Welcome to this episode of “Meet the Meraki Team.”
Meraki Global Advisors LLC, a leading global multi-asset outsourced trading firm, was founded with a rebellious determination to deliver truly conflict-free services to asset managers. At Meraki Global Advisors, our team is our greatest asset, and today, we have a special guest to share his wealth of experience and expertise.
Joining us is Tom O’Leary, Senior Business Strategist of Meraki Global Advisors. Tom brings nearly 35 years of extensive industry experience in strategic planning and business development, leading high performing teams, and integrating information technology for improving processes at companies building and scaling their capital markets business infrastructure. He joins Meraki from HSBC Global Banking and Markets, where he served as Managing Director and Head of Equities for the Americas focusing on managing the equities business across the globe, and a member of the Global Equity Executive Committee. Prior to HSBC, O’Leary was a Senior Managing Director with Bear Stearns in a variety of leadership positions, including Co-Head of the Global Equity Sales Division and Head of International Equities.
In this episode, Tom O’Leary will take us through his journey, sharing valuable lessons learned and how each experience shaped his approach to trading and risk management. This promises to be a captivating conversation with a true industry expert.
“Look, we’re not for everyone. Everybody’s not going to want to do outsourced trading and everybody’s not going to want to do outsourced trading exactly the way that we do it. But Ben Arnold, the founder of the firm decided this is the way we’re going to do it, and I think it’s the purest form of outsourced trading. And this is what we do. It’s the only thing we do. And it’s the only way we do it.”
Let’s dive right in!
Q1: Walk through your history and what roles you have filled over your career?
It’s been a long career. I’ve got nearly35 years of experience in the industry, but really with two long stretches…the first one being at Bear Stearns for 14 years, where I held numerous positions, and the second one being at HSBC for 11 years, where for all 11 years I was Head of Equities in the Americas. But, at Bear Stearns, I started on the Latin American desk as a salesperson. I held numerous positions, one of them was Head of Research for Latin America. I also rose to be the Head of International Equities, and eventually, right before JP Morgan took Bear Stearns over, I was Co-Head of Sales for Equities across the entire equity business.
Q2: What excited you about joining Meraki and outsourced trading?
It really was the quality of the people at Meraki. And even though we’re a relatively small firm, it’s unique in the fact that so many people at the firm have known each other from the industry for many years. Even a couple have worked together earlier in their career. But it’s really the quality of the people, and the quality of the product is the traders. The traders have a wealth of experience from the buy-side that they bring to the table. That was really appealing to me when we are going to be marketing this service and growing this business through a client service business. These guys are actually the product, so they’re what’s important. It’s their experience and the unique services offered that we really sell.
Q3: How has the landscape changed and grown since your time at HSBC?
Probably not so much as change, but certainly things continue to move at an accelerated pace. We mentioned one of the trends in the industry that I think is really driving a lot of key decisions is the cost pressures that both the buy and the sell-side are facing. And those are significant. Those started 10 or 15 years ago, and every time you feel like they’re done, they continue to accelerate.
When those cost pressures come on the sell-side, you immediately look to headcount to reduce because you usually have vast teams where you can make those reductions. For asset management, those decisions are even a little bit more challenging. They’ve got to make key decisions like-
Do I add another trader?
Or do I add another analyst?
Do I add another portfolio manager?
Are we going to be looking at a different region?
…So, those cost pressures are real. Also, the rate of change on the technological rates of change continues to be significant for the business. These are two major mega-trends that I just don’t see slowing down whatsoever.
Q4: What precipitated the growth opportunity in the space?
I believe it’s these two trends that we’ve already discussed that contributed to the growth of outsource trading. Again, the cost pressure on asset management, and the other one is the acceleration of the work from home, or work from anywhere really, if we can call it that! I think that took an industry, this industry in particular, which has certainly existed for a number of years, but accelerated that probably forward 10 or 15 or 20 years because portfolio managers and analysts couldn’t fathom not being right down the hall or right across the desk from the trading counterparts, but then everybody learned to live without anybody when everybody was working from home. So I think those two big trends are going to continue.
Q5: Tell us about your global exposure and experience.
Most of my almost 35 years have been spent, I would say, on the international markets. And by that, I mean I’ve been focusing on markets that are located outside the United States. At Bear Stearns, as I mentioned, I started in sales on the LATAM desk, then Head of Research for LATAM, and then the Head of International Equities. And, with my partners at Bear Stearns, we had a fairly extensive expansion program going on within the equity business. I spent a number of years building out our businesses with my partners in Europe and my partners in Asia. So I traveled extensively to all those markets, probably more than my wife and my kids wanted me to be gone, but I was traveling upwards of 120-130 days a year all across the globe.
