man holding a transparent skyline

Futures Look Bright for Small Traders Investing in Fixed Income Technology


Everyone who makes a living in the fixed income world should be concerned about the long-term future of small dealers.

fixed income tradersThe ever-rising regulatory burden comes with real costs. As one warning sign, the number of broker dealers registered with the SEC slid to 3,989 in March 2017 from 5,892 a decade earlier. When Greenwich Associates last year asked bond traders if they would choose the same career if they were starting all over again, only 39 percent said yes. Just over half said no. That’s hardly a vote of confidence. But it’s no surprise.

The regulatory backlash against risk, fears of getting in trouble in an environment filled with red tape and worries about automation all have affected morale in a field once glamorized in best-selling books and Hollywood movies.

Under the Dodd-Frank legislation, banks have been required to keep more assets in cash, and that has been blamed for reducing liquidity in bonds. Critics also argue that the “Volcker rule,” which mandates greater transparency for investors of corporate and agency bonds, hurts the corporate bond market. Those are just two examples out of many.

While there are arguments on all sides of the regulatory debate, we believe it’s best for the bond market when a varied array of dealers can prosper, with all sizes in the mix. Startups help stir competition and innovation that strengthen fixed income markets. New enterprises give consumers more choice for fixed income portfolio management. Smaller dealers can be nimble about introducing new ways of doing things, including advances in fixed-income analytics.

Small Trading Firms Have Bright Futures

The good news is, small trading firms can thrive in the future. Sensible changes in regulation, along with innovations in fixed income technology, can ease some of the challenges in portfolio management that are especially costly for the smaller firms.

On the regulatory side, we need more officials who recognize that rules come with costs. The Brookings study cited above, for example, was written by Hester Peirce, a thoughtful expert on financial regulation who has warned that burdensome red tape can hurt the economy. On January 11, she was sworn in as a commissioner on the SEC.

At the same time, regulation is not the whole story. Veteran traders may feel threatened by the growing push for automation. And smaller companies may be at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to incorporating costly, high-end order management systems.

Fixed Income Technology Matters

If technology presents some challenges to the smallest dealers, it also points the way to a prosperous future.

Fixed income technology can provide tools, such as comprehensive analytics and front-end trading applications, that help smaller traders navigate today’s regulatory environment. Tools that make it easier for small dealers to manage their bond inventory and enable traders to fill orders swiftly are becoming increasingly affordable. These products can help a firm more effectively participate in electronic bond trading and still avoid the kind of inadvertent over-selling that can prompt regulatory sanctions, streamlining work flow and empowering traders to do what they do best – buy and sell securities.

As one example, our own BondPub is a cost-effective and light-weight execution management system innovation that enables traders to manage publication of varied fixed income offerings and bids more easily than ever before, in an efficient, easy-to-use platform.

These innovations in fixed income technology can help firms of all sizes prosper, even in a challenging regulatory environment. Increasingly, they will offer a valuable boost in productivity for small firms and level the playing field in fixed income portfolio management. And that will be healthy for the entire bond market.


crooked arrow icon

Financial Technology Laboratories Unveils Latest Portfolio Modeling and Presentation System for Fixed Income Markets


Financial advisors to benefit from a consolidated portfolio modeling and presentation application with enhanced solutions via a web-based cloud-hosted platform.

Financial Technology Labs, Inc. (FTLabs), a leading provider of technology solutions for the fixed income securities market, announced today the launch of PortFini, a portfolio modeling and presentation system. PortFini provides clarity to bond investors by presenting a consolidated and simplified view of their portfolio.  It allows financial advisors to analyze a client’s portfolio and illustrate the effects of recommended buy and sell transactions on key portfolio measures such as weighted average yield, duration, convexity, and maturity.

PortFini is the most powerful and proven portfolio modeling and presentation system available in the fixed income market:

  • Web-based interface making it flexible and easy to access from any web browser.
  • Scalable tool to grow with your business.
  • Standards-compliant calculations that provide accurate and consistent results.

