Executive Interview: Matthew Atherton, Managing Partner, TPG

Carving out a market share which is substantial enough to make the business of an Introducing Broker a feasible endeavor

Establishing a new company which focuses on retail FX in North America these days is no mean feat, further borne out by the exodus of so many retail FX brokerages over recent years, bringing the number of active firms in that particular sector from 40 in 2008, down to just a handful today.

With the entire structure of the financial markets industry having been subject to the rulings set out in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, and the advent of the proposed rulings for non-RFED Futures Commission Merchants transacting FX trades with ECP counterparties to maintain $20,000,000 in capital, instead of the current $1,000,000, the FX landscape in the United States has become the preserve of technology companies and large institutional firms.

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Matthew Atherton,
Managing Partner,
The Palladia Group

One means of operating efficiently and lowering the entry barriers, however, is to operate as an Introducing Broker (IB), and on this basis, industry veteran Matthew Atherton recently took a bold step in establishing The Palladia Group.

The company provides white label partnerships and affiliate marketing solutions, and provides a choice of 7 platforms with an in-house price feed. In this week’s Forex Magnates Executive Interview, Mr. Atherton details the ethos behind the establishment of the company, and its intended position in the market.

Please detail your professional background, and what led you to your senior position at The Palladia Group, and the ethos behind the establishment of the new company.

I began working in FX sales for GFT in 2007, and worked there as a broker until 2011. In 2011, I made a move to ILQ to lead business development efforts. It was towards the end of 2012, in which I realized that working for a market maker wasn’t something I wanted to associate myself with any more. I saw an opportunity at that time to provide the market with something unique, and outside the typical market maker environment.

I formed The Palladia Group or TPG, with 2 other business partners and began searching for the optimal opportunity for a specific mistreated and abused segment of the forex community: EA, algo, robot, and high-frequency traders.

I have seen first-hand what happens to a successful EA trader once consistent profits are obtained, their execution can be slowed, their spreads can be increased, and I’ve seen times where the broker no longer will allow them to trade with them.

This is absolutely wrong. We wanted to provide these traders the type of transparency they deserve.

Over the last 8 months, I have searched for the opportunity to form a relationship in which I could provide pure clarity, honesty and respect to the FX trading community, as well as tight spreads and lightning fast execution.

I wanted a firm that was up-front and honest about everything, that didn’t sugar-coat anything, and that respected and valued the traders in the FX market. There was really only one broker who we found that valued what we valued, and we made the decision to partner with Sterling Gent Trading LLC (SGT Markets.)

With the support of Sterling Gent, and the necessity to be completely transparent, open and honest about anything pertaining to the FX market, we believe our partners, our traders and the entire FX community will take notice of the way TPG conducts business and shows its honesty and respect.

Upon assuming your post as Managing Partner, what did you initially seek to achieve, and how did you set about achieving it?

Initially, I wanted to provide an ideal environment for EA traders, as this segment of the market has been repeatedly mistreated by the current brokers in the market place.

Firstly, was the establishment of the ideal brokerage relationship, in which our input was valued and collaboration was not only supported, but encouraged.

Secondly, we went a step further in order to ensure our TPG branding and representation to the FX community, by creating our own specific price feed with a .tpg suffix through Sterling Gent Trading Ltd. This also allows us to provide clarity to the trader on execution, pricing, and performance of EAs.

Thirdly, we began forming partnerships with EA providers. We offer a variety of EAs, some of which require trader intervention, and others that are your typical auto-trading EA’s. We realize that there are sites that report performance and statistics for EAs, like myfxbook, fx stat and even the EA providers sites. TPG will be doing things a little differently. All of the EAs which our partners promote, will be run on our VPS, on our price feed and, on our live accounts.

This will allow traders to see a live 3rd party audit of the EA. Those EAs not performing will not be marketed by TPG.

However, those EA’s that truly perform, will be marketed to the FX community by TPG, not by the EA provider exclusively. So, every trader will know exactly what their past results have been with TPG’s pricing for that specific EA.

Finally, we wanted to give encouragement to traders and EA providers alike, to trade with TPG and actually give us the opportunity to earn their business. As I stated earlier, these EA providers and developers have really been beaten down. So, in order to give these EA providers incentive, we allow any trader using any EA, the opportunity to be reimbursed for their cost of purchasing that EA.

