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Why the Financial Desktop is Ripe for FinTech Disruption

FinTech opportunities are keeping many banking executives busy as they try to understand and take advantage of blockchain, spot unicorns and pick gazelles.  All while looking over their shoulders at potential FinTech rivals and digging around to find friendly start ups whose energy and ideas they can usefully harness.

 

Much of the FinTech focus has been on the financial consumer space.  But it is increasingly apparent that there are key areas within internal financial IT systems that are equally in need of improvement, consolidation, simplification and cost-reduction.

The financial desktop which we are focusing on at Adaptable Tools is a prime example of system real estate ripe for FinTech disruption – which is why we developed the Adaptable Blotter.

 

A Blotter (aka Grid) is the most common UI widget on the desktop after Excel.  Every financial application’s User Interface has one or more Blotters, whether Trade, Deal, Pricing, eTrading, Risk, Activity, Orders etc. It’s the space where most of the day-to-day activity happens:  As far as many traders and other front, middle and back office users are concerned, their grid IS the application.  The usefulness of the blotter defines how users evaluate the worth and value of the system as a whole.  And having spoken to hundreds of end users it is clear to us that it is the component of their systems that causes the most frustration and lack of productivity.

 

So the blotter market in financial institutions is huge; yet a brief review of current practices highlights unnecessary cost, avoidable duplication, poor resource management and under-delivery.  It’s a microcosm of many traditional approaches to technology areas within the financial sector.

 

A bank typically creates a Blotter by buying a grid from a software vendor and then using in-house development teams to add the missing functionality.  Vendor grids come in multiple forms to work with each of the main User Interface forms (e.g. WinForms, WPF, HTML5, ASP.Net etc.).  So the bank development team can choose one of 40 or so combinations, and then adds in functionality required for the specific application (e.g. search, additional filters, flashing cell updates etc.).  

 

Typically this effort takes about 100 development days, and is repeated many times a year, with similar functionality added each time to different grid combinations.  Because each Vendor API is unique, each requires a different, specific, skill set and knowledge base with almost nothing that can be shared.   Instead of solving business problems, developers find themselves dealing with difficult UI issues and banks end up with a large number of development teams with non-transferrable skill sets.

 

The output from all this duplicated labour is also limited.  The grid is often developed only when delivery is already late and the pressure is on to “get the software out there”.  This means only “absolute must-have” features are added, usually in a haphazard way.  The result is end-user frustration.

 

Productivity-enhancing functionality like audit, alerts, support mechanisms and sharing of ideas is invariably absent.  These limitations mean that the opportunity for the most ubiquitous piece of financial software to help support regulatory and audit requirements – through checks, alerts, validations and other features to spot and prevent potential misbehaviour at source – is missed.  

 

Users themselves also miss out.  Because every vendor grid is different, every Blotter looks different, works differently and has different feature sets.  Each requires a steep, individual, learning curve from its users who might have upwards of 8 blotters in different applications.  No wonder that when they aren’t complaining about missing features, they grumble that existing features are difficult to find and hard to use.

 

All of which explains why the Adaptable Blotter is proving so popular.  It is a data-agnostic, powerful grid that works across all assets, all desks, all roles and any blotter type.  It sits on top of all the major vendor grids and has a single API and persistence mechanism so that items created for one Blotter (e.g. Searches, Shortcuts, Smart Edits) can be shared easily with others irrespective of the vendor grid.

 

The Adaptable Blotter includes all the additional functionality usually added by developers at great cost and time, and functionality beyond that which users have craved but rarely received: Extremely powerful searching, filtering, viewing, editing and exporting functionality.  It also includes a suite of powerful administrative, management and support features, so managers can be kept fully informed about the things they need to know, support teams have the tools they need to respond to issues quicker, administrators are able to standardize the banking UI, and regulatory checks are standard.

 

The current focus by banks on external FinTech threats and opportunities is understandable and appropriate.  But as the popularity of the Adaptable Blotter demonstrates, there are areas within internal banking systems where waste, duplication, and poor delivery persist; where users are given expensive, unloved, underpowered applications with steep learning curves; and where new FinTech products can introduce efficiency, save large amounts of money, help meet regulatory requirements, standardize processes and boost productivity.

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