The Boca that wasn't

11 March 2020

I want to thank FIA members and Boca attendees for their understanding and support of our decision to cancel the 45th Annual Boca International Futures Industry Conference due to the global outbreak of the Coronavirus. Today would have been the first full day of the Boca Conference, which provides me a moment to reflect.    

The decision to cancel was a difficult one that weighed heavily on us. Over the years, FIA Boca has become an incredibly efficient week where industry leaders from around the world gather to announce deals, share ideas, learn about trends, and connect with clients and regulators. One global exchange head told me that Boca is the most productive week of their year. Cancelling Boca was a big deal to say the least. 

But when the FIA board met in emergency session last week, they focused on the most pressing question: Could we guarantee the safety of all conference participants considering the global nature of the conference and the alarming spread of COVID-19?  That simple question made the decision a hard but unanimous one. It was one of the most somber moments of my tenure at FIA.  

After the board decision, I called several exchange heads, regulators, sponsors and industry stakeholders to tell them the news. I was blown away by the overwhelming support and relief they expressed to me. Many of them were struggling with similar considerations and FIA’s leadership helped bring clarity to our members. Ironically, the decision NOT to hold the Boca Conference became a community-building moment that brought our industry together in solidarity.   

I’m not going to lie—I’m still grieving over Boca. I’ve gone through several of the Seven Stages of Grief, including shock, denial, anger and depression. I hope to reach acceptance soon. But before I do, allow me to daydream a bit about the Boca That Wasn’t.  

I will miss stepping off the plane and feeling the warmth of Florida sunshine on my face after the long winter. I will miss driving to the hotel and spotting the big pink tower of the Boca Resort like the Great Pyramid of south Florida. I will miss Bar Luna where attendees held court late into the evening, a chairman once danced, and you are bound to hear equal parts laughter and business.    

Most importantly, I will miss doing my lightning round with the exchange leaders panel, listening to our fantastic keynotes, interviews and panels, and of course giving my opening remarks about the state of our industry.  

Truthfully, my remarks now seem secondary considering the volatility in the markets due to the Coronavirus. But in some strange way, the points I would have made are even more poignant given recent market turmoil. In brief, here’s what I would have said:  

Markets Matter!   

During this time of economic uncertainty, our markets have been doing exactly what they have been built to do—manage risk and discover prices.  We may not like the volatility in the markets, or the prices generated, but our markets enable the latest news and sentiment to be reflected in prices instantaneously. And our industry has continued to function smoothly despite the record-breaking number of trades flowing through our networks and systems. It’s during these times of economic turmoil that our markets shine. We should be proud that the cleared derivatives markets are open for business and helping customers hedge risk. It is for this reason that policymakers held up the cleared derivatives industry as a model for post-financial crisis reform.  

Customers First! 

At times like these, our industry must not lose its focus on customers and serving the broader economy. Former GIC and SIMEX executive and FIA Futures Hall of Fame member Ng Kok Song once told me that the modern futures and derivatives industry gets into trouble when it forgets that it is not an industry in and of itself.  Like a wise teacher to his student, he told me that we mustn’t forget that these markets exist—not for their own purposes—but to serve customers like agricultural producers, energy firms, institutional investors, pension funds, and lenders who need to manage risk. It’s hard to go off-course when we put our customers first. This is wise advice to all of us, especially during challenging times.     

Data, Data, Data! 

Access to information and data is pivotal in the fog of crisis decision-making. FIA’s job—in good times and bad—is to ensure that members, regulators and policymakers are informed when making decisions for our industry. We cannot always guarantee good decisions, but we can guarantee informed decisions.   

Today FIA is pleased to join industry research firm Greenwich Associates in publishing a comprehensive survey on trading and clearing trends in the derivatives markets. The study reveals the market priorities, impediments and trends of our industry with a focus on the customer.  Whether its cross-border access, China or competition, it shines a bright light on the long-term structural trends that create both challenges and opportunities for our industry. I encourage you to read it. 

To bring better metrics to our members, FIA has also developed a data center to help our members’ analytical needs as well as our advocacy efforts. FIA’s Data Hub now collects information on customer funds held by FCMs as well as trading activity on exchanges and swap execution facilities. We have created one convenient source of information on industry trends, and we are committed to expanding this resource to include additional data sets soon.  

I will close by thanking the many members, sponsors and attendees that would have been in Boca this week. Your support and understanding have been incredible. While I will miss seeing you this week, be assured that FIA continues its work on your behalf. Together we will get through this market turmoil like we have many times in the past.  Here’s to sunnier and healthier days ahead and to Boca 2021

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