When we meet to discuss his upcoming conference, I start by asking fourth year maths student Nikita Fadeev a basic question, “what’s quantitative trading?”
He draws breath, as if about to recite — no doubt, he’s had to answer this one a few times before — and launches into a patient explanation.
Quantitative trading, he begins, is the use of “mathematical techniques to get a sense of data.” Elaborating, he describes the complicated marriage of mathematics and computer science that brokers are increasingly using to understand and execute trades without the interference of human biases. At the barebones level, however, it means “getting a machine, giving it a set of instructions, and then it performs.”
The Quant Group was a new arrival on the St Andrews scene last year, founded by Mr Fadeev, then a third year. Growing from a core of three students, there are now 13 members of the society, dedicated to creating and running their own quantitative trading models.
His group in St Andrews is almost unique in the United Kingdom, with the notable exception of the CUATS: the Cambridge University Algorithmic Trading Society. On 27 October, members of both groups will be hosting a quantitative trading conference in London geared towards students.
The conference is built on the model of a similar, biannual conference hosted by a group at Princeton University, in the state of New Jersey, that has been running since 2011. The organisers of the Quant Conference were even in contact with the Princeton group, holding multiple Skype calls seeking guidance on how bust to run the event.
While its American counterpart may be more established, the Quant Group is giving it a run for its money. Mr Fadeev said of the comparison, “I think we’re bigger.”
Few students, and especially undergraduates, know much about quantitative trading. This is exactly the issue that the conference seeks to tackle, and is suitable for those new to the field, as well as those with more experience.
“The conference is aimed at students from quantitative backgrounds who have some grounding in mathematics or physics [for example], but might not necessarily know a lot about finance,” Mr Fadeev explains.
An inspection of the list of speakers at the conference seems to confirm his claim that students from a wide range of STEM disciplines have a path to success in quantitative trading. One graduated with a degree in chemistry, another has a PhD in aeronautical engineering, and another still has a doctorate in the outrageously named field of extragalactic astrophysics. Strong numeracy and analytical reasoning seem to be the common thread, not a finance or maths degree.
“Hedge funds are very secretive,” he continues. “By organising the conference, which is specifically designed for students, we want to spark students’ interest in quantitative finance [in a more open forum].”
“We will be inviting lots of high-profile industry professionals, and we’ll be inviting distinguished professors who will expand about different techniques that are used.”
“High-profile” seems just about right. As he rattles off the names of confirmed speakers and their positions, even one uninitiated in the world of quantitative finance understands it’s appropriate to be impressed.
First, there is Daniel Giamouridis, global head of scientific implementation at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Then he names Dr Thomas Babbedge, chief scientist at Gresham Investment Management. Scrolling through the conference website later that day, CEOs abound. These are individuals who have made it to the top of their field, 20 in total. One can’t help but wonder how Mr Fadeev managed to get them all in the same room for a conference targeting students.
“It was initially challenging to get attention,” he concedes. With the help of academic connections and his internships, however, things eventually began to fall into place. That and some old-fashioned leg work; he claims he had over 200 meetings and calls and sent over 1000 emails to bring the conference to fruition.
Applications for students wishing to attend the conference opened on 13 September and will stay open until Sunday 15 October. Mr Fadeev indicates that, based on the size of the venue, about 150 places will be available to interested applicants.
“We have an application system in place to ensure we have a diversity of students,” Mr Fadeev explains. The Quant Conference’s philosophy is that a diversity of student backgrounds makes for a more interesting and enriching conversation.
With a view to ensuring that a diversity of students applies, Mr Fadeev says that a crack marketing team has been working tirelessly to spread the word in Great Britain and beyond.
“Our marketing team is doing a great job in promoting the conference. They’ve reached out to almost all the universities around the UK, and they are spreading the word through Facebook, through career offices, and are targeting academics who are responsible for mathematics for physics, mathematics, [and] computer science.” Potential attendees might come not only from throughout the UK, but from “around the world.”
The online application process is designed to be easy. “You just need to fill in your name, your university, your expected grade, and submit your CV. You’re also free to include some comments if you desire to do so.”
Successful applicants, who will hear back from the conference’s organisers shortly after applications close, will need to pay for their places. Mr Fadeev seems almost apologetic about the fees, but offers justification.
“The conference is not-for-profit, and this is very important,” he says. “[The conference] is just for spreading the word and engaging with students, so we’ll want to keep prices very low, but at the same time, keeping them too low might lead to a bounce rate,” i.e. a number of students who indicate that they’ll attend but fail to turn up on the day of the event. The payment helps to ensure the commitment of prospective attendees.
Prices for tickets have yet to be announced (as of this article’s online publication), but will be released “very shortly,” and Nikita assures me that prices will be “comparable” with other conferences.
Those interested in attending The Quant Conference should visit its website, www.thequantconference.com.