Culture and Talent

BNP’s Petra Wikstrom: The human-robot hybrid is the way of the future

  • Soft skills are as important as technical know-how – even for a quant.
  • Bridging people skills with math and finance expertise has been the key to success for BNP Paribas' Petra Wikstrom
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BNP’s Petra Wikstrom: The human-robot hybrid is the way of the future

For Petra Wikstrom, a quant at BNP Paribas, soft skills are as important as technical know-how. As the current global head of the bank’s execution and alpha solutions team, Wikstrom does transaction cost analysis for institutional investors and corporates.

Wikstrom has a doctorate in turbulence in fluid dynamics from the department of mechanics at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. For quants, an organization’s financial engineers who typically specialize in applying mathematical and statistical methods to financial and risk management problems, it is now even more imperative to keep an element of human engineering present in a business that relies heavily on technology, she said.

It’s a nod to a lot of familiar industry talk about robo-advice and the need to maintain a human touch through human interaction. Recently, BNP Paribas’ wealth management arm launched a mobile advisory service for its high net-worth clients whose biggest sell was a human advisor – at a time when most companies are touting robos. But in currency trading markets that run mostly on technology, Wikstrom says internal qualitative development can help deliver analytic content the right way. Tearsheet spoke with with Wikstrom about taking a human approach to an increasingly technology-driven world, both in the services BNP Paribas provides and in her leadership role.

petra

How is technology driving the business?
A core part of what we see of development in the market is having access to systems and tools to get information about market liquidity and managing your own execution as it is live. Our automated FX execution strategies employ an adaptive execution technology, and also puts control at the fingertips of the investor to allow them to pilot their execution. We also focus on education around market liquidity and its structure, and access to people and experts. The two go hand in hand.

How has your background prepared you for this role?
My background has naturally helped me speak the language of a lot of our quant developers who have similar backgrounds. What I also really enjoy is human interaction, working with people and our clients. Bridging those two passions – the technology expertise while understanding what people need and how to ask the right questions – is a core aspect of my day-to-day work.

Speaking of that contrast, who will win the future – robots or humans?
The hybrid model is the way of the future. The pendulum might swing one way or another as we go along but it will be very clear for the industry that many problems will require some form of tailored needs and help investors to understand what any technology is and isn’t solving for them. The hybrid model is very similar in nature to an engineering approach where you essentially identify the need for improvement of process, what product or technology is best suited, and finally highlight what areas are not covered. There will always be the need for a human engineer or the expert that will know what solution fits and in what context.

What’s one of the hardest parts about your job?
Learning something new everyday is the challenge that I truly enjoy. Automation is accelerating the financial services industry in many aspects – and it’s not just in finance, it’s across industries affecting our day to day lives. There is a lot of information and we have to constantly keep on top of new technologies, keep abreast of what’s going on, and how this fits into the broader market. The focus is about getting access to the right information and what to do with it. We only have 24 hours a day.

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