Talking AI, FinTech, liquidity and the modern brokerage – An interview with Jeffrey Siu, ATFX Group COO

In a highly comprehensive interview with FinanceFeeds, ATFX COO Jeffery Siu looks at all aspects of running a modern brokerage, from AI to technological methods of keeping customer data secure, enhancing the compliance experience and providing one-to-one client facing service to a continually evolving global base of traders.

Innovation is the lifeblood of the electronic trading industry, and has always been so.

Rather as in the motor industry, where racing technology, developed at huge cost by heavily sponsored Formula 1 teams, eventually filters down to the road cars that can be found in any supermarket parking area a few years later, at very affordable cost, electronic trading platforms, risk management systems and matching engines are the cutting edge of financial services solutions, which in turn have been developed from the institutional sector at tremendous cost are now available at very low cost to every person in every region of the world via a smartphone or laptop computer.

Despite the leading edge nature of our industry, it is relatively rare that companies in the retail sector look outside of the standard parameters that are offered to them by de facto third party platform vendors, often resulting in the electronic trading industry being regarded as relatively cutting edge by other more traditional financial services sectors, but within our sector, often manifesting itself in several hundred white labels and smaller brokerages offering identical product ranges via near identical platforms.

The need to diversify and to empower the audience is vital, and there are some companies now embodying this ideology, one of which is ATFX, which has invested in developing technological solutions that cover artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and big data in areas such as trading operation and market support.

Additionally, the company has encompassed machine learning and biometric facial recognition reflecting the importance of the security of customer data, hence using various technologies to prevent risks steadily.

Today, FinanceFeeds spoke in detail to Jeffrey Siu, who holds the position of Chief Commercial Officer at ATFX Group in order to look closely at the ethos behind the company’s high touch approach to client relationships and differentiating factors that are necessary to be sustainable in today’s evolving global electronic trading industry.

Financial technology is driving innovation in the financial services sector. It’s changing both the trends of the FX industry and end-user expectations for trading services. How has ATFX planned for the technology evolution and how will it affect your clients?

ATFX has built our core strategy around the implementation of technology solutions for investment purposes. In order to best serve our clients, we need to meet their needs quickly and efficiently. Technology plays a significant role in facilitating this. When we founded the company, we understood the power that innovative technologies could have in transforming the experience for retail traders. Therefore, we made sure that the top priority in our business strategy – was to develop technology that will benefit our clients.

According to the comments from traders who’ve been trading for decades, the evolution of personal computers has transformed the industry. We not only want to be part of the current transformation but to be a leader in the next evolution of retail trading. To do this, we’re developing technologies that will make it easier for our clients to access and trade the financial markets. We’ve introduced new technologies to ease the verification process for our clients. An example is our Adobe-Sign technology which makes the process of verification considerably more efficient.

In 2019, ATFX transitioned from being a retail-only broker to an institutional broker with the launch of its new fintech arm, ATFX Connect. ATFX Connect is aimed at specific market segments that include high net worth individuals, asset managers, family officers and brokers.

The launch of ATFX Connect was one of our major highlights in 2019 and we’re pleased with the great reception it’s received from the market. The technology used to launch this platform allows us to provide bespoke liquidity solutions for our clients whilst keeping rates very competitive. Our multiple platforms offer access to a range of financial instruments through API connectivity and access to over 20 liquidity providers. These include both bank and non-bank tier 1 liquidity providers.

The launch of ATFX Connect is a crucial part of our transformation to become a leading fintech company. We will continue to launch more technology-based services to satisfy the needs of traders.

The growing sophistication of large data and visualisation tools is helping consumers to monitor and source deals online. They can easily access data and trends through AI and machine learning tools and access real-time dashboards that track their wealth. What is ATFX’s perspective on this, and is there a development plan? Especially in this challenging period.

We pride ourselves on being at the cutting edge of new technologies and we’re closely monitoring the developments in the data visualisation field. We plan to use AI and machine learning to power our Client Portal and we’re continually upgrading our technology infrastructure to the latest standards. We’re currently focused on client-facing technologies so our clients can see the direct benefits such technologies have on their trading activity.

We will offer our clients some of the most innovative technologies available to them. With the integration of Autochartist software, real-time dashboards will be available to track the performance of their open and closed positions. Our Client Portal will soon feature these dashboards, which are powered by Autochartist AI and machine learning algorithms. This helps clients make more informed trading decisions. And we’re working on new cutting edge technologies that will help clients better time, track and visualise their trades. 

Given the challenging period facing the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel it’s best for our clients if we push forward with our projects, rather than suspending our operations. There are more plans for technology launches this year that will raise the quality of services we provide to our clients. We firmly believe that these launches will benefit our clients and we know that whatever is good for our clients is good for us. Therefore it makes no sense for us to suspend our operations.

This year, ATFX took the move towards biometric facial recognition technology, attaching importance to the security of customer data. Given there have been successful hacks into accounts of some of the large FX brokers over the past two years, do you consider biometric technology to be an important step that all brokers should take?

We feel that client security should be one of the top priorities every broker should consider. In that respect, then yes we do think it’s important all brokers take similar steps.

We have a customer-first business strategy that’s based on the belief that whatever is best for our clients, is ultimately best for our business. We’ve seen a significant spike in cyber-attacks against other broker platforms, and it seems unlikely that this will stop any time soon, in fact, the numbers are rising. We’ve taken steps to help protect our clients, one example is using facial recognition during the onboarding process to ensure that.

