Michael Stumm is a computer engineering professor at the University of Toronto, self-described "techie" and so much more. He earned a doctorate in computer science from the University of Zurich and holds five patents with several more in the works. He and high school trading buddy Richard Olsen founded forex broker Oanda, a company Stumm heads, that has brought institutional efficiencies to the retail trader. Stumm and Olsen, while both brilliant, simply had the will to do it. He gets downright angry when discussing unfair market practices and the advantages certain players are allowed to maintain over retail participants. We talked to Stumm about technology, innovation, regulation, traders’ rights and the future of forex.
Futures magazine: Michael, your background is not typical. Tell us how you became involved with forex.
Michael Stumm: All things are sort of accidents of history. I am a computer engineering professor, so I am a techie type of guy, and Richard Olsen was a high school buddy of mine, and he started an economic research firm that was doing currency forecasting. I advised him on the technological front and as part of that I saw him amass a huge amount of forex price data. At some point back in 1995 I suggested [putting it up on the web]. We wrote a quick application, put it out and traffic started to come to it. That was the first Oanda application. We sort of naïvely said we should become a broker and put together a forex trading platform so that we could make prices and our prices [would be] legitimate.
FM: You have continued to teach and pursue research since founding your firm. Why is this?
MS: I am an academic at heart; both my parents were academics. The smell of university halls makes me feel at home and I have to say that I enjoy teaching. I like interacting with bright, young minds. It keeps me young and energized, and a large part of my career is catapulting young people into their career paths. I do that at the University, but I also do that at the company. You hire young people and help them build their careers. That is very gratifying. There are advantages in both directions. For hiring technical talent, I can see who the stars are and can direct them toward the company. At the same time, we are faced with a lot of challenging problems and it forces my research to be more practical… It is a win-win situation.