News & Analysis
News & Analysis

Margin Call Podcast – S1 E2: Tom Williams | GO Markets Head of Trading

25 January 2019 By GO Markets


Tom Williams (@TomW_GOMarkets) is the GO Markets Head of Trading. He started out as a dealer and broker in the excitement-driven city of London across equities, fixed income and foreign exchange. Learning the technical aspects of what is now a software-driven business has allowed Tom to lead all trading operations at GO Markets, literally keeping the show on the road. Old Scouse loves a laugh and a pint and is always affable enough to show you the bright side of life (as Monty Python says).

In this episode we’ll cover:

  1. What brought Tom to Australia and what he misses about the UK
  2. His role as head of trading at GO Markets
  3. The Swiss National Bank Crisis
  4. The GFC and Brexit


Disclaimer: Go Markets is a derivatives broker and Jordan Michaelides is the managing director of Neuralle Media. All opinions expressed by Jordan and podcast guests are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of Go Markets, an AFSL license holder. This podcast is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for financial decisions nor as an indication of future performance. Clients of Go Markets may hold positions in the derivatives mentioned. A financial services guide and product disclosure statement for our products are available at the website.

Jordan Michaelides: In this episode we spoke with Tom Williams. Tom is Go Markets head of trading and he started out as a dealer and broker in the excitement driven city of London across equities, fixed income and foreign exchange. Learning the technical aspects of what is now very a software driven business has allowed Tom to lead all trading operations at Go Markets, keeping the show literally on the road. Tom loves a laugh and a pint, is always affable enough to show you the bright side of life, as Monte Python would say.

This is a fascinating episode where we cover what brought him here to Australia and what he misses about the UK. His role as head of trading at Go Markets, particularly examples or crises like the Swiss national bank crisis, the GFC and Brexit, as well as what sitcom best portrays the Go Markets office. If you enjoy this episode, subscribe on your podcast app and share with one of your friends, particularly those who want to get an understanding of the more technical aspects when it comes to trading and what goes on behind the scenes. With that being said, let’s get into the episode with Tom Williams.

Tom, thanks for joining me on me what has turned into a rather miserable Friday afternoon in the Go Markets office. First question for you, how was the wedding?

Tom Williams: The wedding was stressful, but, it was great fun. We went up to Queensland and got the families from New Zealand, from Queensland, from England, all over, and a lot of them met for the first time which was great, but stressful being centre of attention and having to entertain that many people for a few days.

Jordan Michaelides: How long had you guys been planning this wedding? How much time do you spend typically on a wedding planning?

Tom Williams: For me, a lot less than my wife *laughs*. I’d say I had a passive involvement in the organization of the wedding.

Jordan Michaelides: I like that. I like that you’re aware of that too.

Tom Williams: I mean, my wife’s a florist, as you know, so from the events side of it she’s got way more experienced than I have, I would have just messed the whole thing up if I had anything to do with it.

Jordan Michaelides: Now, I want to get into how I guess a liver Puglian made his way here to Australia, but I’ll give people a little bit of a background first. So, obviously you were born and bred in Liverpool. From looking at your past history you spent about five years in the business in the city of London before you made your way out here, working in many different roles, but primarily as a dealer. Equities, fixed income, eventually CFDs as well, which is what Go Markets focuses on now. What was the catalyst that drew you out to Australia?

Tom Williams: The catalyst to go to Australia was and event that happened in 2012 when the company I was working for at the time went into administration, and there was a moment where I could either continue the daily grind in London, or take some time out and go and see the world a bit, which is what I did. I took nearly a year off and ended up in South America, which is where I met my now wife, in Peru. She was from Australia and I had to come over here to, you know, seal the deal.

Jordan Michaelides: So really it was like love that the drew you out here, you could say.

Tom Williams: Well, I had no intention of moving away from the UK, you know, I never considered what it’d be like not working in the UK. I guess the opportunity was there and it seemed like the right thing to do and it’s worked out pretty well.

Jordan Michaelides: Yeah, I would definitely say that. And it’s so fascinating. I just look at it from your position and I don’t think you would have ever expected to be in this situation five, six years ago.

Tom Williams: Absolutely. I couldn’t have even imagined it to be honest.

Jordan Michaelides: Also, it’s interesting because of just where the UK is at and what Australia offers. The other day I was looking at like immigration numbers the UK is still the biggest source in terms of growth through immigration, I’m pretty sure next to China. I think it’s still the biggest because a lot of millennials like yourself come out here and there’s just so much opportunity. You can speak the language, you get sun.

