CFTC eyes natural language processing to standardize data, improve customer experience

Commodity Futures Trading Commission employees need standardized data to effectively oversee product markets.
File photograph dated May 6, 2010 shows traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange looking at stocks during the final minutes of trading during the Wall Street "flash crash", which was prompted by one firm's algorithm selling off 75,000 stocks in 20 minutes, according to a joint report by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is interested in using natural language processing toolkits to digest its unstructured data, according to Chief Data Officer Tammy Roust.

Roust wants NLP tools performing discovery on data feeding into CFTC‘s enterprise catalog, so unstructured data can be pushed into a structured form when necessary.

CFTC employees need quality, standardized data to effectively oversee product markets and keep the public informed on market activity, work that increasingly involves visualizations and open-data portals — in keeping with the Customer Experience (CX) Executive Order issued in November.

“We have a tremendous amount of futures market experience in this organization, and it is not their subject matter expertise to be trawling through PDF files to find the one nugget of information they’re interested in,” Roust said, during the Data Coalition‘s RegTech22 Data Summit on Wednesday. “That is not the best use of human capital in the government or elsewhere.”


CFTC packages data in products like the weekly Commitments of Traders report it posts on its website for business reporters and institutions, who in turn relay that information to producers.

Increasing visualizations and open-data portals will reduce the amount of time it takes users to consume CFTC information, dubbed the “time tax” in the CX Executive Order, Roust said.

While visualizations will allow users to dive deeper into data on the product markets they’re interested in, there are limits on what CFTC shares publicly because there are privacy requirements around financial institutions.

When CFTC requires more or different data from markets, it writes new rules to obtain it, but the regulator won’t know everything it needs without quality data, Roust said.

Another financial regulation agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), is looking into Platform-as-a-Service technology in order to improve its CX.


Director of Design and Development Adam Scott at the CFPB said his “dream state” is testing new tools and capabilities entirely in the cloud to figure out what works without worrying about IT infrastructure.

The CX Executive Order had a minimal impact on Scott’s team because it was already focused on user-centered design, but its work was legitimized. The executive order’s focus on moments in a person’s life including financing a business, times of crisis like poverty and retirement presents a chance for more interagency CX projects, Scott said.

“I think in the long run where we have a lot of opportunity within government is to see more cross-agency collaboration in some of those focus areas, where we’ve seen that be successful in times of crisis, such as COVID-19,” he said.

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