How tech can help unleash our full trading potential

NeuroTrader harnesses biodata to monitor and optimise real-time trading performance.

Trading activity, generally assumed to be based on cool logic and analysis to balance out itsinherent risk, is often significantly impacted by the individual trader’s state of mind. Stress, excitement and overstimulation are among the many variables which can lead to risky trading decisions and potential losses. The forces affecting trading decisions are multifactorial. Very often, financial losses can be attributed to poor decision making brought about by fear, trepidation and anxiety, each of which demonstrates specific biological patterns. Financial gains, on the other hand, tend to result from clarity and optimism, which also have their own biological patterns, better known as “biomarkers”. When traders get too emotionally involved, they are more apt to take greater risks, very possibly leading to less favourable returns.

Is there a reliable solution to safeguard human trading performance which does not involve resorting to algorithms or robots?

NeuroTrader is a suite of software applications which can enhance traders’ decision-making effectiveness with wearable technology. Based on the concept of trading as a peak performance sport, NeuroTrader is creating a science around optimal decision making for traders globally. Monitoring the traders and their biodata in real-time, the system provides an opportunity to mitigate risk, optimise performance and create stable and consistent rates of return based on the traders’ biological responses to price and market sentiment.

NeuroTrader is the system to help investors and traders make better choices based on clinical analysis and objectivity. By analysing biodata collected via wearable technology, NeuroTrader can discern a variety of human performance states and therefore inform trading decisions based upon the trader‘s biological state, providing an advanced risk-management tool for every trade.

Cassiopeia: Tell us a bit about how the idea was conceived: why and how did you start NeuroTrader?

NeuroTrader: The inception of the idea dates back to university in 2002. Specialising in finance, I was taking “Investment analysis and portfolio management”. Working on an assignment to develop a portfolio of shares and track it’s performance, I deviated from the guidelines and developed a software application that correlated a portfolio of 19 futures contracts which produced an annualised return of 88% and a win-to-loss ratio of 50%. The interesting thing about the software was that, in addition to collecting price and buy/sell data, I was recording my subjective experience of the market, in effect, I was tracking my decision-making process through qualitative analysis.

Though the financial performance results were very good, I needed to understand why I got 50% of the trades wrong. In 2007, I created another software program that started to experiment with the use of qualitative analysis as a primary decision-making metric in the investing and trading process. The problem I found was that qualitative analysis is subjective and changes with our moods and experiences, as perception is a constantly shifting state of environmental appraisal, therefore the system could not be standardised across multiple users/traders.

In 2009, I recognized that the qualitative psychological reasons for making an investment or trade could be quantified as a biological response using biofeedback technology. In 2014, I moved to California to learn about neurofeedback and biofeedback. In 2016, we moved to Montreal to gain a better understanding of wearable technology, and it was then that we released our first alpha version of NeuroTrader at the Canadian Annual Derivatives Conference organised by the TMX group and the Montreal Derivatives Exchange.

So, in short, the primary reason for developing NeuroTrader is to limit losses and optimise gains by incorporating the psychological and biological aspects of our decision-making process. In the retail trader market, only 5% of traders make a profit at the end of the year! As the estimated number of retail traders in the world is 50 million, that means that 47.5 million people need a solution to their pain point: losing money.

Cassiopeia: Can you explain how your wearable technology and devices work and how data is transferred and analysed?

NeuroTrader: The device wraps around your finger; it measures your heart rate, peripheral temperature and skin conductivity. Via Bluetooth connectivity, it sends the biodata to the PC/laptop where the desktop application then sends the biodata to the server to be integrated with price. It is at this point of server-side integration that our behavioural models begin the process of assessment, in effect seeking opportune entry signals.

Cassiopeia: The AI that you have implemented in this product is an unsupervised learning algorithm, since the data can vary from person to person. How would you describe its efficiency?

NeuroTrader: It is still a little early to state empirical performance figures and give mathematical guarantees, hence the initiation our “pilot programme” on the 11th February where we will be monitoring 100 traders globally over a 6-month period. This is going to be a very interesting time as we will be publishing our results on what is the largest behavioural finance experiment to date in the world. I believe we will provide a lot of new knowledge about financial market decision-making and demystify many old — perhaps invalid — assumptions. Based on my 10 years of research and testing in the field, I am confident that we will mitigate on average 20% of trading errors.

Cassiopeia: Data privacy and protection is a highly sensitive topic these days, especially with breaches by top companies such as Facebook. With the system that you have created, how do you ensure that your customers’ biometric data stays private and confidential?

NeuroTrader: In addition to the standard data protection tools, we use the same methods as those for medical data where the biodata is not matched to the users’ name but is logged as a number.

Cassiopeia: As you have claimed, there is no other product like yours currently on the market, so you are using an exclusive technology. How do you plan on keeping this idea unique and patented, in case it gets copied?

NeuroTrader: We filed our first patent application in 2016 and are entering into the national phase in February. We are aware that people will follow suit and we can’t do much to stop that. Most importantly, I recently heard a leading innovator say that if people are copying your product, it is not something to be afraid of but rather it is a sign that you are doing something worth copying, something of value. In addition, I come from the mindset that innovation is infinite and as long as we foster constant innovation, we will always be developing exceptional products in the field of optimal decision-making and as a result, maintain a leadership position. Having accepted this fact, we are primarily focused on building a culture that stays ahead of the curve with constant innovation as our response to competition.

