Posted on Tuesday 21 August 2012 by Ulster Business
There's no trading floor here but NYSE's Belfast office plays a key role in providing trading technology for its clients
It is at the heart of the action in the world of global finance, in the consciousness of members of the public who know absolutely nothing about global finance, and even has a starring role in the new Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.
That NYSE Euronext, the company which operates the famous exchange, and several others, employs more than 300 people in Belfast, might therefore surprise many people.
While Northern Ireland has many attributes, it has never been regarded as a financial capital.
But, as luck would have it, that is one of the reasons it was attractive to the company, according to Ben Chrnelich, CFO of NYSE Technologies, the technology arm of NYSE Euronext.
Chrnelich was one of the driving forces behind the Belfast office being established and has visited around 40 times in the last four years.
He explains that when NYSE purchased New York and Belfast-based technology company Wombat in 2008, it inherited about 50 technical staff in Northern Ireland.
At the same time the company was in the process of picking a location outside of the core financial cities of London, Paris and New York to establish a technology Centre of Excellence. It evaluated a number of cities in Europe, Asia and the US but, says the CFO, Belfast continued to come to the top of the list – and not just because it was cost effective.
“In New York or London it is an extremely competitive market. As an exchange you are also competing with the investment banks, hedge funds, investment managers and other industries. We wanted to be in a place where we would be an employer of choice and one of the premier employers in the region,” he told Ulster Business.
“At the same time we wanted to be in a place where we felt we could hire a large number of students coming out of university and have a high probability they would be with us for a long period of time. When we looked at Belfast it made a lot of sense for us.”
Much is made by government Ministers of the province’s well-educated and highly skilled workforce, but in Chrnelich’s view the claims are justified.
“In Belfast, when it came to the technical capabilities of the team, it was second to none. We were very confident incremental talent could be sourced from Belfast. We also had a positive view on the future in terms of professionals originally from Northern Ireland who wanted to come back here to work.”
Allied with familiar legal and financial systems, the UK-based business infrastructure, and the good air links with the US and London, it was seen as an easy jurisdiction for NYSE to work in.
So, with no trading floor or stock exchange located here, what is it that NYSE Euronext’s team in Belfast actually do?
The company’s core business is running the trading platforms that enable investment brokers and funds to trade equities in real time.
The Belfast office is part of NYSE Technologies, and plays a key role in that division’s delivery of innovative technology solutions to NYSE Euronext and its customers that allow the trading community to function. As well as handling service issues for clients making trades, Belfast teams also test software and undertake quality assurance work to remove any bugs from programmes.
“They are live, market-related jobs,” said Chrnelich. “We don’t have any large clients in Belfast so the team there is really an international team. They are dealing with clients in London, Asia, New York, Chicago, all day long. It doesn’t matter to our clients that they are based in Belfast, they just know we have a high quality team that’s managing their products.”
While Northern Ireland may not be a financial capital, there is a growing capital markets technology cluster in the province.
As well as NYSE Technologies, a mix of home grown and international companies are helping the region gain a reputation in the sector, including Citi, First Derivatives, Fidessa, Kofax (Singularity) and most recently CME Group, which runs the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
Chrnelich believes that, at this early stage anyway, this can only be a good thing.
“Our hope and my personal hope is that Belfast becomes viewed as a financial technology city. If you think of places like San Jose or the research triangle in North Carolina, I hope that in Europe people will look at Belfast and see a cluster of established financial technology firms and start-up organisations. That kind of commitment by the employers would attract a lot more talented people to the region,” he said.
“We’re very supportive of other firms coming to Belfast. It confirms our decision when we see other big names wanting to come here that we made the right decision as early adopters.”
However, he cautions that if competition starts to drive up the cost of employment it could perhaps remove one of Belfast’s advantages.
NYSE offers among the most competitive salary and benefits packages in Northern Ireland and while that means it has had no difficulty recruiting, the CFO is aware there’s some tightness in the local labour market where IT skills are concerned.
“We’ve been very successful at the graduate level. Probably 0-5 years of experience we’ve had no problem at all,” he elaborated.
“Where we’ve seen lower supply is in the 15-25 year level. Part of that is history. For individuals at that point in their career there weren’t the industries in Belfast for them to get the experience or those that did had to move to other cities to get it. Our long term plan is that over the next five, ten, fifteen years, we develop a lot of people in Belfast who will move into the more senior roles.”
Chrnelich is very happy to talk about the future and confirms NYSE plans to be here for the long-term.
“Our plan is to continue investing and increasing the number of jobs we have in Belfast. It all depends on the global economy, but in a growth environment we expect the Belfast office to grow at a significant rate,” he said.
