The heartbeat of the financial world is powered by technology. Behind this elusive curtain of algorithms and computer codes operate the real pioneers of Wall Street: the cyber geeks whose efforts could mean the difference between healthy growth and crushing collapse. Produced by the popular VPRO Backlight documentary series, The Wall Street Code draws several of these figures out of the shadows and seeks to expose their vast yet secretive sphere of influence over the global financial system.
At the centre of this investigation stands perhaps the most notorious of Wall Street whistleblowers: Haim Bodek. Empowered by a keen interest in mathematics and physics from an early age, Bodek became a leading innovator in algorithmic trading, a computerized process (otherwise known as high-frequency trading, or HFTs) which allowed orders and trades to be processed at a faster velocity than ever before. When he discovered that his code was being manipulated to operate outside of accepted parameters – essentially allowing a few at the top to cut in line and reap guaranteed profits – Bodek decided to place his livelihood and reputation at risk by exposing the massively rigged system he inadvertently helped to create.
His captivating narrative, which at times plays like a heist thriller, carries much of the documentary, but the filmmakers manage to spotlight a few additional figures of prominence along the way. These include Thomas Peterffy, the CEO of Interactive Brokers Group and a leading developer of electronic security trading; Eric Hunsader, the head of a large market data firm and a vocal critic of high-frequency trading; and several noted financial investigators from The Wall Street Journal.
While The Wall Street Code is replete with complex verbiage related to programming code and financial wrongdoings, it’s always presented in an accessible fashion. Even those who don’t absorb every morsel of information will understand the central idea. The film argues that technology has mired the financial system in a level of complexity which most find impenetrable; a dynamic that makes it easier for a knowledgeable few to rig in favour of their own interests. Greater scrutiny and simplification is needed if any true change can be allowed to occur.
Directed by: Marije Meerman