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Brain Drain at the OCC

By Robert Hunter

Federal regulatory agencies have always served as the happy hunting grounds for Wall Street recruiters, but the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency seems to have suffered more than its fair share of risk-management raids.

Three key officials that helped develop the agency's derivatives efforts have recently caught the Delta shuttle northward. Last year, Doug Harris left his job as senior deputy comptroller for capital markets at the OCC to become a consultant for various New York banks and hedge funds. A month later, Ed Dumas, Harris' senior executive assistant at the OCC, became the senior manager for market risk at the Bank of Boston and the chairman of the corporation's global valuation committee. And in January, Barry Schachter left his job in the agency's risk analysis division to become market risk portfolio manager at Chase Manhattan Bank.

Is this evidence of horrid working conditions or sagging morale at the agency? Hardly. If you listen to these former OCCers talk, you'd think the acronym stands for the Office of the Completely Content.

Schachter says he agonized over his decision for weeks. "I hated leaving the OCC," he confesses. "I was working with really smart people doing really interesting things-like providing bank examiners backup on technical issues like evaluating Value-at-Risk, stress-testing, back-testing and option-pricing models." It took an offer from the largest bank in the United States to woo Schachter from the OCC's homey environs. "I cannot think of anywhere else that would have caused me to leave," he says.

For Harris, a New Yorker to the bone, leaving the OCC was harder than he expected. "I found working at the OCC to be one of the most rewarding professional experiences I've had," he says. "I originally went to the OCC with the intention of only staying two years, but at the end of the second year I decided to stay for a third because I hadn't accomplished everything I set out to do."

Dumas is equally unequivocal in describing his stay at the OCC. "I liked working at the OCC very much," he says. "It attracts some very talented people." Much more of a quant than a policy wonk, Dumas moved to the Bank of Boston because the new position allows him to focus more on analytical issues than his OCC job allowed. Nevertheless, the former physics major says "I wouldn't trade the opportunities I had there for anything."

According to Schachter, the rapid turnover at the OCC is a sign of strength, not weakness. "I'd much rather be at the OCC, a place that has smart people that sometimes turn over frequently, than have the kind of stereotypical government bureaucrats that just turn into deadwood over time."

Tail Wags Dog at BT

Lately, a number of derivatives groups have been trying to find ways to integrate their operations better with other areas of their firms (see "Islands No Longer," February). In some cases, formerly separate derivatives sales groups have been placed under larger fixed-income or equity sales efforts.

Bankers Trust has recently turned that model around by making its government bond trading operation subservient to its interest rate derivatives group. In February, it cut about 20 bond traders, merging bond trading with derivatives trading as a single profit group and placing the former under the command of Bill Hirschberg, managing director for interest rate derivatives. Hirschberg will report to Alex Frick, senior managing director for fixed-income trading.

Although a number of overseas banks make cash bond trading secondary to derivatives, it's less common among U.S. firms, which have substantial Treasury trading groups. Although BT is still one of the 37 primary dealers, its derivatives expertise clearly outshines its bond trading business. A spokesman for BT says the move made sense as the bank is now looking at bonds and derivatives as a single unit "in the way that clients look at it."

Hagay Shefi Enters the Middleware Wars

Earlier this year, Hagay Shefi decided that what the derivatives world really needed was better middleware. In case you've been in Pago Pago for the last 10 years, middleware is the special software that allows different programs and operating systems to talk to each other. As financial institutions try to bolt new programs onto their aging legacy systems, they're bedeviled by the seemingly simple problem of getting data from one place to another.

To capitalize on this problem, Shefi quit his job as managing director at SunGard Capital Markets to become president of Mint Communication Systems Inc., a middleware company that is a subsidiary of OSHAP, a publicly owned company traded on the NASDAQ. "The middleware business is the hottest thing in the market," says Shefi, 31, whose firm has already snagged NatWest Markets and other high-profile investment banks as clients.

Although big players such as Digital Equipment Corp. and IBM are offering middleware products to the derivatives market, Shefi says his experience at SunGard has helped him offer something different. "While other companies require very specific interfaces either to the origin or the destination of data, we allow banks to use the solution with any network type or application," he explains. "We do not require any additional code or any specific interfaces." Shefi says his system goes beyond merely facilitating the transfer of data across disparate operating systems and applications-it allows pieces of information to be manipulated during the transfer based on specific, user-defined rules, and it guarantees successful data transfer. "As far as I know, we are the only company that intelligently provides that," he says.

  • John Neal has signed on with Princeton Financial Systems in Princeton, N.J., as managing director of technology. Previously, Neal served as president of TCS, a New Jersey-based software-development company
  • David Buchen left Citibank in February to become managing director responsible for global proprietary trading in foreign exchange for NatWest Markets. According to Howard Kurz, Buchen's new boss at NatWest, "this is a key hire for NatWest Markets. David's experience in proprietary trading will significantly broaden our capabilities in the other major markets in the world." Buchen had served as managing director of Citibank's foreign exchange group since 1994
  • Robert Samuel has been named senior managing director of Tech Hackers, a New York-based international financial software engineering firm. Samuel, who previously worked at Generic Trading/ Carlin Equities Corp. as an equity portfolios manager focusing on interest rate derivatives and products with correlation sensitivity, will manage the firm's consulting services
  • Henry Lichtenstein recently accepted a position with Fimat Futures USA as managing director of sales­energy. "Henry's depth of knowledge and experience as an institutional energy broker and as a technical analyst will be a great asset to our business," says Steve Bergan, Fimat's president
  • The Chicago Mercantile Exchange elected its 1997 officers. Jack Sander was elected chairman for a record 13th consecutive year. M. Scott Gordon will serve as vice chairman for a third term. Joel Greenberg (second vice chairman), Joel Stender (secretary) and Thomas A. Kloet (treasurer) were elected to the board for the first time
  • Abby Friedman has been named marketing director of Financial Sciences, a provider of integrated treasury systems. Previously, Friedman served as vice president of marketing at Midas-Kapiti International
  • Rick McCarthy, who previously served as director of business development at Renassaince Software Inc., has been promoted to president of the firm. McCarthy succeeds Evard Van Hertsen, who has left the firm for personal reasons
  • Ron Lang has left Rational Software to become vice president of marketing for Infinity Financial Technology Inc. According to Roger Lang, Infinity's president (no relation to Ron Lang), "Ron's proven marketing skills, developed at leading technology companies, will be integral to Infinity's expanding market leadership in the United States, Asia-Pacific and Europe."