Tom Williams: Yeah. I mean the UK is a great place to live, but we just, we don’t have the weather. I’m not saying that I’m much of a beach goer, but we just don’t have the sorts of lifestyle that good, consistent, good weather brings. We have long winters and miserable rainy days. Melbourne winter is considered a bad winter in Australia, but you still get lovely sunny days and it’s just a more positive place to be, that people are more positive as a result of the lifestyle that Australia offers.

Jordan Michaelides: And apart from your family, what do you miss the most about home?

Tom Williams: This is a question I get asked quite frequently and it’s a struggle to answer it because there’s not a lot that I do miss from the UK really, except family and friends to be honest.

Jordan Michaelides: Not even football?

Tom Williams: The football side of it, you just learn to live with it. Thanks to Optus, you can catch up on demand pretty easily. So, to be honest, I don’t miss a lot in terms of lifestyle or anything like that.

Jordan Michaelides: Well, that’s good to hear. And, eventually citizenship for yourself, like one of the other poms that we have in the office here would be good to see. I’m thinking about your family in particular, and I’m curious as I like to know from a lot of guests, if you can think back to your own childhood, and about your parents, is there a particular lesson or principle that you maybe hold with you today that you saw directly or indirectly from them, and you later realized it’s a core tenant of your personality.

Tom Williams: I suppose hard work, and discipline as well. Growing up in a city like Liverpool, you could be led astray in a number of different directions. My father is a policeman, so he was always very strict and perhaps, saw me going in the wrong direction when I was younger. Nothing crazy, I’m talking just normal teenage stuff that you kind of get yourself involved in, but obviously he didn’t turn a blind eye to that. He put me on the right tracks. So, yeah, discipline, hard work. My father retired as a superintendent in the police, which is a pretty senior role to get to, and he worked very hard for it. I guess that’s always resonated with me.

Jordan Michaelides: Now thinking about work, your role here is head of trading, which is a thing that people see a lot on different roles for people in different CFD and equity organizations, but they don’t really know what it is. I thought maybe we’ll just get into the nuts and bolts of that. What does that look like? I’m trying to give people the context of 2003 to 2005, you would have still been on the phones a lot, taking orders. Now most systems are quite automated and electronic. So what does your role of head and trading involve?

Tom Williams: So, we try and focus on the overall client experience with the trading platform, whether that be from a cost perspective in terms of the spreads that they’re paying, the commissions that they’re paying, the overnight financing, all the way through to the quality of execution, so, how quickly are these clients able to execute? Are they able to execute during fast markets? Are they able to execute around news, and we try to control the overall cost of trading to make the whole experience better for the client.

Jordan Michaelides: So basically you make sure the shit doesn’t hit the fan in a way.

Tom Williams: Pretty much. That’s one element of it, for sure. As you touched on before, a lot of it is automated. All of our hedging algorithms, everything is automated. It very much becomes autopilot to make sure that nothing goes wrong. And when stuff does go wrong, the most important thing that our team can do is make sure it’s put right as quickly as possible.

Jordan Michaelides: Are there any particular crazy stories that come to mind? I know that in my time here we had some pretty stunning events where the markets were more than wild. I know in our last interview with Chris Gore, he spoke about dealing with the Swiss bank, taking away that peg from the Euro. I’m just curious, are there any crazy stories that you have in memory of the market just going absolutely nuts.

Tom Williams: There’s definitely a few. There were a couple after the Swiss national bank crisis. Since then we’ve had a UK referendum. We’ve had the election of Donald Trump. There’s been a number of associated issues like a Sterling flash crash, which just came out of absolutely nowhere.

Jordan Michaelides: When was that?

Tom Williams: That was soon after the referendum on Brexit. The market started to settle down and then out of nowhere there was a huge liquidity drain. Markets these days are so dictated by algorithms and high frequency trading systems that if there’s a liquidity drain, it happens immediately. It’s not something that happens over time. So, yeah, we have witnessed a few occasions like that, but most notable is definitely the Swiss banking crisis, when the Swiss national bank just… leading up to the events, decided that they were going to tell the market that they were going to maintain this peg of 120 against the Euro and that they were committed to doing this, and Thomas Jordan, the chairman of the SNB at the time came out a week prior and said we’re committed to holding this peg, then all of a sudden shocked the market and said that this is not something that we can feasibly do. I think it was the 15th of Jan 2015, so it was soon after the Christmas break, everybody was just getting back into the swing of things and all of a sudden, a phone call at 10:00 PM at night saying get into the office, the shit’s hit the fan. So, there were a number of us in the office at the time, it was all hands on deck.