We do believe that all brokers should take similar steps to protect their clients from hackers who are using advanced technologies. We’re constantly updating our security protocols and systems to prevent hackers from gaining access to our platforms and data. 

Here is one of the real projects we are running:

The ATFX I.T team works with a prestigious fintech company to deliver the facial recognition service to our clients. This technical partner is providing similar services to other leading E-commerce companies in China such as Alibaba, China CITIC Bank International and Lenovo Group. That means our clients can enjoy the same leading technologies as the above-listed company. We first launched facial recognition for account opening in the Chinese Markets.

This was a move to better verify customer identities and to ensure account security. It allows clients to open their account and conduct transactions anywhere, anytime and within 60 seconds. This eliminates the need for office visits, additional admin procedures or unsecure document delivery. All this helps boost customer confidence which currently sits at 98% for this technology. 

By the end of 2019, we have further expanded our automated KYC (Know Your Customer) due diligence solution suitable for multi-country use. This has been done by joining forces with ”Electronic Identification” (eID). eID is the world’s leading provider of remote user identification systems that use video streaming.

It’s eID’s KYC solutions and services that help ATFX to provide a unique, simple, frictionless, high-security experience that meets the highest standards stipulated by international regulations. They both help us provide a single solution for all things compliance and user onboarding. This benefits the company and clients because it prevents malicious attacks and ensures the safety of clients assets.

Besides the software support on the technology, ATFX has focused heavily on customer service, product development and IT innovation since its founding. Our leadership team recognised the important role technology could play in the FX industry and made it a key pillar within our business strategy. We have a team of over 100 IT professionals in Shenzhen, China, developing new tech products and services.

With a number still to be launched to the market. In the past year, we’ve heavily invested capital, technology and time into upgrading our products and services. Over 3 million US dollars have been invested to ensure we’re a technology-driven broker.

What kind of product is the most popular from the clients perspective in the first quarter of 2020?

Well, it’s hard to pinpoint a single product as being the most popular with our clients. Especially given the highly volatile environment we’re in has led to a significant spike in trading volumes on all our products. We’ve noticed a major uptick in the daily trading volumes of instruments such as gold, oil, and many of the major currency pairs including the EUR/USD, GBP/USD, AUD/USD and USD/JPY currency pairs. However, if I was to single out the most traded assets, it’d be crude oil and gold which were the most traded in Q1 2020. 

During this challenging period, we’re focused on educating our clients because we believe the best investor/trader is a knowledgeable investor. Our goal is to have more clients trading with their head rather than their heart. Taking the emotions out of trading helps clients perform consistently and eliminates erratic behaviour that can affect P/L. The fact that we can’t host physical seminars has not stopped us from educating our clients during this difficult time. We’re hosting online events to educate our clients on the products we offer and how strategies like diversification of trading products can help in the long run.

How are the company’s business plans in this challenging period?

ATFX has a robust business continuity plan that came into effect earlier this year after the COVID-19 threat emerged. We’re constantly updating it to adapt to the changing environment. A key part of our plan was helping our employees to work from home yet still delivering the high-quality services that ATFX is known for. We’ve built solid systems to ensure our employees remain highly productive whilst working from home. Our business continuity plan was developed in accordance with government guidance and we’re pleased to report that we’ve implemented the plan without major hitches. 

We launched Adobe Sign in the first quarter of 2020, which has proven to be a useful technology, especially during this challenging period. Adobe Sign increases the efficiency of our operations by allowing our clients to sign the agreement or contract from the comfort of their homes. The e-signs collected via Adobe Sign are legally binding electronic documents. Therefore, there is no need for printed materials and it can be used on any legal agreements between ATFX and clients. 

We’re committed to continuing our high-quality education service despite the challenges that COVID-19 is causing. During this period, ATFX has been holding even more webinars for its clients since the government guidelines advised people to stay at home. For all scheduled seminars, we will replace them with an online webinar, so clients still have access to the education and training they need.

We held 12 webinars in March when the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. We then dramatically increased that number to 55 in April as it became clear that physical seminars were out of the question. We plan to hold 64 webinars in May as we expand our training programme to cater to both new and existing clients.   

What innovations does ATFX have on the horizon for the year ahead?

We’re in the process of upgrading the services on our MT4 platform, which will go live this year. This will include Autochartist functionality and personalised news plugins which provide a constant stream of simple-to-understand visual market analysis. The technology allows us to monitor thousands of financial instruments 24 hours a day and automatically uncover trading opportunities in real-time.

With the pattern recognition engines continuously scanning financial markets such as Forex, Indices, Commodities, Stocks, CFD’s and Futures, traders are notified within minutes of pattern formations. More plans include upgrading the client portal platform from 1.0 to 2.0. All these are designed to improve our clients trading experience, through the use of efficient technology.

Our ATFX Connect platform will offer institutional clients access to an expanded set of CFD products. This CFD package will allow brokers to pass on the pricing to their clients via an exchange data solution. By continuing to invest in our technology and with ongoing development, we will add more items to our product line. 

We have lots of innovative products and services in the pipeline, all of which are specifically designed to improve the way our clients are doing business with us. We are confident we can meet and exceed the demands used in the ever-changing financial landscape.

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