Interview with Mr. Paul Constantinou | Association of Futures Markets

Thursday, 15 October 2020


FEAS holds an interview with the President of the Association of Futures Markets (AFM) – Mr. Paul Constantinou. Ms. Armenuhy Hovakimyan, FEAS Deputy Secretary General spoke with Mr. Constantinou about AFM’s annual conference, new members, how COVID-19 affects the association and more.

Armenuhi: Hello. This is FEAS Talks, and I am Armenuhy Hovkimyan, Deputy Secretary General of the Federation of Euro Asian Stock Exchanges. I’m still from my home. We are working partly from home and in the office. And today I am continuing the series of FEAS Talks with our friend, Not only an affiliate member of FEAS but also a close friend of ours. Paul Constantine is president of the Association of Futures Markets. Thank you for joining me today. 

Paul: That is my pleasure to join. It’s always nice to meet our friends from FEAS to see that we’re all in a similar environment for working at the moment. 

Armenuhi: Yeah, but we are getting used to that. But we hope to meet soon in person. 

Paul: Indeed. 

Armenuhi: Paul, 2020  made a lot of surprises for all the world and we as an association are in this surprise thing together. Will you please tell us where the Association of Futures Markets is standing now, and what are the plans for the next year? 

Paul: Well, now I think it’s fair to say, let’s just make one opening comment: the one thing, probably the one big thing we learned this year forgetting all the interpersonal interactions and social things and community and everything else, the one other thing that we’ve learned is that we can no longer take anything for granted. We can’t assume tomorrow will be the same as today. I think a lot of people have always worked like that, but I think all of us now realise that in all channels of our lives, this is the truth. And so at the same time, we mustn’t forget the need to always keep planning, looking forward, and building. So don’t take anything for granted. Tomorrow could be different from today, but at the same time keep planning and building and be flexible. 

It’s a lot easier to be flexible and reactive if you have a firm foundation, and at least then there’s always what do they call it in the circus. The guy walking on the wire has a safety net and in organisations, whatever they are, a firm foundation, a solid basis, the safety net in common with a number of industry associations and I guess with FEAS. AFM – Association of Futures markets over 20 years old and we’ve been able to fall back on that length of time in existence, the structures that have been created because of that and very loyal member base has contributed a lot to enable us to as much as we can try to realise that business as usual type situation.

So this year, what’s happened this year? Well, this year we were in an interesting situation where we had a conference planned in May and Clearly that had to be canceled and, like maybe a lot of organisations we canceled it in March, and, you know, when things got to the point where everywhere had lockdowns and travel restrictions will be canceled in March. 

But it was, you know, it’s our annual event, the big event. So we immediately rescheduled it for September. Guess what? Yeah, it’s canceled again. So we decided around May time that you know, in case the feeling that September was going to prove impossible as well in case that became a reality, which of course it did, that we will do an alternative. And so we decided to do a Virtual event and

We had experienced some degrees of the “virtuality”, if that’s the word that exists, that AFM being a very global organisation, we’re not a big organisation, but we have a member base that threads its stuff up the Americas across Europe, into Asia, down into Africa, and we have a board that is constituted of people from across those countries and so we have deep experience of having, for example, our board meetings. Where is not necessarily Zoom, or Teams, or WebEx or any of the other tools you can buy, as I say we don’t advertise. They tended to be voice only. However, I think we did a couple of video attempts in the past, so we are used to communicating amongst ourselves as a group at the board level with all the lessons transposing this. Let’s just try it. 

One or two of the people had experienced a similar thing in other events. I’ve done a couple, and it was quite feasible to do it. What amazed me was the availability of different technologies suddenly mushroomed out of everywhere to support it. We’ve been doing it on Zoom or teams. We haven’t used professional webinar tools or anything like that, voting buttons, or anything. But that’s not the type of organisation we are. And it worked for us.

We pride ourselves on the education that we can give to our members and our members talk to each other and we run education programs for our members.

We had our annual conference, we had our General Assembly, we voted in new board members, we passed the accounts, we did all the things that we would normally have done in a physical group meeting. 