Nobody really knew what was going on. The news was out, we knew what happened, but we didn’t know how markets were going to react. Nobody could really price where they thought the Swiss Frank was, banks in particular. There was a lot of uncertainty around where things actually traded, where the market is, where it should be. This went on for a week after the event, which markets have never seen before. It was a crazy time.

Jordan Michaelides: To me that’s very interesting. I mean, I’ve read about it, but we don’t see behind the scenes, you know. The things that you guys see.

If you were to think of the most crucial aspect of your role, you spoke before about execution, liquidity, supervising, all that sort of stuff, what do you think is the most important? The number one aspect of being head of trading.

Tom Williams: I think without a doubt it’s going to be attention to detail, being observance and not missing things. At the same time, it’s important to remember what everybody’s working towards and what the end goal is, which essentially for an online FX broker is to have a product which is efficient for the clients. The competition amongst the FX brokers these days is so… There’s so many brokers out there, everybody’s trying to compete on cost and these discount pricing models. If you fall behind the wolf-pack you’re going to struggle to get in front again. It’s very important for us to just remember the end goal of what we’re trying to achieve, which is to create this superior platform to our competitors.

Jordan Michaelides: I think Chris Gore spoke about that last week that because it’s so competitive now, the main advantage you have is just being trusted and people know that a company like Go Markets has been around for a while and can be trusted to maintain certain best practices or expectations through the market prices, or, the spreads that people get as an example. I find it interesting that you said the most crucial component is attention to detail because if you think about the principles that you took away from your dad, it’s working hard and discipline. And that is like the perfect thing for attention to detail.

We were chatting before about what we want to talk about in this session and you spoke before about Brexit. I feel like you would have had a bit of experience, just from memory. we had a chat years ago about the Lehman brothers collapsed and the 10 year anniversary of the GFC. The effect on the UK was pretty similar, although a bit different. The governments seemed to offer this money to these banks, but they wanted shares in return and I’m pretty sure the government did pretty well buying a large portion of Lloyd’s. I’m just curious, you got into the industry around ’09, what memory do you have of that period?

Tom Williams: I was in the industry prior to ’09, I was in the industry from ’07, so I was around when all this happened but I was very young, and I wasn’t in a responsible position, but I remember sheer, um, fear and. In the UK there were customers queued up at banks trying to withdrawal their cash, which obviously doesn’t work because banks don’t hold that amount of cash. There were banks going into administration, there was footage all over the TVs of people packing boxes up, like Lehman brothers for example, was a huge tower in Canary Wharf which was just down the road from where I was working at the time. It was just like Armageddon, you know, people didn’t really know what was going to go on after that, but things worked out okay. But you know, who paid for that whole crisis in the end, it was probably not the banks. It was probably the people.

Jordan Michaelides: Going back to that point I made about the banks basically having shares purchased by the government, it was the taxpayer’s money. It went back to the government and then the UK went through a massive austerity process because it was part of the EU. That’s what you had to do.

Tom Williams: Exactly. There were huge welfare cuts.

Jordan Michaelides: I reckon that’s actually why we’ve seen so many poms immigrated out here, simply because the opportunities dried up. It’s easier to come to Australia as an Englishman and the opportunities are pretty great. There’s also a lot of family connections for a lot of people as well.

Tom Williams: It’s also quality of life. If you’re a plumber or a carpenter, an electrician, a welder in the UK, your quality of life is dictated by the amount you’re able to earn in those roles in the UK. Whereas you come to Australia and everybody has a good quality of life. There’s a good sort of minimum earning for any role in. It turns out that the tradies in Australia probably do better than anyone else better. I’ve always loved that about Australia, the fact that there are equal opportunities no matter what sorts of road you chose to go down.

Jordan Michaelides: I’d definitely agree with that. Why Brexit came along, which I want to chat about, is because you know, you have all this immigration, austerity processes in the UK, combine that all together and you’ve got yourself the perfect storm for what happened with Brexit because if you’re a plumber living in the Midlands and you’re getting paid by the hour, and some guy from Eastern Europe has immigrated over and he’s happy to work for 10 or 15 bucks an hour then life’s going to be pretty average, I’d say.

Tom Williams: Yeah. Brexit highlights some fundamental problems with the Eurozone, doesn’t it? The Eurozone has always been criticized for being this huge block of very different economies which all governed by a single interest rates and it’s always been a, a complex system from day one. The funny thing about Brexit was the lefties got behind Europe and they wanted solidarity with Europe, the city of London, which is a huge part of GDP obviously got behind Brexit because the lack of borders in financial markets is very important, but then it was the exact sort of demographic that you just highlighted, the guys who don’t fit into those two baskets that I’ve just spoke about. They think ‘what’s in this for me?’ I suppose as with any of these decisions, it depends on what newspaper you read. If you’re buying a tabloid for a pound with a page three girl and you’re basing your political votes on a tabloid then that might be what happens.

