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"Python already replaced Excel in banking"

If you wanted to prove your mettle as an entry-level banker or trader it used to be the case that you had to know all about financial modelling in Excel. Not any more. These days it's all about Python, especially on the trading floor. 

"Python already replaced Excel," said Matthew Hampson, deputy chief digital officer at Nomura, speaking at last Friday's Quant Conference in London. "You can already walk across the trading floor and see people writing Python will become much more common in the next three to four years."

As Python becomes more prolific, Hampson said banks are able to innovate more quickly. The industry's reputation for fustiness is undeserved, Hampson added: "The concept of rapid innovation has always existed in financial services, but it was done using the Excel spreadsheet. We now have a new vehicle for doing that - Python."

As we reported previously, Hampson runs Nomura's new and growing e-trading strategy team, which was formed in May 2019. The team is tasked with increasing Nomura's fixed income trading revenues by 15% through the integration of artificial intelligence into the bank's systematic market making platform.

Hampson's comments come amid suggestions that Excel is in danger of dying out as sheets can be imported into Python where the computation is much quicker.

"I can run an Excel model with a several hundred interlocking formulas and a data table that has 50,000 rows and 100 columns and it takes 15 min to update," said one contributor to Wall Street Oasis last month. "Or, I can run a Python based model with thousands of interlocking corelation points and an underlying data structure that has 10,000,000 rows and 1,000 data attributes. Not to mention I can write scripts to infer missing data points. All of this can be done in about a second."

As Python takes hold, Hampson said the profile of people working on trading floors is changing. "The trading floor of the future will still have humans, but those humans will be different to the people you have today." Future traders will have hybrid skills covering finance, quantitative knowledge and the ability to automate processes and extract data, said Hampson. Today's top traders already have, "much more universal skillsets - they understand data, they understand finance, they understand how to code. That brings an agility that you didn't see until about five years ago." 

Bloomberg reported last week that JPMorgan is arming members of Hans Buehler's 180-strong 'Analytics, Automation & Optimization' team with trading licenses as the quants break into trading. Hampson would approve: he concluded that the future is all about innovation and "breaking down the boundaries" between departments in large scale banks. Python is facilitating that. 

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Photo by Gary Chan on Unsplash

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Jo
    4 December 2019

    Exactly! I've noticed the same trend....

  • Ge
    George Charalambous
    17 November 2019

    Wow... Python replacing Excel... yeah, right. To me, it appears that the guys who so braggingly tell us about their newfound Python achievements don't even know the basics. Don't they know that not every problem is a nail and that not every tool is a hammer? The beauty of excel is that not only is it the gold standard when working with simpler data models, allowing you to quickly interpret your data and to easily communicate the results to your clients (who might not know the alternatives), but at the same time, since Excel is backed by Microsoft, they are constantly pushing the boundaries for their highly demanding clientele. If you have been using Excel for a while now, perhaps to the level of daring to call yourself an expert on the subject, you would know that through Excel's developer capabilities, the sky is the limit. To those Excel users that are perhaps considering to learn Python, or for those who are considering to abandon Excel all-together, I say, don't fret; there is a solution. There is a Python module named xlwings, which quite frankly I believe is singlehandedly the best Excel-related innovation that has happened in a while. Xlwings allows you to call Python functions right within Excel through VBA macros, and for Windows users, it also allows you to create Python UDFs for Excel. The latest update of the xlwings module allows you to call Python functions without the need to use macro-enabled spreadsheets. Therefore, if your model is that massive, you don't need to run the model in Excel anymore. Of course, for most users, you can simply store the data within a spreadsheet as a table, and have xlwings simply construct a Pandas data-frame or Numpy array out of it, run all your calculations in lighting fast speeds ( don't worry too much that Python is an interpreted language, you can use Numpy and Numba. This video gives great advice: ) and then when you're done, you can beautifully display the results in Excel. Now, if Excel cannot even handle the data, e.g. millions of data-points, here's what you can do: You construct a nice and simple spreadsheet through which you can communicate with your Python code by providing the relevant inputs. Then, you just click a macro button, within Excel, while the rest happens in the background... Your millions of data-points possibly stored in an SQL database are quickly processed by Python's top notch scientific stack, and xlwings gives you back your results in Excel. WITHIN SECONDS. Therefore, there is no need to throw Excel out-of-the-window. As a matter of fact, with such powerful tools, Excel's best days are YET TO COME. Sure, Python is the future simply because of how powerful, intuitive, and elegant it is, but these are the very reasons that allow Python to be used in such a nimble fashion with almost anything. Therefore, don't trow Excel out-of-the-window yet. There is still a significant marginal benefit to be obtained by integrating your Python code with Excel.

  • DP
    12 November 2019

    Excel will not be replaced anytime soon.
    Feeeling like I wasted my time reading this article.

  • ja
    12 November 2019

    That doesn't surprise me at all.

    The technology has been there for some time, but what will have changed is that many graduates will have learned python.

    As these graduates enter the banking workforce, they will be able to embrace the technology immediately.

    Banks are also quite decentralised, so one desk might start using python and databases to replace the old Excel nonsense, without needing permission from someone higher up.

    Excel does have a role, though, which is that it is good for producing reports and linking to word documents. The heavy lifting, however, can be done by python scripts.

  • Ed
    Eddison Lewis
    6 November 2019

    Python's scability in application is technologically amazing!

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