Cassiopeia: A lot of wearable technology devices these days offer occasional updates with bug fixes and patches. What updates and other functionality can we expect from NeuroTrader in the near future?

NeuroTrader: The first is the establishment of our online hedge fund. This is another world first as we track and manage our traders remotely allocating capital and managing the fund based upon their biological state. We will use our NeuroTrader hedge fund as our showcase product to demonstrate to our potential institutional clients what we can do for them. The second is eye-tracking technology, which will be incorporated in the second half of next year.

Cassiopeia: It’s a known fact that AI has evolved in leaps and bounds. The question regarding this is, why not simply create a unique, supervised algorithm that makes trading decisions on its own without human intervention? Do you think eliminating the human element could help minimise the potential for error in the system? Why/why not?

NeuroTrader: The industry has already taken the route of eliminating humans from trading. The major retrenchments of human traders over the last few years has been covered in the media: there was an article in The Financial Times last Thursday about more traders being fired, and we all know of the abandonment of trading floors, the most iconic being UBS’s 36,000 sq. ft. trading floor in Stamford Connecticut. The enormous investment into mathematicians to programme trading systems is public knowledge, as is the investment into machine learning to decipher price movement and predict future price points. This is where the industry currently stands. The problem for financial institutions is that they have misunderstood the limitations of machine learning and AI. Within 2 years the major banks will start the “en masse” investment into peak performance technologies such as ours as we make our results public and as we lead the way forward, building a new culture and understanding that human performance is unmatched if it is harnessed and guided correctly. There is a perfect middle-ground where machines assist human performance; this is a paradigm-shift where machines serve people to achieve greater heights, not to make them redundant.

Cassiopeia: Apart from the general conditions of a human trader, the individual concerned may have some relevant medical history. How do you plan to take such factors into account while reading & transmitting the biometrics in real time?

NeuroTrader: Our focus at NeuroTrader is on “proximal development”: we focus on incremental progress in achieving competencies. Regardless of where you are physically or biologically, you can always take a step forward in the desired direction toward peak performance, where peak performance is a personal and subjective experience. We can’t all run as fast as Usain Bolt regardless of how much we train but we all can learn to run faster than we already do. So, in general, we want to see improvements in each individual’s biodata as a response to market price and volatility. Just like going to the gym, everyone at NeuroTrader works at their own pace and is tracked individually toward the goal of peak performance.

Cassiopeia: Trading and stock markets are a huge field in themselves. Up to now, traders have been used to working methodically, but your technology allows the algorithm to make decisions on the user’s behalf by monitoring his/her vital signs. Are there any rules and regulations to keep in mind here? Also, in another hypothetical scenario, if everyone starts using this technology and every decision ends up being optimal, there would, in theory, be no more stock market crashes. Is that feasible in the real world?

NeuroTrader: Firstly, in terms of rules and regulations, our technology is a performance-enhancing technology. Those individuals and institutions that interact with the financial markets still have to observe and comply with their national laws and internal compliance. As for the future of the financial markets, I can state that the markets are inherently efficient by design. We experience price volatility because people interact with the markets emotionally, thereby distorting the intrinsic price of an asset. The illusion is that by creating automated/algorithmic high-frequency trading systems, we circumvent the emotional bias of humans, but this negates the fact that algorithmic trading is designed with the same human fears as those employed when some trades discretionally. Further, algorithms can only mimic what happened in the past, therefore they perpetuate the same volatility of fear and greed.

In the next 5 years, traders will be predominantly trading in a peak performing state with the use of wearable technology simply because of the financial gains available. As more people trade in an optimal state, the markets will become less influenced by fear and greed and become more efficient. The more rational — and most importantly, self-regulated — traders and investors become, the more efficient the market will become, and we will increasingly begin to invest based on seeking value. Value becomes the primary objective and motivator of our decisions; not greed/fear. A less volatile market implies no more crashes as the fear-based traders and investors are the minority and can no longer dictate price movements.

Cassiopeia: Since the system helps people make optimal decisions based on trading in real time, do you think it would be desirable to extend this technology to other areas of human decision making?

NeuroTrader: We have already been asked to leverage our technology for the purpose of “high-stake negotiations” and for the medical industry.

Cassiopeia: Neural networks are an important concept in the field of AI and data mining. Could you please shed some light on the different software applications that you are using and how they correspond to neuroscience?

NeuroTrader: We use and experiment with a vast array of mathematical tools; their correlation to neuroscience is linked to the predominance of mapping results with rewards-based incentives. All our software applications are proprietary. We do not use anything we did not build ourselves. So, when we speak of neural networks, we are talking about cognitive conditioning and the way neuroscience tries to explain the learning process. Utilising this model, which attempts to replicate neurological pathways and clusters, we too are continually evolving our algorithms to develop more effective behavioural pathways that when all is said and done, increase the probability of successful trades and mitigate those trades that have a higher propensity of being loss making.

As technology and AI are further integrated into hedge funds, we see that the human element is a fundamental part of trading. NeuroTrader promises to be one of the first technologies to improve behavioural patterns in trading activity — suitable for both individuals and institutional investors. Hear more about this exciting tool from Ken Medanic, the creator and founder of NeuroTrader.

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