DLS Preparation Kit (Beard Not Included) by John Ikel – guest blogger

If you’ve read the recent FISD Newsletter (and if not, why not?) you will have noticed that I’m one of the first people to have passed the FISD Level 2 certification on Data Licensing. I’ve been asked by the lovely people at FISD to write a guest blog post from the perspective of someone who has been there and lived to tell the story…

In case you are not aware, the Data Licensing Specialist exam (DLS) is a comprehensive, industry-wide exam designed to test in the broadest sense every facet of data licensing across the industry. I mention this because it is incredibly important that anyone planning to sit the exam understand that it is “industry-wide”. I am aware of people with decades in the industry who failed it first time because their experience wasn’t as wide as they felt it was. It’s very important that anyone looking to sit the exam fully understand and appreciate that if you haven’t worked both sell-side and buy-side; had to deal with exchanges, indices, fixings & benchmarks, ratings, platform providers; had exposure to data governance scenarios end-to-end, licensing models, “what if” scenario analysis on data flows across the enterprise etc. well then you might not pass. The exam has a very high pass mark and the questions are tough for a reason; this exam is an “expert” level exam, you need to have “walked the walk” to pass it.

I don’t mention this to put people off, just to prepare those who are reading about the course and thinking “I’d like to sit that”. The flip side of this is that the exam has real credibility and you can be sure that anyone who has passed it knows their stuff. I find it interesting to note that the first two people to pass the exam (Michael McCrea and myself) both come from different sides of the fence: Michael sat across from me a number of times during market data audits whilst he was at TMX, so it should be of comfort to those of you on the data provider side that this exam is for you as much as it is for those on the data consumer side (which is my background).

In addition to sitting the exam early on, I was also one of the first to test the online proctoring system. I didn’t want to go to a test center; the dates and times were not conducive to my schedule during a particularly busy period, so I sat the exam at home on a weekend morning in November whilst still in my PJs and before the family created a huge amount of noise and disturbance. (I’m telling you this for reasons that will soon become obvious.) So, what is the online proctored version of the FISD exams? (You can do both FISD FIA and DLS this way with special permission.) Well, first thing to note is that there are some preconditions to the online version. You have to have a webcam and microphone on the computer you are taking the exam on. You have to have the ability to install software on the computer you are going to be using (PC and Mac are both covered). And the room you are taking the exam in has to be quiet…exam conditions are enforced. Before you can sit the exam, you have to install the software that the proctoring system requires. I’ll be honest, it is a form of spyware which takes over your webcam, maximizes the gain of the microphone, takes facial, voice, and typing biometrics – for the latter you have to type something repeatedly so it can fingerprint your typing and ensure you aren’t handing the keyboard to someone else. You need to ensure you are not wearing an Apple Watch or similar smart device as this will get spotted and you’ll be in trouble. You cannot have any notes. You cannot speak aloud.

How do I know all this? Whilst sitting the exam, a couple of times the screen flashed up a red warning bar and switched to a view of my face showing me looking off to the side with a message telling me to look at the screen and not around the room. Another time, I read a particularly long question aloud to verbalize my thinking, and the exam was halted and I was told to stop reading the question aloud as other candidates do not have the same questions as I did. This was the point I got suspicious that this wasn’t an AI tracking me. Lastly, when rubbing my face and being told to remove my smart watch, I realized that the biometrics taken by the webcam were not the only reason it was on – there was someone at the other end of the webcam watching me take the test, listen to me mutter and (more importantly) watching me sit there in my PJs. As with all exams, I would caution any candidate to do the same thing: read the question thoroughly; mark the ones you want to review at the end and revisit them; and make sure you keep an eye on the clock as you have plenty of time to take the exam but if you run out of time, that is it.

So, how can you prepare yourself to sit the exam? Well, if you aren’t going on a FISD recognized prep course, ensure you download the syllabus from the FISD certification page from and read it cover-to-cover. Then perform a brutally honest self-appraisal of where your knowledge gaps lie to allow you to study those aspects; I’d strongly advice printing it off and highlighting everything you couldn’t honestly talk about in full to a business sponsor or client about in your sleep. When you’ve done that, decide whether you are comfortable reading up on the subjects you suspect need work, or keep an eye out for one of the preparation courses which are now being advertised. Best of luck and I hope to see many more people with “DLS” after their name on LinkedIn in the coming months.


John Ikel, DLS is a veteran of some 16 years in Market Data, with the majority of that time as an industry recognized subject matter expert for market data compliance & audit.  John was the first person to be awarded the FISD Data Licensing Specialist (DLS) accreditation, which is a specialist qualification from FISD that focuses on the licensing and related compliance aspects of financial markets information usage at all levels from original source to ultimate consumer, including derived data. Prior to 3di John was Global Head of Market Data Compliance & Audit for BNP Paribas.  During his 7 years with the bank he was globally responsible for market data compliance across the firm; managing market data usage by internal systems and end-users across the bank; and managing of both internal and third-party external market data audits from initiation to settlement.  He advised internal clients on the data usage rules affecting operational processes and contract negotiations, and mentored / trained the internal market data teams on the same.  He was additionally responsible for 2 years for the global commercial market data relationship with the Exchanges, five inter-dealer brokers (BGC Partners, ICAP, TradeWeb, Tradition, and Tullett Prebon), and fixings & bank rate providers; this covered not just global markets but also retail banking too.  Before BNP Paribas, John worked in a similar, lower-level capacity at Commerzbank and Credit Suisse; and is personally accountable for actual P&L impacting savings of over €10m in the past 10 years of market data audits with much more avoided through market data compliance risk avoidance.