In fact the company has recently completed the build out of two additional floors in its office to accommodate a further 174 staff. The fit out gives the building a sleek, modern finish with the design concept, created by a company called Steelcase, focused on creating an environment that encourages collaborative working and shared work spaces.
“We want the office to be viewed as an innovative and entrepreneurial technology environment. We want technologists to come in and say ‘wow’, this feels like a place I can get a lot of work done,” enthuses Chrnelich.
That’s not to say that the big effort it has made fostering a Silicon Valley type environment makes the work NYSE Technology does in Belfast any less pressurised, he adds.
“Certainly, it is a stressful culture, we are operating markets and trading technology, and the clients the teams work with are some of the most demanding clients in the world. If our technology wasn’t working they would not be trading and if this was the case with large investment banks or customers you would know about it.”
For satellite offices of big organisations there is always the question of how events at a wider corporate level will affect them.
Earlier this year NYSE Euronext scrapped a planned merger with Deutsche Börse after EU competition authorities blocked the tie up.
Chrnelich said the merger wouldn’t have made much difference to Belfast either way, as Deutsche Börse did not have a large trading technology business.
Ructions in the global economy also only have a modest impact on the company, if they lead to the average daily volume of trades falling, or clients spending less on technology.
“Trading technology still continues to be a big growth area. As the level of complexity in trading technology continues to increase, our clients are always looking for newer technology, faster technology, so I don’t think anyone could say the macro industry of complex trading technology is slowing down any time soon,” he said.
That complexity was highlighted by a software glitch with recently caused a $440m loss in 45 minutes for trading firm Knight Capital. Though nothing to do with NYSE, the erroneous trades sent shares in 148 companies gyrating and led NYSE CEO Duncan Niederauer to call for a re-examination of the increasing speed of US trading.
“When you also add in that there are so many other types of asset classes that will be traded electronically that aren’t right now – either because of regulation or organisations wanting greater transparency around price discovery and liquidity – then we think we’ll see more assets traded on exchanges. That all requires a significant amount of trading technology and support,” added Chrnelich.
“Right now we are very focused on equities, futures and options on fixed income, equities and commodities but we can also see expansion into OTC derivatives.”
Its clients may not be based here but NYSE Technologies is active in the business community, working with the likes of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, Women in Business, the universities, Invest NI, and several charities.
Chrnelich himself has helped Invest NI by telling NYSE’s story at numerous events targeting inward investors, and says he already notices improvements in Belfast since his first visit in 2008.
While he doesn’t have a bad word to say about Invest and the Executive team that facilitated NYSE’s investment in the city, Chrnelich says his company would like to see Government at all levels continue to rapidly invest in the technology infrastructure.
“Belfast is a manageable enough size that you could have the whole city wired for wireless internet within the city limits,” he suggests.
“Both INI and the Executive team really stressed that they were going to continue to make investments into technology infrastructure within Belfast. We believe it is a manageable enough size of economy that when the Government decides to do something you can be pretty confident they can. It’s not a country of 500 million where it takes a long time to do anything. In cities throughout the world the more infrastructure has been invested in the more companies have been attracted.”
More companies of the calibre of NYSE Euronext would certainly be welcomed.
NYSE Euronext is more than just the New York Stock Exchange. It is the holding company for a number of exchanges in the US and Europe that provide stock and derivatives transactional services. It also operates technology companies that provide trading, data, and infrastructure services for institutional investors, securities firms, and other exchanges.
The company was formed in April 2007 through the merger of the NYSE Group and Euronext N.V. The NYSE Group was itself formed in 2006 through the merger of the New York Stock Exchange Inc. and Archipelago Holdings Inc. It can trace its history back to the 1792 Buttonwood Agreement that eventually created the New York Stock Exchange, the most liquid cash equities market in the world.
Euronext also operates the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the world’s oldest exchange, which dates back to 1602.
The company’s two other cash equities markets in the US are NYSE Arca and NYSE MKT. NYSE Arca is a fully electronic exchange for trading stocks and exchange traded funds. NYSE MKT is the former American Stock Exchange, a venue for listing and trading smaller companies.
Euronext is the first cross-border exchange in the European Union that combines the stock exchanges of Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Lisbon under a single entity.
NYSE Euronext’s leading derivatives market is NYSE Liffe, the second largest in Europe based on an average daily trading volumes. In 2008, NYSE Euronext launched NYSE Liffe US, which trades Interest rate and Equity Index futures including DTCC GCF Repo Index™ Futures and Precious Metals Futures.