Could you tell us about yourself and your background?
Hello, I’m Jack. I grew up between South West London and South West Wales. At university I studied Physics which I maintain a casual interest in. I’m one of life’s eternal hobbyists - but approaching middle age, my main passion when I have the time is mountain biking adventures, but I also love running and the great outdoors, and techno. When I was younger much of my time was spent doing ballet and hockey.
When did you join Aspect and what is your role?
I joined Aspect in 2005. Over the years I’ve had many positions, but currently I am Principal Researcher. My role involves generating ideas and guiding the research process, conducting my own research, and developing new products.
Did you always want to work in Research?
No! After university I spent almost a year following my main passion at the time and trying to make it in the music industry. After exhausting my savings I needed some money, and was casually aware Finance was a career that lots of Physicists went into. I had no idea what to apply for on the Investment Bank graduate schemes, but I then saw an advert for Aspect specifically looking for a Physics graduate. I only intended to work for 6 months then return to music, but really ended up enjoying my job.
What does Research mean and what makes a good Researcher?
There’s no set recipe to doing Research, but in general it often starts with some interesting observation about the financial world we live in. We then try and to focus in on some hypotheses and invent some statistical tests for them. If successful, we then try and to exploit the effect with a practical and robust real world implementation. A lot of the Research process then involves stress testing our implementation every way possible. Along this journey there is constant feedback of results to your peers, promoting further new ideas and criticisms.
Initially, the most important qualities in a Researcher are common sense and academic integrity – to not to get too attached to a project so you can appraise it clearly. Perhaps with experience comes the ability to know when to end an unsuccessful project early, to pick projects to work on that can give the biggest improvements for the least effort, and to have a bit more commercial awareness.
How would you describe your standard day in Research?
Before Covid, a typical day would be to cycle into work, then shower and coffee. These days I’m less involved in the day to day portfolio management, so I would then usually pick up existing projects I’m working on. I usually try to work on two at a time, so that when I get the equivalent of writer’s block, I can jump between the projects while I work something out. We have a very collegiate environment, so I’ll usually end up talking about my work with someone, or about someone else’s work. A few times per week there will be a theme meeting where I or one of the other research team present some results and have a discussion.
What has been the most unexpected thing about your role at Aspect?
I suppose I had quite a stereotypical view of Finance before I joined Aspect, but was determined to be myself. I had a lot of great managers over the years who went out of their way to make it easy for me – I have quite a bad stammer – and everyone has been very accommodating from top to bottom of the company. I had a vague idea of career paths in other industries from friends, but I’ve seen many times how quickly you can rise to a position of real responsibility by working hard with the right attitude. I remember going from not even knowing what a hedge fund was on Day 1, to being responsible for some really interesting work by the end of my first year.
What exciting developments in the Research space are you following closely? Are there any new techniques you are exploring?
On the products side of my job, I’m really interested in the burgeoning field of ESG investing. Apart from the obvious altruistic motivations, it’s an exciting challenge to see how ESG characteristics can be woven into quantitative investing in a meaningful way.
Any blogs/ podcasts you follow religiously that you would recommend to someone interested in the industry?
I think the best thing for anyone interested in the industry is to try and gain some real world experience – quants have a tendency to make our industry more mysterious than it really is! These days a lot of real world managers, including us, publish research white papers that provide practical insights into our industry and can be great learning resources.