Jordan Michaelides: It’s interesting. My view on it initially was this isn’t a great thing, they’ve going backwards here. But then I’ve had the time to sort of process it, and, I like Nigel Farage a speaker, but, when you actually watch him in interviews he goes a lot deeper into some of the reasons why, and having been involved in similar industries such as Forex and Cryptocurrencies, we’ve now seen the city of London actually come out here. My own view is that the UK seems to be pivoting itself towards Asia. And we’ve got these FinTech bridge, which is sort of like a compliance bridge through Australia. There’s the free trade agreement which they gunning on. My own view is that actually it’s probably going to turn out better for them, simply because they can use Australia as a stepping stone to the biggest market in the world, I think Asia now, without the Indian sub-continent I think is about 46% of world GDP. So, it’s the biggest market in the world, bigger than North America. How do you view it now? In hindsight?

Tom Williams: Day to day, it’s purely the uncertainty surrounding how this Brexit is actually going to happen. Long-term it will work itself out, as all these things always do. It’s not a case of the UK leaving the Eurozone and all of a sudden nobody wants to trade with the UK, it’s just ridiculous to think that. I suppose it depends on the negotiating powers of the UK government, whoever’s there at the time to be able to go and strike these agreements with Asia, as you’ve just suggested.

Jordan Michaelides: It’s going to be interesting. They’re not getting very far at the moment, I think it’s March or something that it finishes up. Going back to the industry now and then, last week we spoke about trends, obviously cryptocurrencies have been a big thing, I guess for the business here. There’s also the fact that, like I was saying before, the role that you would have as head of trading being on a phone versus it more around automation now, I was chatting to Khim Khor before, who’s one of the directors here, in charge of the Asia business, and we were speaking about the institutional side of things and APIs. I’m curious as to what you guys have done around that because he was telling me that you led something in that area in particular.

Tom Williams: So, as you know we’ve got a lot of retail clients in Australia and overseas and we’ve managed to, over the years, generate great relationships with the wholesale market in terms of liquidity providers, prime brokers, prime of primes, and, we also have a very healthy balance sheet which enables us to go and strike good liquidity terms with these counterparts. Our business has changed somewhat in that it’s not completely retail led. We are approached by a lot of wholesale type clients these days, including funds, other brokers who are maybe smaller than us, who don’t carry the same sorts of balance sheet, who want to be able to get access to very tight pricing, commercial terms that they might not be able to achieve elsewhere, so, we’ve transitioned from this purely retail driven model to now be able to compete as a liquidity provider ourselves.

Jordan Michaelides: Wow. I didn’t know that. So, now if you had to break down the percentage of the clients, or let’s say the amount of sales and volume of transactions between wholesale and retail, what do you reckon the percentages are?

Tom Williams: In terms of monthly turnover I’d say it’s around 66% retail, 33% wholesale. I mean, the sheer volume that a wholesale client can do is obviously the reason behind that. They can have good months, they can have terrible months, but retail is still the majority of our business and that’s where we try to differentiate ourselves away from competitors because it ties in with the whole online marketing and…

Jordan Michaelides: It’s interesting to hear how the trading desk is changing in that regard. It’s one of those things you have to keep growing somehow. You got to keep doing new things.

Tom Williams: Diversification of flow is becoming very important for us as well, because, retail tends to go completely one way and the whole retail market all read the same news so everybody kind of trades in a similar fashion, and for us to be able to reduce costs by internalization, we need to be able to see different types of flow from different demographics.

Jordan Michaelides: And put it put the opposing way out essentially.

Tom Williams: Exactly.

Jordan Michaelides: Interesting. Now, what I’d like to ask each guest is, I’m giving the audience an idea of what the office here is like. I was saying to Chris last week that it’s a pretty impressive company, there’s a lot of staff, I think there’s like 40 or so staff now, a big office, nice officers. I just want to give people an idea of what the team is like and how… because we’re so removed from seeing the people behind the business are actually like, and so I’m curious, if you were to choose one sitcom that represents the go market office, do you have one in mind or what would it be?

Tom Williams: Should I ask what Chris’s answer to this was?

Jordan Michaelides: Hmm. You don’t want to know.

