of BestX to include a broader suite of transaction cost analysis (TCA) tools (see below).

In an increasingly fragmented FX market and with banks in "risk-off" mode, best execution can be hard to get. However, with developments in algo trading, corporates can access different liquidity pools to achieve their trading needs without unnecessarily burdening their back-office and accounting staff. A modest test and benchmarking phase may convince many more companies of the benefits of algo trading and the savings that can be achieved. And developments in TCA will help you prove it.

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