"When you get shouted at by a sweary trader, you learn to get technology right"
Jonny Wolfson worked for over 15 years on trading tech projects at top investment banks including Goldman Sachs, Citi, Bank of America and SocGen. One thing he learned over that period is that if you get technology wrong, you should expect a dressing down from the traders who use it.
“If you’ve had a trader shouting, screaming, f-ing and blinding at you because a piece of technology you’ve created doesn’t work properly, or at least how they expect it to, you learn two things. Firstly, it has to be intuitive and secondly, it needs to be customisable to the individual’s preferences. If not, they will blame you,” he says.
For much of his time working in banking technology, Wolfson developed grid systems for investment banks’ ‘blotters’. These blotters keep a record of the details of the bank’s trades – everything from the price, to the time of sale to order size. As MiFID II looms and requires best execution, the demands placed on these blotter systems is becoming greater. What’s more, developing them requires huge resources.
“At the heart of every blotter is a grid system that most banks buy from a vendor. Then hundreds of developers spend months adding the bells and whistles to make it work for the individual bank,” he says. “Tier one banks can spend 200 days doing this 40 times a year.”
Three years ago, Wolfson and a select few former finance technologists decided to quit their jobs and tackle this problem. They’ve launched Adaptable Tools, a new fintech firm that offers a universal blotter that can be easily adapted to individual banks’ needs. For traders, this means that they can access their right information easily and customise their desktop display.
“I’ve seen traders blow up for the smallest reasons,” he says. “One example is that some traders want to export data to Excel and see two decimal points, whereas others want to see all the figures. There’s no right answer to a lot of these issues – it depends on individual preferences. What has happened in the past is that whoever shouts the loudest gets what they want.”
The idea behind Adaptable Blotter, he says, is not just about customising the system for the bank, but making sure that individual traders can tailor it to their own preferences.
But what about those hundreds of developers working on these seemingly tedious but essential projects in large investment banks?
“If you’re a developer in a bank, you’re not going to run out of work,” says Wolfson. “Developers spend a lot of time working on very arcane user interface grids when they could be developing core products for the banks that give them a competitive advantage. I would think that a lot would be shunted off support technology projects on to projects that address banks’ business needs.”
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