We also allow EA providers to offer their clients the ability to essentially trade their EA for no cost, if they trade through TPG. If a trader wants to use an EA of a partnership we currently have, they can establish an account with TPG, we then take the cost of the EA out of their initial deposit, and once they make the requisite trades, we then credit their account back in full for that cost. The EA provider gets compensated for the cost of their EA, the trader essentially pays nothing for using the EA, and TPG is compensated only on the volume traded by using the EA. It’s a win-win-win situation.

What market does The Palladia Group compete in? Please elaborate on which market segment is represented, and where will the client base come from?

TPG offers spot FX, metals and CFD’s through Sterling Gent Trading, Ltd. We believe in true, mutually beneficial partnerships. Because of these partnerships, our EA partners are able to offer their clients the ability to trade their product at no cost, when they provide TPG clients.

We also provide collaborative marketing efforts which include both our partners’ products/EAs, as well as using that product/EA through TPG. So, it’s a team effort to provide traders the best experience possible.

The last 12 months have seen a substantial exodus from the United States of FX brokerages, as the costs of maintaining offices and regulatory adherence for retail brokerages and smaller institutional brokerages have rendered it not viable. What is your view on this, and how can companies in the United States adapt their model to suit the changes that the domestic market has undergone?

The US retail forex market has been dying for a while. This is mainly because of competition, decreased profit margins, and the increased regulation that you mentioned. The profit margins have decreased substantially because of competition between brokers to offer the tightest spreads possible, and the regulation mandated by regulatory bodies.

The only way to survive strictly within the US market, would be to run things in a minimalistic capacity with a focus on efficiency. Forming strategic and mutually beneficial partnerships would go a long way towards these efforts.

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Firms in existence prior to the increased competition and the regulatory changes, saw a significant decrease in their US profit margins and many of them took significant losses here. Hence, the reason for them slimming down their operation, closing US offices, and focusing on the overseas market that produces higher profit margins.

As a white label and IB, how is risk management conducted? Are you able to A or B-book clients yourself, or do you have to accept the order flow provided by the dealing desk/STP of the host broker?

TPG does not handle any of the risk management. That is done by Sterling Gent Trading Ltd. They are able to A or B book clients. However, we have an agreement with them that executes all of our trading volume via STP. We are simply looking for volume and to provide ideal conditions without a conflict of interest to the trader.

In terms of regulation, how does The Palladia Group exist in North America without NFA regulation, and operate via British Virgin Islands regulation?

TPG and Sterling Gent Trading do not accept, nor solicit residents of the United States. Although, we do not always agree with the NFA, we respect and conform to all rules regarding US traders. Therefore, we made a decision to ignore the US market and focus on growing markets, such as Asia, South America, etc.

Do you think there is more merit in operating as an IB, and spending the client acquisition budget on recruiting strategic partners, and paying commission to sub-IBs who will develop a network of clients and bring business, rather than spend on web advertising to drive traffic to the website?

In my opinion, the better business model is to spend your client acquisition budget on obtaining partnerships that are mutually beneficial. In our case, we provide a service to EA developers. We audit their EA, in which the EA provider has no influence. We let it run on our VPS, and we provide performance numbers to traders from an unbiased point of view. Once the performance speaks for itself, we are able to market these products to the trading community. These are products that are proven and in which we believe. We truly value the significance of a mutually beneficial relationship.

What is your opinion on white label products, in terms of the best means of establishing a white label? Do you think there is any merit in going to an existing broker, paying $5,000 for a white label MT4 license, then around $15,000 to $20,000 for integration of the CRM/back office system/website/payment solution plus the cost of regulation, or, do you think it is better to have your own MT4 license, and then take a prime broker solution from a company such as Boston Prime or LMAX?

White labels have their place – specifically with branding. A constant message I will always communicate revolves around the advantages of mutually beneficial relationships. I believe this is the way the FX market is going, and will continue to for the foreseeable future. Choosing an existing broker with whom you can develop a strong relationship in order to pursue a common goal, would be an ideal situation for all parties involved. This is not to say it is the perfect way to establish a white label, it would simply depend on your business model and the goals you want to achieve.

Regarding the recent institutionalization attempts by MetaQuotes regarding trading signal companies and third party software companies, do you think this is likely to diminish the value of using MT4?