During the conference events, we had one thing that clearly we if we’d have been in a physical environment, and if it had been the last topic of the day, it would have taken us into dinner. There is no doubt about that and this is quantamatic topic because you know, one of the challenges in the market this year has been too. It’s really not to keep going because we’ve seen across different futures markets, different derivatives markets, and different geography that we could track the volumes and the liquidity in those markets and see how it fits. And it fits quite nicely into the unfortunate curve off the impact of COVID in those markets. So it was like a double way where there was one market that was running as the other market was building. And then everything went down but then came back again. We most of our members haven’t really suffered that. They’re all involved in the markets that are not so much financial but even the financial markets have been a lot of volatility. But commodities people still got to produce, sell food, energy. People want to turn the light on, use the gas, whatever, it goes on. But the challenge has been to keep developing new products, and there’s a big debate about physical against derivatives. Which product should really be at the forefront of the moment, how those products would be designed to support each other and that dialogue was going on and on, and we’re gonna have, maybe a two-hour panel dedicated to that topic. We’ve got a day late October 29th and we’ve got exactly the same panelists coming in on the same teams in that meeting, connection and we’re expecting quite a large attendance for that. So if you like the need to keep communicating, spoon the activity in remote conferencing.

We pride ourselves on the education that we can give to our members and our members talk to each other and we run education programs for our members. And whereas I wouldn’t call it a debate about products and education programs, it’s coming out of what we did in the main conference, which then came out of the need and the realisation that we had to keep communicating. So where do we stand? 

Notwithstanding the lack of physical meetings, the ability for someone from Argentina to have a 15-minute chat over a cup of coffee with someone from Taiwan? You know, you can’t put a price on that and to be able to do that in another country is well, but you can’t put a price on that. As anybody who was involved in any global organisation knows, that it’s difficult. But I know that there have been, not private, but conversations using video and whatever. So the big beginning to replace some of those physical conversations.

Armenuhi: So to understand from your side, are you going to replace them totally, or to have something like a mixture of it? Will that be changed?

Paul:  I think we might get a blend. We’ve had a blend one year about that for five years ago, we were doing a tech conference, we try to do an annual conference, in the half-year we try to do a shorter one day or whatever and the last couple of times had been tech, one of the tech events. We had a couple of people who couldn’t make it to travel from the US to Europe for one day, which is obvious. But rather than having interactive video, we were fully able to have a recorded presentation and then dial in the person for some question and answer. So that was a blend. We did that a couple of times and that seemed to work. 

We’ve had good experiences with the remote conferencing so far, and it might be, well, we might go for a blend going forward to accommodate people who can’t make the physical event. I think its general consensus is that the physical event has a lot of value and it has a lot of value that is not just sitting in the hall and listening to four or five people talking wisely about a topic and maybe asking a question. It has a value in the ability to have informal conversations about common interest topics and that’s what’s hard to replace, and that’s why I think we will go back to physical meetings, we won’t rush. 

Armenuhi: Yes, This is a good message to both our members that associations are for communication, whether it is online or onsite. You mentioned that for some of your members, the product, the change of some products, and in their delivering or in their style will be for the coming year. And what about the association itself? What do you think of the association’s goals? Will they be changed? Or will it be the same in a different way? 

Paul: Yes, that’s a good point, let me say one thing as an organization, we’ve increased the membership this year. And if someone had told me at the beginning of March, when everything got into that initial chaos, that during the course of the next few months you will increase the membership of the AFM l, you know who could have thought it, And, you know that’s been a good move. And that was for us reassuring. It shows that perhaps we still have value. I think that’s one of the things that will change the organisation because of this no, it won’t because our mission is to provide the opportunity for people to learn to share knowledge and learn and share experiences and benefit from that sharing. You can’t suddenly stop doing that. It’s what we do is what we’re known for. Now I don’t think the goals of the organisation will change. Probably not even the structure that the delivery methods we’ve just spoken about, yes, they might start to vary. We will get hybrids. 

Armenuhi: Yeah. Congratulations on new members, FEAS is on its way, soon will announce this. But how did you manage this? The promotion thing of the association. What have you changed here, and how have you come to this successful case with new members? 

Paul: I haven’t asked a new member, but I actually think that the new members have found us. And why not? You know, it’s people who find us. I have to be honest, we don’t have the same amount of coverage and publicity as are other organisations. We occasionally get through to things like LinkedIn, and cross-referencing, and some of the cross memberships we have helped us. But we don’t push out as hard. We don’t put out statements and white papers and things. A lot of it is word of mouth and it’s the way. 

One of the things I think that will drive us back to physical activity is the way our membership has grown in the past due to the fact that we’ve had a conference in a country and part of the host’s obligation expectation is that they will encourage people from the region to come and join the conference. And that begins to spread knowledge about ourselves and spread the word if you like, and that helps us create a membership. You can’t do that if you’re only working remotely.

