Eden Simmer: the future of the buy-side trading desk

Ahead of TradeTech, head of global equity trading at PIMCO, Eden Simmer, tells The TRADE that a hybrid trading desk composed of traders with remote and physical office presence can offer a number of advantages.   

What will be the main challenges for buy-side traders as they begin to return to office? 

The biggest challenge for everyone returning to the office will be re-prioritising their lives as we return to ‘normal’.

That can mean budgeting time for commuting that for more than a year had been used to spend more time with families or other activities.

On the other hand, the work from home environment for some also blurred or obliterated the boundary between work and home, making it very difficult to allocate enough time to recharge. While remote trading isn’t perfect as it makes collaboration and training of new hires more difficult, it has been more successful than we could have ever anticipated pre-pandemic.  

What does your transition back to the office at PIMCO look like? 

At PIMCO, we’re prioritising employee safety and health, while also seeking to protect our clients’ assets by prioritising and supporting safe trading activity. As a global firm with over 3,000 employees, we’ll be conducting return to the office in phases as the pandemic and vaccine rollout can look very different depending on the region. 

Where we have welcomed some employees back to the office after government and local authorities have relaxed restrictions, we have adopted a gradual, phased approach to ensure the safety of our employees and because we recognise that this a fluid and evolving situation and that each location has unique challenges. In addition, PIMCO has put in place tools and resources that are designed to promote connectivity, across and within teams, and support employee wellbeing as we adapt to the new working environment, whether in the office or working remotely.

Can hybrid buy-side trading desks be as successful as centralised dealing desks? 

This is going to be an area of debate throughout the industry as firms look at the experience of the last year and assess the trade-offs of flexibility versus a deeply imbedded culture of collaboration on a physical trade floor. 

Hybrid trading desks that are composed of traders with both remote and physical office presence can offer a number of advantages particularly in terms of recruiting and retaining high performers who need or want more flexibility. For these traders, a hybrid model could lead to higher morale, more motivated and efficient trading teams and increased productivity. However, it would be essential for managers and companies to be fair and balanced to the entire team in a hybrid trading desk model for it to be successful. 

It is also worth mentioning that the true stars of the pandemic have been technology, human resources, compliance and operations teams in supporting the shift of trading floors and workflows from physical to remote locations. I expect innovations in these areas to continue to advance efficient collaboration of a hybrid buy-side trading desk framework.  

What are the benefits of having a diverse workforce on the buy-side trading desk? 

Bringing together a team with different perspectives, skills and insights promotes creativity, innovation and strategic problem-solving. We believe traders from diverse teams make better decisions by sourcing from a wider range of industry experiences, which can result in more efficient processes and improved execution outcomes that help to drive an increase in overall performance.  

We have all seen studies performed where diverse and inclusive teams often outperform teams made up of workers from similar backgrounds. In addition, future generations are prioritising diversity, inclusion, mental health, happiness, and work life balance in their employment decisions. To attract and retain top talent, companies and managers need to be cognizant that what was important to candidate pools a decade or two ago has fundamentally shifted. Now, employees often feel more comfortable and happier in inclusive work environments that recognise unique contributions.

How can asset managers adapt recruitment programmes to increase diversity across the trading desk? 

Asset managers and firms need to be intentional and thoughtful in implementing programmes aimed at diversifying the candidate pools and interview slates during the recruitment process. At PIMCO, our recruiting process is continuously innovating so that each part of the pipeline enhances our ability to attract, develop and interview top, diverse prospects.

In 2018, PIMCO launched Diversity Now and Always (DNA), a multi-year recruiting strategy that incorporates inclusion and diversity best practices. Specifically for more senior positions, we continue to brainstorm and incubate ideas to drive greater diversity in the candidate pool such as market mapping and talent database initiatives, in partnership with our candidate developers.

It is also important for us to mitigate unconscious bias. At PIMCO, we seek to assemble diverse interview panels by developing ‘assessment teams’, we build recruiter checkpoints at each stage of the search and interview process, we leverage our employee resource group leaders to partner on referrals of diverse talent as well as to engage diverse talent throughout the interview process by broadening the interviewer slate. 

Finally, in order to build diversity in candidate pools we need to focus on building the industry pipeline of future talent in underrepresented areas. We recognise that newer generations have a wide selection of industries to choose from to start their professional careers. At PIMCO we undertake deliberate efforts to influence the choice of asset management as an industry with a rich diversity of potential career paths and experiences through PIMCO’s Career Exploration Program (CEP) and partnerships with Girls Who Invest and UpReach aimed at providing mentorship and learning opportunities to women and minorities.

What themes do you expect will be most talked about at this year’s TradeTech conference?

The paradigm shift that we have witnessed in our industry and the global workforce overall due to the pandemic has drastically changed the way we work, live and learn. The technology innovations to support remote working conditions for trading floors have opened many doors in terms of exciting recruitment and retention possibilities, especially in the face of fierce competition for top talent. 

I expect many of the topics of TradeTech 2020 to expand and focus on the future composition of trading desks now that those doors are open and how diverse teams along with innovative technology and data utilisation can further support better execution frameworks and investment decisions.