As the financial services landscape reshapes itself, the largest clearing firms have been working to enhance their offerings to broker/dealers on a number of fronts, not the least of which is technology (see B/D Briefing, August 2009).
"One of the things we've been spending a tremendous amount of time on of late is enhancing our broker workstation. It's something that's been on our agenda and planned for a number of years and actually was accelerated by the merger of Bear Stearns with JP Morgan," says Joe Triarsi, who heads up broker/dealer services for JP Morgan, but like most of his team comes from the Bear Stearns custody and clearing unit.
According to Tim Foley, who heads up the project's product development team, JP Morgan has committed $100 million in investment to complete the project in an 18-to-24-month timeframe. About a quarter of the $100 million being spent is on new infrastructure, including new data centers, a server farm of over 500 virtualized servers, and a new mainframe.
The whole effort is centered on increasing operational efficiency and lowering costs for the brokers who use the platform. The several hundred enhancements cut across trading functionality, portfolio reporting, money transfer, opening accounts, and dashboard functionality. "Our dashboard is an aggregating tool where it pulls together a bird's eye view of all the operational transactions that have been initiated from the front office as they come to JPMCC (JP Morgan Clearing Corp.) or to the clearing firm so that everybody can have a real-time view and see what's happening with new accounts, with account transfers, with money movements," explains Foley.
While the success of the project will be largely dependent on technology, it started with marketing 101: find out what the customer wants and then give it to him. Over the last couple of years, Foley and his team have worked with clients and internal brokers who use the platform and found out what did and didn't work.
The enhancements requested by users are possible due to a change in the underlying technology of the platform, which Foley explains was "moving toward a Flex/Flash-based environment."
Russ Cassar, chief technology officer on the project, calls it "a dream situation as a technologist." His technology team has ramped up to more than 450 members, including about 100 in India and 200 internally, most of whom have been reassigned to this high-priority project. "We have 270 releases that are going into production, that touch this workstation, between now and February 2010," he explains. "Some of them are small functional enhancements. Some of them are very large functional enhancements, like options trading with integrated market data and option chains all in one integrated platform."
Cassar explained that in approaching the broker platform the first plan was to "re-architect it from the ground up. We knew what the end state was in terms of feature function, but we really wanted to focus on the architecture and how to build it right so it would be incredibly tightly integrated, easy to add components onto...a very rich Internet based application that could process data in a fast and efficient time frame."
They settled on Flex, which is a Java application from Adobe that runs with Flash, which is on most desktops. That allows them to build Internet applications that are very rich-looking and it allows them to bring down very large data sets very quickly.
The first Flex applications to be rolled out cover portfolio management, equity trading, multi-order capabilities, and options trading.
Although the plan is to have all 6,000 users of the firm's current platform using the new Flex-based applications by year- end, the system is designed to handle a much greater capacity. According to Foley the platform has "the capacity to scale up to over 25,000 desktops and 5x the number of accounts we clear today."
"I definitely believe it's going to put us in a position to help us grow the portions of our retail business that we have not grown before," says Triarsi, citing the "independent contract broker/dealer," and "bank broker/dealers" as possible targets.