So, and of course, we don’t have a full-time secretariat. Everything we do, we do because we want to, because we like to because we see the value and benefit. So unless we had a radical overhaul, I don’t think we will change the way we work. 

Armenuhi: Great. And your members are finding the value in you, and in your services, that’s the main point where associations are succeeding and this is showing more success. And how are you keeping this positive communication thing between members? Are you doing something in this way? Because these are difficult times, though they’re not suffering that much. But these are difficult times with crisis, how are you keeping this positive communication?

Paul: Well. The conference helped. The website is OK. Our members know our website, they go to it and they find things on there and we always do little activities with two or three members. We had a member recently who asked for some support with some activities they want to do in their market and were able to help and in doing so, we involved one or two other people and it’s created another little hub of activity another hub of knowledge, and I think that’s how it works, that a lot of the people who members know a lot of people who are members and we have activities that go between members and that’s how we do it. 

And I know from the uptake we got for the video event and what we normally get for the physical events. People look forward to it. 

Armenuhi: Yeah, people are missing physical events. Your next event will be if I’m not mistaken soon and as you mentioned. The educational part is coming on the first stage now about who can join this event. Is it open? Or this is only for your members. Can you tell us some details about it?

Paul: The next event, the next discussion about products we’re going to make open. Everybody who’s listening to this discussion on products will be on our website – It’ll be on that and I got a feeling a lot of the people who might pick up on it we’ll know one or two of the panelists that they’re going to be involved and certainly, if they don’t know them, they know their organisations. So we look forward to a quite interesting event on that day.

Armenuhi:  FEAS will for sure share about this upcoming meeting. 

Paul: Excellent. 

Armenuhi: And we as an association, we are like friends and affiliate members of each other. So we will have this also distributed through our channel. And we will be there with you to learn because we have different product lines. 

Paul: Different member basis. And that cooperation is what makes things keep moving forward I think.

Armenuhi: Yeah, and the point here is the associations, we know each other. But the idea of associations is not the competition rather than cooperation. And we from the FEAS side are very, very thankful to AFM for cooperating things between these two associations. And the very last question? What do you think will be changed? 

Paul: Who knows? Look, a lot of it is down to mindset. And, a lot of it is. And I have to be careful what I say because I could get political, but I think we owe it to each other. To take a strong and disciplined approach to try to slow down the spread of this thing that stopped everything and to buy time until there are good remedial drugs or a vaccine. We’ve got to take that view. 

We have to be realistic, and I think realistic in many respects, the expectation of how people will behave will be well, the expectation and reality have got to come together. And I think in the next five years, we will see a marked change in the way people function. And it’s gonna be you call it evolution if you like, but it is gonna be a change. You know, somebody who’s just graduating now, in five, six years time, he will be good at whatever they’re doing, but they won’t be doing it the same as their contemporaries 10 years ago would have done. 

Technology is moving very, very quickly and in professional capacities and we have to talk about the professionals. The ability to function efficiently in a remote environment is getting better and better, and the opportunities to do that are getting better and greater and that won’t stop. And the people who could do that, owe it to the people who can’t do that to ensure that everybody is able to function as well as possible and as safely as possible. 

The regard we all have for each other has to change and has to become better on the way, we can’t revert. If we were back now if this was in the eighties, the eighties mindset today that the bad statistics would be worse, where everybody was in it for themselves and there was no sense of cooperation. I won’t even talk about what’s going to change politically because that will happen as well. The whole way that the world is managed has to change. And this is perhaps more than a shock. This has been a reboot but in a positive way.

Technology is moving very, very quickly and in professional capacities and we have to talk about the professionals. The ability to function efficiently in a remote environment is getting better and better, and the opportunities to do that are getting better and greater and that won’t stop.

As long as long things keep turning and things keep happening in markets and industry, in government, then the change will happen. And it will be driven by people who are a lot younger than me,  full of people under 30 who are gonna drive these things forward. They’re not going to accept going back to before and no Should they. One of the other things that we talked about in the last conference actually as well as employers being mindful of how they interact with their employees and the remote working is going to bring about a different start of management. And God forbid that technology is misused and we’ve already had cases of people using surveillance technology on corporate laptops issued to their staff. I’ve heard of one organization that records every keystroke. It’s you took my niece like that in a physical environment, I hope people don’t. And I think the technology is good, but it can also be evil. It can have a detrimental effect, so we have to be careful, that’s what I say. We just have to be careful. Just take structured steps. We’ll get out of this. But we gotta be structured and careful. 

Armenuhi: Thank you, Pall. Thanks. 

Paul: Thank you very much. Thanks.