Barclays had a problem. It wanted to revamp its BARX single-dealer, cross-asset electronic trading platform to incorporate integrated analytics: avoiding the complexity of an additional standalone application but still adapting to the rapidly changing user needs of the current, complex trading environment. The answer? An innovative collaboration with OpenFin, an industry-wide operating system in which the bank had already invested back in June 2019.
To solve the challenge, the two firms worked together to create the BARX Connect App, part of a new BARX suite of applications providing real-time and historical analytics.
“It all started with a frustration about the inefficiency of delivering content to both internal users and to clients,” said Daniel Nehren, head of statistical modelling and development for equities at Barclays, speaking at a recent OpenFin webinar. “Most of the information was dispersed into huge tables across numerous different applications that didn’t speak to each other and was delivered in a way that doesn’t help the trader assemble and crystallise the information. The system was very inefficient, so we started thinking about how we could change that, and OpenFin was a critical component.”
The initiative centred around three pillars: client experience (how to make it easier for the client to do business with Barclays and interface with the dealer community), and employee journey (how to improve traders’ lives through smart tools, data and analytics so that they can do their job better and respond to clients faster), both based around a digital core that empowers both the end user and the developer community within Barclays and industry-wide.
So how did they achieve this? First, OpenFin was integrated onto the desktop through an existing legacy application. Once this was in place, a new web application was published on OpenFin, which significantly sped up the bank’s ability delivery of new features and functionality to end users.
According to Barclays, the use of OpenFin has reduced its time to market for the application by several months and also increased productivity, due to the fact that less coordination is now required between internal technology teams.
“We can now delivery things very quickly – from a new chart, to a new insight, to a new way of looking at our products, we can just prototype it, send it out, and see what works and what doesn’t,” explained Nehren. “It gives us the crucial concept to ‘Fail Fast’ – we need to be able to try new things, make mistakes in an efficient way, and push forward what works. The new channel can be used as a testing ground for a whole new set of analytics and integrated information, which we are then planning to deliver to our clients. It’s a quick way to innovate.”
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the importance of this shift towards streamlined, web-based efficiency. Traders that used to work from seven or eight screens in their office are often now remote-working from just one or two screens at home, yet they still need to be able to see all the different components – a trend that Barclays believes could drive the future of the desktop. “It’s less about single applications, and more about the workflow and the context,” emphasised Nehren. “There are lots of data insights being produced – the challenge now is how to make that as accessible as possible for our users.”
Nej D’lal, Managing Director and Head of EMEA Electronic Equities and Quant Prime Services Product, agrees. “Through this application, we have effectively been able to collapse two applications together: bringing together one silo that would historically focus on analytics, and another that would focus on trading application. It is a more integrated approach, and fewer screens means less chance for errors.”
In addition, the operational risk has decreased because of the ability to replace components without halting the whole operation. “Because much of the content is delivered through the web in an offline approach, that reduces outages, which is a big deal. The reduction of risk allows me to move faster,” noted Nehren.
So where next? The big question, both for Barclays and for the wider industry, is how to take a single application development and scale that to enterprise level and then even to industry level.
“There is a lot of evolution and discussion around the finance and tech world is going to evolve over the next five years,” thinks Ying Cao, Barclays Director of Digital Strategy and Head of Digital Products. “How can you build a platform or system that is scalable as well as flexible? For us as a bank, we think that it is through working with external vendors like OpenFin. That allows you to create a spectrum of applications for sales and traders, then connect them and then make them easily accessible through macro services and APIs so people can customise their own workflows.”
This underscores the importance of third-party collaboration – and, crucially, of approaching challenges from a commercial rather than a technology perspective.
“In finance we are guilty of trying to build everything ourselves,” admitted Cao. “These collaborations allow us to get best in class solutions and innovate at a much higher level, and to improve ROI. It’s the future of desktop – joining forces across different domains and expertise to come up with something truly unique and innovative.”