Address Many of the Most Critical Key Fixed Income Securities Portfolio Measurements with Sophisticated Reporting Features.

The power of PortFini is in its unique well-designed, accurate, and high-quality portfolio presentation reports so advisors can:

  • Enhance the client’s understanding of their portfolio through a graphical representation of portfolio attributes and summary reports.
  • Customize reports to better meet the information needs and goals of each specific client.
  • Allow easy comparison of taxable and tax-exempt securities based on the client’s specific tax situation.

“PortFini’s collection of accurate and interactive reports has greatly enhanced my business with advisory accounts and fixed-income professionals,” said Carole Smith, Vice President, Alamo Capital Investment Services.

“Our fixed income tools enable us to deliver quantifiable benefits to financial advisors”, said James Rucker, President of FTLabs. “PortFini’s unique presentation and reporting capabilities enable financial advisors to provide clearer guidance to their clients on their fixed income investments.”

For more information on FTLabs PortFini Modeling and Presentation System, please visit


Businessman trying to decide which bond calculator to choose

Open Source or Commercial Vendor? How to Qualify and Select a Bond Calculator.


Bond Calculator DecisionSpecialized bond calculation libraries are often used in developing financial market software applications and can be found from a few different sources – both commercial and open source. Finding the correct match for your project or organization is an important decision with potential long-term consequences. Qualifying and selecting the right vendor will help to minimize the overhead costs of current operations and avoid costly migrating to a different library.

Due diligence is required up front to ensure that the bond calculation library selected is fully accurate, performant, and compliant with applicable market conventions and regulatory rules. Making a correct choice prior to project start is key since migrating to a different library component later is an expensive and time-consuming task.

Therefore, a review of some of the considerations and concerns with selecting an open-source bond calculation library instead of a commercial library should be reviewed and understood before making a final decision. Many of the considerations for selecting an open-source bond calculation library mirror those for other open source technology components. Important criteria for vendor selection reviewed below include accuracy, support, defects and missing features, security, technical skills and development support, design choices and user-friendliness, and licensing.


Accuracy must be the top criteria for the selection of any mathematical library – including a fixed income bond calculation library. Even if the library produces results that are accurate 99.9% of the time, in many operating environments one exception out of 1,000 calculations represent an enormous number of support cases requiring time and effort to research and resolve. Open source bond calculation solutions just don’t commit the same level of resources to testing that commercial vendors do. Most often, the volunteer resources working with open source alternatives commit their time and efforts primarily to coding. The time – or lack of it – spent testing influences the quality and accuracy of the solution. In contrast, commercial vendors like my firm, Financial Technology Laboratories (FTLabs), spend a significant percentage of resources to building testing tools, test case benchmark databases, and repetitive automated testing procedures that are carried out after any code change.


There are many open-source products that are well supported – either by the community of users or by commercial organizations that choose to offer paid support for open-source products. However, in smaller, vertical-market products like bond math libraries, neither of these is common. One of the most important considerations in the selection of a bond calculation library is the availability of technical support – both during implementation and on an ongoing basis as issues with specific securities arise that require review and research. In the absence of any support option, the responsibility and onus fall to the firm and technical users of the product within the firm. For most companies, the path to profitability and growth is the focus on their own core competencies and distinctive products in the marketplace – not spending time and resources supporting and researching issues with third-party software libraries.

