Finance, Algo Trading, and South Africa - John’s Story

7 min read

Farsightedness, foresight, the belief in the times to come, consistent learning and confidence in your skillset - these qualities will prepare you for the future of your profession, no matter what stream or field you come from.

EPATian John Moss hails from South Africa. He loves working with people, loves Finance and Technology and hopes to impact the future of humanity through innovation.

Having a Masters and being Certified in Leadership and People Management, he is qualified for international software testing too. John is a graduate in Project Management, Maths and Computer Science, and also holds the EPAT Certificate of Excellence.

John’s experience with the world of Finance and Trading reveals a journey, the efforts, dedication and compassion towards learning and preparing for tomorrow today, in the world of Algorithmic and Quantitative Trading.

John shares with us his success story.

Hi John, tell us about yourself!

I’m John Moss from South Africa. I'm currently leading a team in an investment bank that looks after the trading systems. I enjoy reading a lot and recently started exercising which has been a lot of fun. I enjoy tech and finance and that’s where I spend most of my time when I’m not managing and leading people.

It’s the year of COVID-19 and that’s been pretty challenging. From my perspective as a manager, nothing’s particularly changed except how we interact with people.

Unfortunately, for me, I've been going to work, all key employees have to. So, I'm not allowed to work from home. One needs to be on higher land when looking after the trading systems of an investment bank.

My first degree was in Computer Science and Math. I enjoyed problem solving and technology solves most problems these days. It’s also about calculating numbers, and that’s basically what I do in my current job.

I’ve gotten Certification in Leadership and in Project Management. Getting into the investment banking world, I was actually initially in the insurance space and where I worked as an Actuarial.

The majority of the people that I had studied with, as well as the guys that I had to teach ended up in investment banking. They told me I had come to investment banking and that I would be successful.

I wasn't convinced initially, but then I joined the middle office team.

In an investment bank, you have distinct segregations:

  • The front office - is the Main Trading element,
  • The middle office - conducts Quantitative Calculations, and
  • The back office - manages Accounting.

I was working with traders and doing a lot of attribution, explaining P&L movements throughout the day and making sure projects are in line with the front office space. I was asked to lead a team in a front office technology space, which in this case really is looking after the front office from the tech point of view.

It was a no brainer because I enjoyed the trading business and coding aspect of the quantitative space. That’s how I ended up at my current position.

There are always challenges though. I initially took the job because of my love for technology, finance and the financial markets.

When I was working in the Middle Office, I was knowledgeable in different aspects of what would become algo trading

  • calculation and quantitative understanding of trading in my previous roles.
  • tech and programming before I took over the technology team of my bank.

I never got to put it all together until algo trading became a reality.

The AI integration in algo trading is really a combination of programming ie. computer science, mathematical principles, calculus, and statistical models. Basically, combining all these makes algo trading special.

In the past, all these disciplines were never thought of under one umbrella.

  • If you're doing computer science - you are expected to program.
  • If you’re doing statistics - you’re expected to understand some algos based on statistical principles.
  • If you’re doing math - you need to understand the calculations and a whole lot of other mathematical principles.

It's when you combine all these aspects as well as the finance of trading in the global market, the calculation of P&L, you’ll actually understand how the market moves and how one gets to make or lose money.

Why choose to learn Algo Trading over software?

Eventually, I grew as a leader as more members were added to my team, I spent more time leading than actually executing or building any of the code.

I chose to do algo trading as it felt like the next logical step for my career. I’d like to either utilize this skill set to achieve my current goals or occupy a more algo trading position, maybe within the same institution.

My Algo trading desk in my current organization hasn't been fully developed. Right now we’re working on small-scale applications, but hopefully, we can pursue it on a larger scale in the near future. There are still a lot of undefined structures.

I was helping one of my traders execute his algos, backtest them, when he said he had studied algo trading with QuantInsti. It was quite fascinating, and I think that's how I found out about it and eventually chose to pursue it.

