Unify Enterprise Communications: Flexible Future - Trevor Connell
Information and communication technologies are transforming the way that traders operate, but is the financial sector really getting to grips with the benefits that they offer? Trevor Connell, Unify Enterprise Communications' managing director northern cluster, discusses the trading floor of the future, and why, despite appearances to the contrary, flexible working really matters.
In a world of bring your own device and flexible working, the trading floor stands apart. Like many other workplaces, it's wrestling with the operational challenges of legacy and the ever-present need to cut costs. Yet the sector seems incapable of capitalising on the transformational benefits that information and communication technologies (ICT) can deliver. The question is whether the trading floor can, and should, adapt?
While technical innovation may not be at the top of the trader's agenda, one thing is certain; there are few better examples of an industry so dependent on ICT for its very existence. You're barely through the door of a trading firm before you're assailed by a sea of screens and rivers of phone lines. Pull the plug (having first got through a host of network operations centres and multiple redundancies) and the £100bn UK industry shudders to a halt.
Communications technologies are paramount, no question. Of course, resilience and system integrity are also key, but these platform factors do little to drive business transformation. Apart from anything else, trading customers know the value of staying operational better than most. Enterprises tend to measure downtime in the tens of thousands of pounds, while traders and their clients measure it in billions.
Beginning with an IP platform
Assuming resilience is a given, how can the ICT department add the kind of transformational value it is delivering in other sectors? It pays to begin at the beginning. Right across the enterprise world, IP voice and data communications are replacing traditional time division multiplexing systems. This is increasingly the case on the trading floor - and that's good news. IP means that the turrets and dealer boards can be more tightly integrated into the company's workflows, saving valuable time and allowing the firm to be in a position to deliver the sort of collaboration that speeds up decision-making.
An interoperable IP layer delivers a shot to the arm of the business. It offers the opportunity to integrate (and eliminate) siloed, duplicated systems, and allows applications to do what they're supposed to - enable traders to work more effectively. Here, the attractions of multiple communications channels, such as voice and instant messaging through to desktop video conferencing, are clear.
But it's not just the multiple options offered by unified communications that can play a role in transformation; the hardware itself is also evolving. More compact turrets are using less desk space, and we're seeing the introduction of new, easy-to-navigate touchscreen interfaces, such as a smartphone experience on today's electronic trading platforms. This is a major leap forward in delivering a faster and more intuitive trading environment.
Security chaining traders to desks
While there is a platform for transformation, there remains a 'but'- and it's a big one. In a world where the majority of businesses rely on an increasingly diverse and remote workforce, traders are staying put. It's still predominantly a desk-bound job - and for some good reasons.
While resilience is a factor, there are also issues concerning control, compliance and oversight. Yes, there are mobile phones on trading floors, but unless those firms are operating under the protection of the relevant FSA and MiFiD voice-recording regulations, these pose a major risk. And it's not just the device; the connection is critical, too. The question about whether the device (and its trades) are secure outside the building has long been a cause for debate.
The answer, of course, is that they can be; it's how it's done that counts. Besides, it's less a technology discussion. Outdated perceptions that the industry is simply too complex to secure on the move continues to stifle working practice innovation. But things are changing. Desk-bound chains can and should be broken. Intelligent firms are recognising this, and are planning ahead and taking action.
Staff seek flexible working
Employees across all sectors are driving changes in working practices. There's workplace legislation across the EU that positively discriminates in favour of a more flexible workforce. It's also cheaper for the corporation and the employee. Not being able to offer a flexible working environment will affect recruitment into the sector in the medium and long term, particularly with new socially savvy and 'work-anywhere' employees entering the market.
Added to this, workers now have very personal relationships with their consumer technology. They want to use their tablets and smartphones at work, if for no other reason than to extend their own productivity. While their bosses may not be confident, traders are convinced about the ability of their mobile devices to support teamwork on their terms, in their locations and at the times they choose.
Obviously, there's a limit to what can be achieved in the confines of the trading sector, but the fact remains that today's (and tomorrow's) generation of traders will question the need to live in London and the need to make a daily commute into the City.
The transformational trader
There's an inevitability to flexible working within the finance sector - as in all other industries. The ability to operate effectively off the floor for any number of reasons makes business sense. The recent Hurricane Sandy is an example. Wall Street had to shut down because it was unable to operate remotely. Considering it's dealing in nothing more than data, that seems strange.
It is precisely this sort of event that will push the trading floor onto a more transformational path. Over the next decade, a wider cross-section of the trading community will adopt flexible working practices. It's not a major practical leap - wealth managers and sales teams are already global - and there's no reason to believe that the bulk of the trading community won't follow suit.
The real point is that this kind of ICT-led business transformation has obvious business benefits. Not only could it reduce the massive real-estate costs the industry currently carries, but it also delivers a more survivable industry should it ever need to go virtual. The technology is not the problem. Unify Enterprise Communications and others are already supplying collaboration and unified communications services to the sector.
Firms are certainly able to adapt their operations to more mobile and flexible environments, and rightly, too. The hurdle is a psychological one. Whether the City's 100-year-old trading houses are prepared to jump is perhaps the real question.