MT4 has value because of its simplicity and flexibility to be used by any broker. When a trader has to use one platform, and has the ability to trade anywhere they want – that is value. A trader doesn’t have to learn a new and broker specific platform every time they want to move their trading account, or trade multiple brokers at the same time. Many retail traders get their first trading experience using the MT4 platform. They get used to it, comfortable with it, and it takes a lot for them to change that.

Do you look internationally or domestically for strategic partnerships with IBs and local representatives? If The Palladia Group looks internationally, how is customer support conducted? Is this in-house, or conducted by strategic partners and local representatives?

We look to form strategic partnerships both domestically and internationally. TPG has formed a niche for EA developers and traders. We try to seek out EA’s in the market place, and then we put them to the test on our live accounts. We basically audit all of the EA’s as a 3rd party. There are so many factors that allow and prevent an EA from being successful on certain price feeds and at certain brokers.

So, when an EA performs well at one broker, it does not mean it will perform the same at every broker. What TPG looks to contribute, is the actual live price feed in order to run all EA’s, and get an exact performance that a trader can have absolute confidence.

We of course realize, that past performance isn’t indicative of future results. However, it is very beneficial for a trader to see how an EA performed in actual market conditions, in a live account, and with that exact price feed.

TPG conducts all of the customer support in-house with our partners. Our EA partners are able to discuss any support issues with the trader, to ensure the trader talks to the people most qualified to answer every question. The idea is to allow EA developers, that truly have a great product, to show potential clients actual live results of their EA. These developers can safely refer their clients to TPG, without the question as to how their EA will perform on our price feed.

Also, TPG markets and provides a white labeled sales force for their EA partners. Once an EA runs on our live accounts, we are able to promote these products to traders, and actually provide a true performance number from a 3rd party point of view.

We really believe in true partnerships, and part of that involves TPG helping our loyal partners bring in business. It just so happens that, this in turn, helps the average trader by communicating to them systems that actually make money in this market.

There has been a lot of discussion in regulatory circles about client fund safety recently. How are client deposits’ handled? Do clients deposit directly to the host broker, or to The Palladia Group’s omnibus account? If to an omnibus, will it be subject to the new inspections by regulators on the transactions which take place on omnibus accounts?

This is one of the most important issues in the market today. We can talk about spreads, execution, brokers or regulatory body, but without the protection of your funds, all of the former topics are irrelevant.

All deposits are handled by Sterling Gent Trading Ltd. They are licensed and regulated out of the British Virgin Islands. They are audited and have to meet certain requirements stipulated by the FSC out of BVI. As I stated earlier, Sterling Gent is a company we had been looking at for the better part of a year. They are extremely well capitalized and have zero debt. This is one of the factors that really stood out when it came to establishing our partnership.

With traders demanding very low spreads and per-lot commissions, how can an IB still remain competitive when FX brokerages have to keep spreads to almost raw, then pay IB commission enough to make profit for the broker and the IB , as well as pay local representatives and sub-IBs?

Ideally, an IB is a commission-only sales unit. The broker has almost zero overhead in these types of relationships. The IB refers business to the broker, and is only compensated on the volume of their book. The broker does not have to pay salaries, commission, medical, 401k, etc. to in-house employees to bring business in for them. Your question asked, “how can an IB still remain competitive…” and I ask, how a broker can remain competitive without successful and loyal IB’s?

For example, let’s take my former employer ILQ. I believe part of their business model is ideal for today’s market. They on-board IB’s only, and have no internal retail sales force to compensate. They have a fixed price that they make per trade, and give their IB’s the ability to mark-up the spread to whatever they believe they can sell to the retail trader.

As this market has changed because of competition and regulation, profit margins have substantially decreased. I’ve seen a retail sales force of 40-50 drop to 7 in a short period of time. In my opinion, all retail forex brokers should limit their internal sales force to as few people as possible. The cost associated with keeping a sales team on the retail level will remain the same as the profit margins shrink, making a broker’s internal sales department not only obsolete, but a financial burden on the company.

What is the future plan for The Palladia Group, and how will you achieve that in the initial stages of its market presence?

I realize any EA provider can link their EA account to myfxbook and show you “performance” numbers. The EA provider can then tell all traders, “look at my results”. We offer something more. TPG runs all EAs internally – there is no EA developer control. TPG provides the ability of an EA developer to say, “hey, look at TPG – they are show you why to use my EA”. So therefore, I invite developers to review my EA.

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