Technologists in trading firms now in “powerful” position, says DRW’s Asia head

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Technologists from startups or the likes of Facebook and Google can be persuaded to join trading firms, if they are offered “powerful” jobs working on innovative new products, says the man spearheading a new hiring drive by principal trading firm DRW in Singapore.

DRW plans to increase its Singapore headcount from its current level of 40, and many of the new recruits will be technologists, says Brook Teeter, DRW’s head of Asia, adding that he prefers not to set precise headcount targets.

“You don’t necessarily need finance sector experience to join us as a technologist, which means we’re competing with technology firms for talent as well as financial institutions,” he adds. “We’ve found that candidates from the technology industry – whether at established players or startups – are very keen to learn about financial markets and apply their skills in our industry. And it’s a lot easier to teach a great C++ developer about finance than it is the other way around.”

But why would a technologist, even one with a professed interest in finance, decide to leave a global tech giant for a finance firm? After all, banks in Asia are currently grappling with the reverse trend: a brain drain to pure-play tech companies.

“As a hybrid trading firm, which bridges technology and trading, we approach recruitment differently from banks and other financial services firms,” says Teeter. “That’s because as tech becomes increasingly important in the trading world, being a technologist in a trading firm has now become a very powerful – and therefore appealing – role.”

Teeter says many technologists join DRW, which is headquartered in Chicago and employs about 900 people globally, because its managerial hierarchies are typically “flatter” than those found in big tech or big finance. “Our technologists sit with the traders. And 90% of our development work is done internally, which is also an important pull factor when we recruit,” he adds.

Singapore’s tight job market, however, means retaining technologists can be challenging for banks, tech companies and trading firms alike. “To keep technologists engaged, it’s important to give them work that’s genuinely innovative,” says Teeter. “We’re expanding in products and asset classes where tech hasn’t traditionally played a big role, which means there are a lot of interesting new projects to work on.”

DRW’s operations in Singapore encompass not just equities, but also FX and crypto trading.

New recruits to DRW’s Asia HQ in Singapore will be based in the firm’s office in Asia Square, which opened in 2014 and was once home to Google. “When I joined in 2016, I took the view that Asia would only increase in importance to the business, and this office gives us plenty of room to grow. We could easily double in headcount and still be comfortable,” says Teeter.

Teeter, who has been in Asia for 17 years and was previously Asia managing director for electronic trading firm Tower Research Capital, says most of DRW’s tech jobs focus on a particular product or market. “For example, we might want to hire a developer to work on a new trade for a specific exchange,” he says.

DRW also hires graduates from Singapore’s local universities, although Teeter acknowledges that competition for talent is particularly strong at this level. “There are many smart and well-trained STEM grads coming out of NUS and NTU, so it’s not hard to identify the people you’d like to recruit. The challenge is that everyone else – hedge funds and exchanges as well as banks and tech firms – is after them, too.”

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Image credit:  guvendemir, Getty

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