Also, with my experience at HSBC, the entire business plan at HSBC was built around the global nature of the business. Our expertise was bringing what we knew about the Asian markets, what we knew about Europe, and what we knew about emerging markets into the U.S. investment community, those that were investing outside the United States. We weren’t trying to compete with the Morgan Stanley’s, the Goldman Sachs’, or the JP Morgan’s with their U.S. equity product. We were trying to compete with what we knew from all the other international markets around the world and bringing that into the U.S. investment base.
Q6: What was the most interesting or powerful insight you learned in your career?
I’d have to say that the success in any service business is ultimately determined by your clients. It’s their trust in you and it’s their trust in your firm that ultimately determines what type of relationship you have with them. Trust is something that takes a very long time to build. But then again, you can lose it in an instant. I think you have to be very focused on doing things daily, day-in and day-out, trade by trade, making sure that you’re very focused on what this does to the long term relationship that you have with your clients.
Q7: How do you view the opportunity in the outsourced trading space over the next 3-5 years?
I’m pretty bullish on the outsourced trading space and probably the most bullish in the firm because I do believe that some of these trends that we’ve already discussed, the cost pressures and the work from anywhere culture, are things that continue to drive the business. Also, the rationalization of resources that the asset management industry is going to have to make. I think that outsourced trading makes a lot of sense and can be a natural solution for some of these challenges.
Q8: Can you speak to some of the similarities in the competitive environment of outsourced trading firms and that of what you saw over your career in traditional brokerage firms?
Certainly, client service and relationships are our key drivers to the success in both of these businesses. And specifically for trading, it’s the use of technology and how technology continues to evolve within the capital market space. But most important, I think it’s combining these two with the experiences of the traders and what the traders individually can help you do to navigate, which is already an increasingly complex environment.
Q9: What are your potential clients most concerned about, and what and how is Meraki addressing that for them?
The cost pressures are definitely the primary consideration. They may be looking at expanding into different regions of the world, and you may be able to have two or three traders for the U.S., but when you’re looking at running a 24 hour trading desk… that can get quite expensive when you talk about compliance when you talk about technology, and when you talk about personnel. I think that’s one of the reasons that they start to begin to look at outsourcing. And they’ve done that with all their other businesses- they’ve done it with compliance, they’ve done it with accounting, and things like that. I think this is just a natural extension of this.
One of the other concerns that I know that most of the people taking a look at whether or not to do this- is confidentiality. How they believe they can receive it, this outsourced trading service and still have everything that they’re doing proprietary to them and their trades proprietary to them. So I think the Meraki model fits in perfectly with that. We are more your partner. We are your licensed trader. We are not connected. We are not your custodian. We are not your prime broker. We are there solely to perform a pure buy-side trading service. And at the end of the day, you as the client, still face-off with all your counterparties across the street, and we are just there to provide you with that service.
Look, we’re not for everyone. Everybody’s not going to want to do outsourced trading, and everybody’s not going to want to do outsourced trading exactly the way that we do it. But Ben Arnold, the founder of the firm, decided this is the way we’re going to do it, and I think it’s the purest form of outsourced trading. And this is what we do. It’s the only thing we do. And it’s the only way we do it.
Q10: Why do you think Meraki ranks so high on the TRADE’s inaugural Outsourced Trading survey, garnering a 9.54 score and outperforming on the two most critical components of an outsourced trading service provider – Coverage and Execution (earning standout scores of 9.75 and 9.81, respectively)?
That’s directly related to the quality and the experience of the traders that we have on the desk. Most have over 20 years experience in some very large firms. They all have a tremendous amount of experience; they’ve seen a lot of things develop in the capital markets, they have the expertise on technology, they’re very talented deciding which way those orders should be treated because it’s not plain vanilla, it’s very complicated, and that’s the skill set that they bring to the table.
About Meraki Global Advisors
Meraki Global Advisors was founded with a rebellious determination to deliver truly conflict-free services to asset managers. Headquartered in Park City, Utah with offices in New York and Hong Kong, Meraki provides outsourced global multi-asset trading, leverage management, and capital introduction services to the asset management industry. Meraki Global Advisors LLC is a FINRA member and SEC Registered. Meraki Global Advisors (HK) Ltd is licensed and regulated by the Securities & Futures Commission of Hong Kong.