The financial structure of the EPAT course was also a selling point for me. QuantInsti didn’t come across like one of those programmes that were there to make money.

One of the challenges in South Africa is that there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Education as a whole is not cheap. The algo trading courses available out here are very expensive. That was not a problem with EPAT.

My company is also very supportive of my personal development, especially if it benefits the organization. I encourage most of my colleagues to take the opportunity to build the skill set that they’ll need for the future. My belief has always been to try and study something that I might not need today but something I’ll probably use in the next 10 years.

I can see that algo trading is going to be a very useful skill in the coming decade along with AI and ML.

Which is the best feature of EPAT according to you?

I think all of the features of EPAT are vital and come together to give you a wholesome learning experience. I’d like to mention some of these that I really liked.

Lifetime access to content: One of the biggest selling points of EPAT is lifetime access to the content. It’s crucial in the sense that there are going to be a lot of advancements in the field of Algorithmic trading in the future and the course will adapt to that. It’s great to know that I can benefit from the continual improvement of the course material.

Hands-on learning: Learning across many mediums, I’ve noticed that most of the material doesn't make sense until you start applying them. Sometimes I’d want to go back and revisit the fundamental principles. Lifetime access is quite helpful to me in that way.

Practical applications: I really liked how the course is structured. EPAT is taught in a very practical manner and the faculty know what they’re talking about. When advanced concepts are taught only from theory, they get boring sometimes. This was never a problem with EPAT because the lectures were infused with practical exercises.

Real-life experiences: One experience that made a difference to me personally was when I learnt how to value options mathematically as well as from the system administration perspective of it and how it's traded. I learn better when lecturers give me examples from what they experienced.

Recorded lectures: The ability to record lectures is also quite cool. As a family man sometimes I don't have time to attend sessions on weekends. If there is a recording, I’m able to go in and get to experience the session - the same as everyone that attended it.

Could you share your experience in Crypto Trading with us?

I experiment with things that are going to be relevant in the next 10 years. When they mature in the future it's no longer a new technology, it's really something that I’ve already been doing.

I’ve experimented in the crypto space in a personal capacity. I’m implementing algos that look for arbitrage opportunities in the cryptocurrency markets and look for patterns across trading exchanges that are really, really cool and very useful. Most of my algos were purely based on long positions under the assumptions that the market will keep going up irrespective of corrections.

Blockchain is something that has the potential to transform the financial markets in a way that nothing has done before.

The regulators in South Africa are betting big on blockchain and cryptocurrencies. The way I see it, the government regulations are acknowledging that cryptos are part of the future. And if all goes well, we can at least build a legitimate business based on it. Hopefully, someday I'll get to start a crypto-based algo trading desk.

I started trading cryptos in 2017 and we’re here in 2020 and this space has been really fun. This year has been good for crypto.

My belief has always been that - good traders will make money in spite of the direction.

Any words of wisdom for your fellow learners?

For me, everything starts with a passion for something. I was in the actuarial space when I was working for an insurance company, it was more mathematical in nature. Then I moved to the middle office which introduced me to markets and thrust me towards the technology space.

My strongest belief is that if you don’t get your hands dirty you probably will not learn anything useful. Even if you read from a book, you’ll forget it if it’s not put into practice.

My recommendation would be to start somewhere, either get a job within an investment bank or in the capital markets space. Jobs are rare right now, so in this case, people can always read up, start trading on a smaller scale just to understand the basic fundamentals of buying and selling financial instruments. I wish you the best of luck!

Thank you, John, for connecting with us and sharing your story. It has been an uphill battle, but you’ve never let the odds get the best of you. Your hard work, perseverance and will to learn will surely resonate with many.

The Executive Programme in Algorithmic Trading (EPAT) is a comprehensive course covering topics ranging from Statistics & Econometrics to Financial Computing & Technology including Machine Learning and more. Start your quest to upgrade your knowledge of Algorithmic Trading with EPAT. Check it out here.

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