BOOK REVIEW: Trading firms would do well to heed lessons in testing and crisis management from Knightmare on Wall Street

Trading firms would do well to heed lessons in testing and crisis management

Trading firms would do well to heed lessons in testing and crisis management

What a book! Who knew that a trading error at a Jersey City firm could end up being so interesting? One year ago, the mother of all electronic trading debacles scared Wall Street, when sophisticated trading outfit Knight Capital erroneously launched thousands of orders that led it to accumulate an impossible $7 billion position.

After catastrophic incidents like the Flash Crash, the failed Facebook IPO led by Nasdaq OMX, and BATS, the IPO that just couldn’t get off the ground despite all the brainpower behind, this time was supposed to be different. Yet, as author Edgar Perez details, hubris and failed crisis management procedures made this incident particularly painful to shareholders and employees, who didn’t know if the company could survive.

It is interesting to read about the true reasons for top executives not to take decisive action when their CEOs are not present. It was less and less about investors and shareholders, and more about fear, egos, fees and prestige. Nasdaq? Knight? Next?

If the reader is not intensely interested in financial markets, he or she will likely not make it through this book. If the reader skips CNBC or FOX Business Network or Bloomberg TV when flipping through the channels, then this book probably isn’t for him or her. It would be very interesting, but the reader probably won’t make it to the juicy chapters.

Perez makes a compelling case about the need for trading firms to rethink their technology management. Does anyone on Wall Street will ever really learn anything from this debacle? While all eyes are focused on SEC’s new regulations that force companies to show the impossible, the next trading debacle is probably lurking around, ready to storm Wall Street at a time when nobody will expect it.

The book goes into great detail when it analyses the backstories of the main characters involved in the company starting with founders Ken Pasternak and Walter Raquet, CEO Tom Joyce (known as T.J. since his Harvard days) and vulture bidders Daniel Coleman from GETCO and Vincent Viola from Virtu. While other books lose many people early, Perez whets readers’ appetites early by hitting the ground running in chapter one focusing on the chaos that ensued Knight’s infamous trades at the opening.

Perez does a tremendous job in making the histories of all of the people and companies involved as easy to digest as possible; peg orders are arguably not an easy concept to explain. Again – excellent book, but readers have to invest some time slogging through the first 25% of the book to get back to the action. As soon as Joyce comes back to the office after surgery and realizes the extent of the challenges ahead, all hell breaks loose and things start to get very exciting again.

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