Ding dong." For the third time in our conversation, Beatrice May feels compelled to apologise for the interruption. She's sitting on the fixed income desk - of which she is team leader - in Bloomberg's global data department. It's abuzz. The incessant alarms, bells and sirens tell the team when a new bond has been issued and as we chat, Beatrice is simultaneously ensuring that one of her team is breaking the news to the world. But what might sound like pandemonium is, in reality, anything but. Bloomberg has, over thirty years, become the world's premier financial data provider, through diligence, transparency and reliability. Its name is as synonymous with breaking stories and publishing data as its brand is iconic, and the force of both its reputation and its personality are inescapable from the moment you enter its spectacular London offices.
Designed by Norman Foster (the architect responsible for the Millennium Bridge, the Gherkin and Wembley Stadium), the Finsbury Square building is company founder (and current mayor of New York City) Michael Bloomberg's vision realised. It provides his employees with an environment that stimulates them to source, document and break financial data around the clock. It's decked out in vibrant blues, greens and reds, with the distinctive company logo embossed on clean white surfaces everywhere. The building is host to the second largest set of aquaria in Europe, with 600 kaleidoscopic sea fish swimming in tanks built into the walls, tended to by three staff members of their own. The idea came directly from Michael Bloomberg himself, who maintains that his best ideas came to him while gazing at fishbowls. Upon entering, you're greeted by the Bloomberg pantry: a smorgasbord of soups and nuts, coffees and juices, available free to staff, 24/7. Determined to make the most of the great British weather, a section of the glass roof runs is curved, so the rain flows down it like a waterfall. It's more like an architectural showroom than an office in London's financial district.
It's a great place to work,” declares Beatrice, as another siren sounds in the background, - there's a lot of action!” She's responsible for sourcing transparent and impartial information on fixed income securities (investments which provides a fixed periodic return, such as bonds), processing the information and putting it out to the market. For the most part, her team releases information on government and corporate bonds via the Bloomberg terminal (for more information, see below). Her sources are mostly primary - those directly involved in transactions, like treasuries and banks. Bloomberg's news comes straight from the horse's mouth. The information we release is known as "static data"" explains Beatrice. It's the raw information about a bond. Who is issuing it? How much for? What's its structure? Our responsibility is to get the data quickly, process it and put it out to the client. There's also a huge onus to check the data so that it's 100 per cent accurate."
Beatrice's clients are the 300,000-plus end-users of Bloomberg terminals across the world. Fixed income data is particularly relevant to users active in bonds markets. They can't make their investment decisions until the bond is on the market. Our terminal lets them know when this happens." And how does Bloomberg make money from these clients? By putting ten bonds on the system every day, I'm not directly earning Bloomberg revenue," says Beatrice, but the people that sell the terminals do so on the strength of the data we enter." In her fixed income team, there are 15 people based in the UK, and 50 worldwide. Joining them under the global data umbrella are teams dedicated to everything from equities (shares), to unemployment figures, to energy finance - the team comprises 230 in Europe and each member is charged with bringing up-to-date, authoritative data to Bloomberg clients.
Streams of data
But Bloomberg's information streams aren't limited to its terminals - many of you will have seen Bloomberg TV, listened to Bloomberg Radio, or read the latest business financial news on Bloomberg's website or via Bloomberg Businessweek. The information that's released through these channels doesn't come from the global data team. Let's say the German government issues a bond," explains Beatrice. "Our contact in their treasury will inform us, but we will rarely divulge that to our colleagues in Bloomberg TV. In some senses, there's a Chinese wall (a division between different arms of a business through which information shouldn't be shared) in place. Once it's published on the terminal, they can republish or broadcast it as it's in the public domain, but our job is to get it to our clients." The other media outlets within the company employ their own reporters, journalists and analysts, and there's every chance that one of them will be privy to the news, too. The television studio in Bloomberg's Finsbury Square building is - in keeping with the rest of the surroundings - dazzling. London, however, only broadcasts for an hour a day, but rows of televisions in the surrounding walls beam images from the Bloomberg head office in New York, where the bulk of the organisation's news output is recorded live.
As well as being at the nerve centre of the world's financial news, Beatrice is also exposed to some of the most cutting edge technology in the finance world. In her four years with Bloomberg, she's witnessed technological advancements on an almost weekly basis and at the coalface, she and her team are expected to suggest ways in which the systems can be improved further still. This company never stops! It's always moving forward to the next thing, then the next thing and then the next. We're always looking at ways in which we can get the right information online quicker. I'm not a technological expert, but I have an interest in technology and I think that's essential at Bloomberg. We have programmers to fix problems and glitches in our system, but we need to come up with ideas as to how they can do it."
Bloomberg never switches off but there are plenty of relaxation areas on each floor, where employees can grab a breather or have a snack. Our personal favourite is the paper garden, with personal messages from employees' families hanging from the branches of the trees. It's an exciting place to visit and, by all accounts, an even more exciting place to work.
Bloomberg Professional Service - commonly known as the terminal
What is a Bloomberg terminal?
A Bloomberg terminal is one of the finance industry's most widely used tools and provides professionals with up to the minute financial information. It's used by external users, who subscribe monthly, and also internally at Bloomberg. It allows users to access real-time market data from anywhere in the world. The terminal is at first glance strikingly different in appearance from a standard desktop computer and uses a very specific programming language. On a trader's desk, for instance, a Bloomberg Terminal may have four screens, each tuned to a different news or information feed. On the QWERTY-based keyboard, the function keys, as well as the keypad are replaced by colour-coded shortcuts, like CURNCY", which will take the user directly to the latest information on currency markets and CORP", which will take them to corporate debt data. It takes some getting used to," says Beatrice, but once you do it's an invaluable tool."
What are its functions?
The terminal has 30,000 functions, and Bloomberg's research and development teams try to develop a new one every week. Of course, very few people will be able to or ever need to use all of them. Beatrice uses over 100 functions per week in her current role, but which ones they are will depend on what's happening in the world of fixed income at the time.
Bloomberg's derivatives functions are said to be some of its best. Not only can clients access real-time data on the value of an exchange traded fund or a futures contract, but they can also use Bloomberg to make complex calculations and their own graphs. It's also easy to monitor trends, Beatrice adds: The system contains lots of historical data. If you want to see what the price of a certain bond was back in the 1940s: no problem!"
Who adds data and functions?
Each part of the global data team is responsible for updating their section of the system. As well as market data, users can read the latest news headlines, and more. Beatrice explains: Our lifestyle product gives you restaurant reviews and biographies of notable individuals. The restaurant function is all generated by Bloomberg users, who pop in a rating once they've eaten somewhere. That's what we believe in: building things ourselves." Bloomberg staff are also encouraged to contribute ideas for new functions and some have taken their participation a step further. We had an intern in New York who built a new function, and that's huge," says Beatrice. Usually, people just come up with changes to existing functions, but he pitched it to his team leader, and it got implemented. That's quite a legacy!"