Iseult “Izzy” Conlin made her first play on the stock market in 2005 with an investment in 1-800-PetMeds, a direct-to-consumer pet prescription business. Then just 17, Conlin was impressed with the company’s savvy approach to the real-world problem of access to animal health care. Essentially, it was Uber for pet meds, pre-Uber. “I thought that was genius,” she says. By 2017, she had a five-time return on her investment.
Conlin credits her early market acumen to her “nerdy love of math” — plus her mother’s insistence on financial literacy. Being one step ahead of the pack has been a hallmark of her career. Conlin, 32, has spent the past decade on Wall Street advocating for deeper integration of tech to modernize the corporate bond market.
Over the past 30 years, much of Wall Street has shifted away from pen-and-paper trades to embrace digital dealings. But the $50 trillion bond market has been especially resistant to change — in part because purchasers buy through brokers, not public exchanges. The move to electronification — the industry buzzword for digital trades — is happening, whether people like it or not. A rising crop of fintech companies is democratizing access, from electronic bond trading platforms such as Tradeweb and MarketAxess to robo-adviser services like Betterment and Wealthfront, which automate portfolio management. They’re gaining market share: In fall 2018, 26 percent of corporate bond volumes were traded electronically, according to research company Greenwich Associates, up more than a third since the spring. Benefits include regulatory transparency, data-driven trades and centralized pricing. Forget the whisper network of the past. Today’s trader needs to go digital, or die.
“My day is focused on idea generation,” says Conlin, currently a U.S. institutional credit product manager at Tradeweb, which went public in April at a $7.5 billion valuation. “I look at it through a different lens.” At work, she wears many hats: strategy, product development and sales. As one of the few people on her team with real-world trading floor experience, she understands the tools brokers need. Conlin joined from BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm, where she says she “automated my workflow so much that I was no longer using my brain.” In seven years at BlackRock, she went from an investment-grade bond trader to vice president of trading and liquidity strategies, her specialty being fixed income and e-trading.