Defects and Missing Features

Due to the reliance of most open-source products on volunteer labor, the release cycle for fixing bugs and adding new features can be long. Some open source projects will have a mechanism for capturing and addressing these concerns – especially if they use best practices for source code control and project management. But, many thousands of open-source projects languish as once active volunteer developers move on to other newer or more interesting projects. They continue their existence as zombies – not quite dead, but not living and growing. Defects remain unfixed. Enhancements are never finished. Community help is rarely available. This is an awful situation to be in – certainly for a bond calculation library that is fundamentally a mathematics library at the core. There are few things more objectionable than a defective or inaccurate math library. Open source projects must maintain an ongoing recruiting effort to attract new developers and overcome the natural turnover in project participants. Another common challenge shared by many open source projects is the lack of sufficient resources to complete regression and performance testing. Business analysis and QA resources are just as important as development resources for producing software that is reliable, robust, scalable, and defect free. But, open source projects rarely receive the same level of QA and testing that commercial products do. This results in unintended consequences and side-effects such as the introduction of new defects when attempting to fix existing defects or add new functionality. Unless the project is extremely well-coordinated and supported, things will be missed that affect the performance, reliability, and results of commercial products incorporating it.


Security can be a difficult issue with open-source software due to the risk of incorporating malware, planned vulnerabilities, and defects in the product through inadequately reviewed contributions, inadequate engineering practices, or casual attitudes towards review and testing. These risks are not limited to open-source software – commercial software can contain these problems also. However, for commercial software, there is a responsible organization that can be held liable for exploits or vulnerabilities that are transferred to a commercial product by the incorporation of tainted or flawed open source software.

Technical Skills and Development

Which brings up another significant issue… where or to whom do you go to fix something that is broken in an open source library? In most cases, corporate users of specialized vertical market open source software products have only internal developers and resources to depend on when things break. This really defeats the whole purpose of acquiring and using a third-party software product. It is expensive to maintain an in-house resource with expert knowledge of bond mathematics to research, maintain, and fix issues. The expense to hire and maintain these experts exceeds the cost of licensing and support of a commercial product. In the case of maintaining bond calculation code internally, it’s not enough to have good developers on staff – it requires good developers with an expert knowledge of bond calculation math and market conventions.

Design and User Friendliness

Many open source products grow organically over time as new functions and features are added. Commercial products go through the same cycle – with a distinction.  Commercial product vendors usually have the incentive and resources to refactor and rebalance the design, update the technical and user documentation, and communicate this to clients. Over time, ignoring these tasks can result in incorrect or missing documentation and confusing or difficult to use class structure. These things can exist in commercial software as well – but usually, these products don’t last long in the commercial market.


Licensing is a business consideration that comes along with open-source software. This is not an issue often considered when using open source software for personal use, but can be a concern or even a liability for corporate use or incorporating into a for-profit software system. There is several different free and open source (FOSS) licensing models with different characteristics. Open source software distributed under the GPL (GNU Public License) family of licenses use ‘copyleft’ licensing which requires that derivative works be distributed under the same terms. Richard Stallman and others that developed this concept wanted assurance that their work would remain free and would benefit the whole world without being assimilated and sold for profit by corporations. Linux is the best example of GPL licensed software. Another popular open-source license – the BSD family of license – is less restrictive, but does require attribution and contains other clauses that may conflict with the software license agreement of a commercial product incorporating the BSD-licensed product. Finally, the MIT and related licenses are popular and permissive licenses that are widely used for products like node.js, jQuery, and the X Windows system. Like other licensing models, it requires incorporation of the license and copyright notices. Due to the varied terms and conditions, corporate legal counsel should undertake a license compatibility review before any free or open source software is incorporated into software intended for commercial use.


Open source has an obvious advantage over commercial software – it has no upfront cost. But, that is not the same as not having a cost – the costs are just hidden and are paid throughout the product lifecycle. They include potential licensing liabilities, security vulnerabilities, lack of development and user support, extended periods of known defects and missing features, increased cost of in-house development and support, and increased time and cost to work with poorly designed or documented products. Taken together, these costs often exceed the costs of commercial licensing.

Commercial products on the other hand – have the profit motive to encourage prompt support for security-specific issues, prompt response to defects and enhancement requests, regression and performance testing and tuning, design and documentation updates, and support for new platforms and languages. Clients of commercial fixed income security analytics library vendors like FTLabs receive these benefits along with expert financial technology consulting advice on integration and usage.

