It’s been a busy Autumn on the London financial services conference circuit. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a healthy diversity of events with distinct though intersecting agendas. I’ve attended two alternative data events, both heady mixes of vendor/user speed-dating interspersed with panel discussions, one up-and-coming Quant event and a couple of established Research events.

Across all conferences, there was a focus on responding to change, but with different emotional responses, despite attendees across all three seemingly interested in identifying alpha, managing beta and servicing customers in new ways. The alternative data events embraced enthusiastically the emerging maturation of the alternative data industry and the ability of firms, particularly on the tech buyside, to accommodate it. The Quant event offered some grinning scepticism about the relevance (and hype) of machine learning for prediction. The research events, on the other hand, featured MiFID-induced unenthused introspection: “we’re over the worst but badly shaken up”.

There was some overlap between the Quant and Alternative Data events. Quants were a majority among the audience at the Alternative Data events, though arguably these agendas had a stronger discretionary feel. In turn, alternative data featured on a couple of the panels at the Quant Conference; at least one panellist arguing that alternative data was more interesting to look at than machine learning.


The Research conferences tended to focus on how research should continue to be valuable and monetised hard-dollar post-MiFID. However, there was surprisingly little discussion about the changing nature of the research product itself, more it’s consumption and appreciation.

There was one exception, an American presenter, who observed the Stateside research community, a little less shaken than their European comrades but still affected by MiFID, were realising new forms of client value in new data-sets and the delivery of them, perhaps with a data science twist. They confirmed that bulge-bracket banks too had embraced this transformation, in part because their buy-side clients were expecting them to have a holistic view of new data sources and methodologies. A parting comment from the speaker was that the best thing the London-based Research audience could do was to attend an alternative data event. “They offer opportunities for you to find new niches, build new differentiating expertise.” 

Amidst this backdrop, three additional recommendations.

First, whatever your background there is scope to look beyond MiFID 2, to innovate with new data-sets and build good research from them.

Second, work together – Researcher, Quant/Data Scientist and Alternative Data specialist. We’re all serving the same objectives, albeit from different starting points and with different skills – storytelling, data analytics and data supply.

Third, we at Geospatial Insight would love to help. Consider image-derived datasets as both a novel form of information and an opportunity for domain expert researchers to offer interesting new research angles.  After all, were one of the first Alt Data firms to secure membership of the European Association of Independent Research Providers (EuroIRP).

Next time, an example.  

Find out more about our work in the Investment Sector

About the Author: Steve Wilcockson

At Geospatial Insight, Steve is Product Manager for RetailWatch, a consumer sentiment analysis dataset and drives client-facing activities in the financial services segment for all Geospatial Insight products. Steve was formerly Global Industry Manager for Financial Services at the engineering software company MathWorks, developers of MATLAB™, where Steve worked in the field for over 20 years among model builders and implementers such as quants, quant developers, economists, actuaries, algo traders, portfolio managers and risk managers. Steve has a masters degree in Geography from the University of Cambridge and the University of British Columbia

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