Tom Williams: Okay, well, my answer would definitely be the UK version of the office. I think we’ve think we’ve definitely got a David Brent character.

Jordan Michaelides: Yes, and that would be Chris who claimed that last week.

Tom Williams: Did he claim it? Really? I must have drilled into him. I like that. But no, the office, it’s a great environment. It’s a fairly young demographic, it’s not a load of old-boys sat there, it’s new, educated, friendly people to work with. It’s a good place to be.

Jordan Michaelides: We’re running at a time, so I want to switch to some short fast, questions for you. What does your morning routine look like?

Tom Williams: My morning routine is very straight forward. I’ve just moved house, so my tram route to work has train changed slightly. I get into the office at around 7:00am and get in touch with what’s gone on overnight. 7:00am is New York close, so there’s not really a lot going on after that, markets have settled down. Time to read some news, the ASX has still got a couple of hours to open, so, get to work, have some breakfast, get ready for the day.

Jordan Michaelides: And the evening? How do you sort of decompress at night? What’s your go to for relaxing?

Tom Williams: Go to the gym, go boxing, kickboxing, I do that three or four times a week. I head home, dinner will be on the table… no, I wish! *laughs* You know my wife, but no, she’s good, she is good. I just kick back most of the time. Most of the time during the week, it’s an early night.

Jordan Michaelides: What’s the most influential book on your life. Let’s say if you had to gift it to someone at Kris Kringle this year at Go Markets, what would you gift?

Tom Williams: God, this could be controversial, couldn’t it. One that’s always struck a chord with me is ‘The God Delusion’. Have you read it?

Jordan Michaelides: I just bought it. I go through this heavy process of building a list of books every year and then I buy them all at once after I cull that list. I just got that one.

Tom Williams: Well, being brought up in a predominantly Irish Catholic background in Liverpool, if you were seen walking around the streets with ‘The God Delusion’ in your hands in Liverpool you’d definitely get a few funny looks, but cosmopolitan Melbourne you can get away with it.

Jordan Michaelides: Can you just give a quick little explain explainer for the audience what it’s about.

Tom Williams: It’s about the scientific approach to life rather than the religious approach, and how it’s completely different. They say never talk about politics or religion, so let’s not go too far into it.

Jordan Michaelides: *laughs* Yeah, it’s a good book. I bought that with ‘The Selfish Gene’ by Richard Dawkins which is pretty good too. They’re good reads, I reckon.

Another one for you, any favourite documentaries or movies, if you had to list your top three or five.

Tom Williams: I go through phases with documentaries in particular where I just binge watch something about a random topic.

Jordan Michaelides: Are you a Netflix guy?

Tom Williams: Yes, but, I find sometimes Netflix can just get sour, and there’s not a lot going on. I move in trends from watching documentaries about guerrilla warfare in the democratic Republic of Congo to becoming completely fascinated with World War Two and all the things associated with it. Auschwitz is one of my most recent ones, which is a fairly morbid topic.

Jordan Michaelides: Have you been there at all?

Tom Williams: I have not been, but I’d like to go.

Jordan Michaelides: I’m actually in that stage again right now. I mean, I’ve had it over the years many times, you find a few good movies that really shows what it was like. Schindler’s, there was one called one the Wannsee conference with a brilliant English actor, Colin Firth was in it as well, just little films like that which are underrated. I’d think Schindler’s list is a pretty well-known film, but just really gives you that perspective.

Tom Williams: They’re completely eye, you just cannot fathom what went on. So, to answer your question, a diverse range of documentaries.

Jordan Michaelides: Last question for you, what has been the best purchase for you under $200 bucks?

Tom Williams: Well, let’s not talk about a purchase that I’ve made, what about a purchase that I’m going to make, that I’m on the verge of making?

Jordan Michaelides:It could also be a purchase that is an experience. It doesn’t have to be a specific object

Tom Williams: Well, we’re organizing, Fran and I, have started to organize a couple of life-size impressions of ours to send over to the UK for Christmas so we can sit them down at the Christmas dinner table and enjoy a bit of an over cook Turkey with the family.

Jordan Michaelides: Wow, that’s good. I really like that.

Tom Williams: So yeah, for a couple of hundred bucks, I think that will probably be the purchase of the year.

Jordan Michaelides: You should start a little business like that for other experts. Say, hey, you don’t have to go home…

Tom Williams: I could be the go-to guy for life-size models.

Jordan Michaelides: Tom, it’s been a pleasure. We’ve already hit 30 minutes. Thank you very much for joining us.

Tom Williams: Thanks very much.

Ready to start trading?

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