Interview: Philip Brittan, CEO, Crux Informatics

What are you most looking forward to at the AI & Data Science in Trading conference?

I’m looking forward to learning from experts about the challenges everyone is facing in data ingestion and operations. I believe that my firm can ease those burdens by building and operating data pipelines efficiently.

I’m also excited by the opportunity to hear directly from traders, data scientists, and data suppliers about their visions for the future of data. As the financial industry’s neutral data ingestion service, Crux seeks to make friction-free access to relevant data a reality across the industry. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing data scientists/AI experts/quantitative investors in 2018/2019? Why are they important?

Investors certainly need to ingest more data from a wider variety of sources. The challenge for the industry is that ingesting data is slow and costly. Until now, no one has figured out how to ingest data efficiently. Firms are spending 80% of their time in working with data loading it into company systems, wrangling it into the right format, watching the feeds and working with suppliers to resolve issues.

Crux is creating an economy of scale for data ingestion, a best-of-breed cloud-based platform that connects customers with data from a wide and continually growing range of relevant sources. We provide a neutral service that delivers the data firms need, how and when they need it. That way, firms can spend their time on data analysis, which is the work that truly sets a fund apart from competitors. 

Moving forward, the value of data is going to be what you can add to it--your analytics, your IP, your “secret sauce,” so to speak. The ability to onboard and access data will be a baseline standard that everyone across the industry will achieve.

What are the most important factors in selecting a new solution partner?

You should make sure that any data management solution provider you enlist is neutral when it comes to the data sources. Neutrality on the part of your data platform provider is the only way to guarantee you can choose the best possible data sources to meet your needs.  “Neutral” means that the partner should not have a vested interest in which sources of data you choose to use.  Crux does not sell or resell any data, so the choice of data sources is entirely up to you.  Crux provides the data processing and operational oversight on the feeds you choose.

Another must-have factor is operational excellence.  Data is quickly becoming the most valuable asset class, and the ability to make use of it quickly, efficiently, and reliably is critical for firms today.  Crux serves extremely demanding clients who ensure that we stay at a peak level of operational excellence and attention to detail, giving you a world class capability.

What can be done about the talent war in AI and machine learning and how do you handle this in your organisation?

Let your talent focus on work that matters, and your talent will thank you. Today there is no reason why top minds in AI and machine learning should have to spend the majority of their time on repetitive tasks such as studying file specifications, cleaning, validating, and loading datasets. Analyzing data is vastly more interesting and rewarding work for the talent at your firm. 

To attract and retain the best data talent, your firm should offer an efficient data environment where data scientists can access an abundance of data sources rapidly. That way, you’re empowering your talent to skip busy work and bring their full energy to creative endeavours that can differentiate your firm from competitors. 

At Crux, we have a world-class team of data engineers and data operations specialists who focus purely on delivering you all the data you need, around the clock. We apply our talent to implement future-proof technology that can deliver data reliably and securely to your firm via the cloud. We automate the repetitive parts of data ingestion and use our talent to monitor, manage, and scale data pipeline operations. 

Cloud computing has been widely adopted in most sectors except financial services.  Is this now changing, and if so how will funds decide how and where to include external providers?

Today 68% of institutional investors are comfortable with storing data in the cloud, according to a survey by State Street. Cloud solutions are clearly among the most rapid, cost-efficient, and secure platforms to deliver data to users across the office. There is also a movement underway to outsource data management. More than 60% of investors plan to outsource data management in the next two years, according to the State Street survey. 

The “first mile” of data--commonly known as ETL, or extract, transform, load--is rapidly becoming commoditized and is now available in the form of a cost-efficient managed service like Crux. Moving forward, investors will differentiate themselves by their capacity to find insights in massive amounts of data. To move faster to finding insights and decrease operational costs, top funds will leverage external specialists to handle the grunt work of data ingestion, validation, and delivery.

If you look 3 years into the future, what do you consider will be the biggest changes to the way hedge funds will use technology to generate alpha?

In the next three years, our efficient data ingestion platform will enable firms to ingest data at an unprecedented scale. Hedge funds will be able to eliminate much of the infrastructure they currently use to ingest, process, and manage data. Funds will become able to align their technology with their business priorities. Funds will focus on developing their own proprietary algorithms to analyze data and trade. It’s the technology to analyze data that will distinguish one firm from another. Every fund will need an efficient platform to distribute and manage data in order to compete in the market, and Crux plans to be that platform for everyone. 

The methods hedge funds use to ingest new data sets are long, complex and expensive.  Is this sustainable, or will outsourcing play a role?

Hedge funds’ current methods of ingesting data are not sustainable. In the new data economy, funds simply cannot afford to spend three to six months onboarding a new data source--and those time estimates are at the low end of the spectrum. The markets move fast, and the data sources themselves lose relevance over time. A small number of quant shops have built their own data ingestion and distribution systems, but that building process takes two years, at the minimum. Then you run into the problem of how to maintain, and how to extend the system. 

Today leading funds like Two Sigma are seeing the value of partnership to speed up data ingestion. An external specialist can provide a lot of value by handling the burdensome aspects of data ingestion, making all the data your fund needs available for you in the cloud, ready for download in the formats you prefer. A trusted partner like Crux is here to deliver the fuel for your fund by piping you the data to plug into your algorithms. A low-cost subscription service to a neutral data utility service is a much smarter way to power your business than building and maintaining costly infrastructure to ingest data in house.

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