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SIA SHOW: Bullrun Targets Performance Attribution

If you're an institutional-equity money manager shopping for a real-time decision-support system that helps you dissect your performance, then you're in luck.

If you're an institutional-equity money manager shopping for a real-time decision-support system that helps you dissect your performance, then you're in luck. This year's SIA Technology Management Conference and Exhibit offers some old-time favorites like BARRA, Bloomberg and FactSet Research Systems Inc.

One newcomer, Bullrun Financial, Inc., (booth #1740) is touting a Web-based platform that it calls "a Formula 500 race care" for the professional money manager.

The venture-backed, portfolio-management-software start-up based in Princeton, N.J.-- which is partly owned by Alliance Capital Management-- is unveiling a major upgrade that combines real-time attribution data, buy/sell signal analysis with proprietary strategies and macroeconomic data and charts.

First released in December 2001, the product aggregates massive amounts of real-time data through a single, dashboard-like interface. A professional money manager can customize screen layouts to compare their portfolio against benchmark indexes, such as the Nasdaq 100, the German DAX or the MSCI World, among others, or customize his own index by setting different time periods.

"Part of what makes it unique is it's bringing together a lot of different pieces of information and data," comments Robert Hegarty, director investment-management technology, TowerGroup. Hegarty, who has seen the product through several iterations, singles out "ease of navigation," through the use of screen layouts, buttons, tabs and visual symbols, as well as descriptions.

Two of the new tabs are macroeconomic data and asset allocation. Bullrun buys data from places like Reuters, MSCI and FAME Information Services, covering more than 9,600 equities worldwide from 30 countries, 59 industry groups, 10 sectors and 60 cyclical or counter-cyclical investment categories. Global data "is one of the separators," says Hegarty, who notes the system "was built with the global money manager in mind."

One of the system's distinguishing features is real-time performance attribution -- understanding the factors driving performance. "This is really what moved us up in the marketplace," contends John Michel, Bullrun's president and chief executive officer, who previously spent 13 years at Merrill Lynch where he most recently managed Merrill Lynch Direct, the Internet brokerage site. "As far as I can tell nobody really does real-time attributions. If they have it, they're using it once a week or once a month ... It's relatively complicated mathematics ... and that's why nobody has built it in real time like we have," he says.

Another competitor in the real-time-analytics category is Verilytics (booth# 1861), which offers a dashboard interface for asset managers to track their exposures to different asset classes in real time. The system's strength is in managing thousands of ticks per second by caching data in memory, says Todd Piett, vice president sales and marketing. Because the technology makes it easy to create very complex rules, the product is being used in different areas from pre-trade compliance to CRM and straight-through processing. "You can use it in real time against performance benchmarks and be alerted when you're outside of tolerances," Piett explains.

According to TowerGroup's Hegarty, "Increasingly, money-management firms want to understand what are the factors leading their portfolio managers to perform well or poorly." In addition, management is looking to performance attribution as the basis for compensating portfolio managers, he says.

In the near future, Bullrun plans to create a link to order management/trading systems, and by this summer will release optimization and rebalancing tools that generate lists of trades in alternative stocks. Right now, if someone wants to do an interday trade, they can hit the trade button and see the change in their portfolio. They can then print out tickets for their trading desks. Clients can store portfolios behind firewalls, but most keep them on Bullrun's servers.

"If they're buying two to 10 seats it's less expensive for them to keep it on our (servers). If they're buying 30 to 40 seats, then they'll keep it behind their firewall," Michel explains.

As for competitors, Hegarty says other than in-house developers, BARRA (booth #1503) is far and away Bullrun's largest, though he notes that Vestek, Wilshire and Northfield are also players. Michel admits, "There are firms that do some of the same functions," naming the FactSets of the world, the Barras and the Bloombergs (booth #2615). But these are larger vendors that have had to make compromises to serve a broader audience, he says. "Our view is we're focusing on a specific segment -- being portfolio managers -- and so within that segment we think we are delivering a more customized solution." Ivy is Editor-at-Large for Advanced Trading and Wall Street & Technology. Ivy is responsible for writing in-depth feature articles, daily blogs and news articles with a focus on automated trading in the capital markets. As an industry expert, Ivy has reported on a myriad ... View Full Bio

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