In recent years banks have pulled back from their traditional roles as principals in fixed-income trading, forcing market participants to find ways to fill the liquidity gap. BlackRock's Richard Prager was among the first to grasp the magnitude of the challenge and get vocal about it. As global head of trading after joining BlackRock in 2009, and in his current role as head of trading, liquidity, and investments platform, Prager has not only been working within the firm on new approaches typically centering on electronic bond trading technology but also taking the lead in pushing the investment community as a whole toward more efficient and liquid markets. He initiated dialogue about everything from using exchange-traded funds to gain exposure to bond sectors, to the need for behavioral changes in the market, to trying new trading protocols.
"The reality is that we're much more dependent on the plumbing than ever before," says Prager, 56, who had a sell-side career, including eight years at Bank of America, before joining the $5.1 trillion asset management giant BlackRock, where he is a member of the global executive committee and leads the global trading, liquidity, and securities lending teams. One highly visible and increasingly popular change in fixed-income market structure is the all-to-all Open Trading initiative, on which BlackRock partnered with MarketAxess Holdings. "We feel good about the progress we've made for both our investment clients and shareholders," Prager says. "We are focused on developing innovative solutions to overcome the liquidity challenge."
Despite regulators' concerns about liquidity availability, management, and risk, a full-blown crisis hasn't materialized. "We've had Trump, Brexit, rates going from 135 to 248 on the ten-year [Treasury bond], but we haven't had any calamities," Prager says, adding that technology alone is not the solution: "It's about people and the machine." BlackRock is hiring talent to ensure that the firm adapts to a changed trading environment with, for example, more of a liquidity-providing and price-making mind-set. "When you're a price maker, you earn alpha," he says. "That's a different way of behaving in the world."
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