When the time to select a bond calculation component comes around, remember these points and select a reputable commercial vendor for your fixed income bond calculator. FTLabs has been in business since 2005 providing excellent components built for use with Microsoft.NET, C++, Java, and Web Services API under the FISA (Fixed Income Security Analytics) product name.

man's hands typing on cell phone

In Pursuit of the Virtual Bond Trading Assistant


Virtual Bond Trading AssistantWhen voice services like Alexa were introduced a few years ago, there was immediate interest and excitement from the tech-savvy public. The Alexa devices flew off the shelves. Was this finally the long sought after personal AI assistant that had been an element of so many sci-fi books, television series, and movies – the holy grail of human-computer interaction? Could I finally converse with my computer like Spock sitting at his science station on the bridge of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek? Well, not quite. We quickly found out that their abilities were a lot narrower than we had hoped. Though the excitement died down somewhat, people began buying and using the Alexa devices and incorporating them into their lives.

Amazon has released several devices and continues to bring more to us – the Echo, the Dot, the Tap, the Show, the Look, and now Alexa on our smartphones. These bring Alexa’s presence into our lives and into our homes. Although Alexa is not yet the artificial general intelligence of sci-fi fan desire, it is the next step. Alexa waits – patiently listening and responding to our wishes and desires whether that is to relate the latest personalized news, read an audio book, follow sports scores, tell a joke or story, play music, track your schedule, make appointments, look up information, and – yes – the ability to order things from Amazon. If that was all, then it would be entertaining and useful, but not unique. After all, voice recognition software has been around for decades. The difference is that Alexa doesn’t just understand your words, but understands your intent.

Alexa comes out of the box with certain core abilities, but an important difference in Alexa and some of the other intelligent assistants is the ability to expand and customize the starting capabilities by learning new skills.  Amazon has created some of these skills, but a growing number of skills are created by third-party developers and published to the Alexa skill store – thousands now.  This allows Alexa to become more useful and capable as new skills are enabled and as these skills evolve and expand.   Alexa is built on voice, but Amazon devices and third-party devices that incorporate Alexa Voice Service (AVS) are now integrating other input methods like camera, touch screen, and computer applications and tying them together.  Alexa isn’t limited to responding by voice alone and those response options will continue to grow.

The vast majority of the skills developed for Alexa are focused on our entertainment and personal convenience, but it is only natural that Alexa extends into our business environment as well. Businesses have similar needs – quick access to information, enhanced productivity, increased efficiency, and greater convenience. In recent decades, administrative and clerical work has increasingly fallen to the producers as administrative or personal assistant staff positions are eliminated by automation and cost pressures. That makes the addition of a virtual personal assistant a desirable addition to the business office or trading room floor. Many of the same Alexa skills that add value to our personal life also add value in day-to-day activities in business. Specialized skills that leverage the abilities of Alexa services in specific industries are on their way.

BondTrackMy company, Financial Technology Laboratories, has just released, BondTrack, the first virtual bond trading assistant skill for fixed income markets in the Alexa ecosystem. Bond traders can ask for and receive information on pricing, calculations, and descriptive information for corporate, agency, and municipal bonds trading in the US domestic markets. Like other Alexa skills, the BondTrack skill is hosted by Amazon in their cloud and can access information from external services on the web. Additional bond related information and capabilities can easily be added to enhance Alexa’s function and utility over time. To experience BondTrack on your Alexa device, search for ‘BondTrack’ in the Alexa app and select Enable Skill. Let us know what you think of Alexa and what would improve her utility as a virtual bond trading assistant.

Whether you consider Alexa a step toward artificial narrow intelligence, conversational machine intelligence, or just a new tool to experiment with right now, the roadmap for the future is clear. This is another tool in the trader’s tool chest that will continue to evolve and grow as the technology matures – just as the computer services that are used today have matured and become ubiquitous.