MarketSound gives screen trading a voice

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Throughout a 30-year trading career he has had to 'rely on my team to be my eyes'. The only way he could keep up with market movements was by constantly asking his colleagues to tell him prices. But a chance meeting on a train three months ago led to his discovery of the audio software. Hearing a MarketSound executive talking about it, Freeman invited him to demonstrate the system at his office the next day, and was instantly sold on it.

Now he hears real-time prices on the FTSE via his PC audio system. 'It gives me the pleasure of hearing it myself and it has made everyone's life on this desk a lot easier,' says Freeman. 'People have been promising this kind of system for years, but never did it because commercially it didn't make sense.'

What has changed the economics is the end of open-outcry trading, in which traders used both eyes and ears to gather information, to screen-based trading, which is entirely visual. Most traders agree that electronic trading, apart from being less fun, is also more difficult, because you have to keep staring at a screen and process multiple streams of information from it.

MarketSound was concerned about making that process easier by allowing traders to hear as well as see what is going on. Those trading on two markets, for example, can watch one on screen and follow the second on audio. Indeed MarketSound founders Wade Vagle and Brad Fishman claim they funded the expansion of their company with profits made trading the FTSE against the DAX using their system last year.

'We listened to DAX and kept our eyes on the FTSE. That gave us a one-second advantage,' says Vagle. 'In four and a half months, Fishman had no losing days and I had one.'

MarketSound's advantage, says Vagle, compared with previous attempts to turn market feeds into words, is its method of prioritising what information it gives. Like a human commentator, he explains, the software chooses what is the most important among bid, offer, trading price and other information, depending on market conditions and what has been said already.

Moreover, says Vagle, MarketSound has been 'almost obsessional about getting the voice to sound as human as possible, so that it isn't annoying to listen to all day'.

In addition to following prices on a given market, there is also the option to have a virtual pit running in the background, recording every single trade, with different volumes denoting different sizes of deal.

Freeman at Sucden says he does not use the virtual pit, preferring to hear just the FTSE. The next feature he will add will be the ability to listen to the price of a basket of shares. Already, says Freeman, the system has made him much more efficient than before.

Has it made Sucden more profitable, though? Not really, says Michael Overlander, Sucden managing director. 'But it does bring back part of the personality of an exchange and the value of that is not to be underestimated.'