Cloud9 Thought Leadership Series: FinTech and the Cloud
April 01, 2016
Recently, we welcomed an audience of financial industry executives to the Core Club in Midtown Manhattan for Cloud9’s first thought leadership roundtable. The panel included a group of distinguished industry experts discussing how cloud-based technologies are fundamentally changing how people think about, implement, and manage the use of voice both on and off the trading floor.
- Kevin McPartland: Principal of Market Structure and Technology at Greenwich Associates
- Scott Mullins: Head of Worldwide Financial Services Business Development at Amazon Web Services
- Leo Papadopoulos: Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder of Cloud9 Technologies
Despite the widespread use of the cloud on personal devices and in other business sectors, the financial services industry as a whole still remains in the early stages of cloud technology adoption. While they are not resistant to innovation, financial firms tend to be more hesitant to fully adopt a cloud solution as they place a number of demands on cloud infrastructure that are different than those of traditional users.
For financial firms, a cloud solution must:
- Be Secure
- Be Compliant
- Be Scalable
- Be Profitable
In reality, solutions that meet these requirements do exist and are operating successfully every day – oftentimes even more successfully than legacy solutions.
Our panel addressed these key concerns many financial firms have when evaluating cloud solutions and spoke about how cloud computing services, like Amazon Web Services, are making the space more secure, functional, and reliable.
Security in the Cloud
Financial firms deal with highly sensitive data, and a breach could quickly ruin the operation and reputation of their business. To make the transition to the cloud, they require a solution that is completely secure.
For Scott Mullins and Amazon Web Services (AWS), security was top priority when building out their cloud services offering. Mullins recounted a particular moment when a large bank told him, “We’ve chosen to move to AWS because you operate more securely in the public cloud than we can in our data centers.”
As a communication platform for the financial services industry, it was crucial for Cloud9 to create a service that allowed firms to conduct business securely.
When selecting a cloud provider on which to build the Cloud9 application, the choice was clear for our CTO and Co-Founder, Leo Papadopoulos.
On top of AWS’ built-in security measures, Papadopoulos and the Cloud9 Developer team were able to add a number of security features that:
- restricted access to the application
- facilitated end-to-end encryption
- allowed for the recording and retention of voice calls
“Cloud9 is automatically ahead in many cases, because AWS provides all the basic security built into the back end services,” says Papadopoulos. “It allows us to focus on building a really dynamic service that allows our customers to manage their data. It allows them to feel comfortable with the fact that even though they are storing their data in the cloud, they still own it, and that Cloud9, as managers of that data, doesn’t even have access to it.”
Kevin McPartland, an expert in capital markets and financial technology at Greenwich Associates, explained the hesitation many firms experience when it comes to making sure their cloud solutions are compliant.
“Lawyers are trying to interpret old rules and adapt them to current times, which causes a lot of confusion,” said McPartland. “They are always going to be on the side of caution, because we’re at a point now where if something goes wrong, people can go to jail, and that makes people nervous.”
Despite the uncertainty of financial services firms, many regulatory agencies such as the Financial Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have been vocal proponents of cloud technology. FINRA in particular has spoken openly about their use of AWS to capture, analyze, and store data.
“FINRA is doing everything that they can with cloud first,” says Mullins. “Last year they moved all of the market surveillance under AWS for every market in the US. That’s 75 billion rows of data going up on AWS every night to be processed and surveilled.”
When it comes to voice trading, upcoming changes in mandates like the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II) in the UK, require detailed records of all discussions related to a trade. Any communications platform looking to provide services for the financial services industry must have the capability to record calls, retain the discussions, and store that information securely.
Cloud9 is able to use AWS, the same platform trusted by the top regulatory agencies, to:
- securely store voice calls behind several layers of encryption
- allow firms to define how long these calls are retained
- make it easy for firms to reconstruct call logs that identify all conversation participants
- offer a flexible service that can roll out updates in response to changes in compliance requirements.
Control and Scalability
When financial firms are thinking about moving to the cloud, one of the common misconceptions is that they will lose control over their sensitive data.
In reality, using AWS gives both the financial institution as well as the fintech provider significant control over how and where their data is stored, with the added benefit of built-in disaster recovery.
From AWS’ easy-to-use interface, fintech companies can control their storage requirements at the click of a mouse. For Cloud9, this means being free from having to manage physical data centers, which allows us to rapidly scale our business without interrupting the business of our financial services customers.
“I feel like I have more control over my infrastructure now than I have ever had,” says Papadopoulos. “We scale manually, meaning that we watch our traffic and decide if we need to add another server. If we need to scale, we simply add another server or replace with a larger server behind the load balancer, and the customer notices nothing.”
For a finance firm, using a cloud solution also increases the reliability of communication services, by providing built-in disaster recovery and redundancy. If an emergency or natural disaster occurs and data centers go down, AWS is able flip our servers to an entirely different region. All a user would need is internet access, and they can still be up and running on their cloud-based applications. We took this one step further at Cloud9, adding a recovery codex on the application that covers for call loss, leading to virtually zero dropped calls.
In what is likely the starkest difference from traditional trader voice technology, working with AWS enabled Cloud9 to build an application that can be accessed from anywhere, around the world.
Says Papadopoulos, “Someone can pick up, walk to another building, continue using our product, and still retain all the compliance and security they had in their original location, with no extra cost.”
Perhaps the most convincing argument for financial institutions to commit a cloud solution lies in the significant cost savings. As McPartland explained, “Ten years ago most desk heads didn’t care what their phone bill was or how much the PCs cost. But that era is gone. Now it’s all about profitability. ”
At financial institutions, legacy trader voice communication systems in particular require extensive hardware and separate disaster recovery centers, with phone turrets that can cost $10,000 upfront and private lines that can cost thousands of dollars each.
Since Cloud9 takes voice communications to the cloud, there are:
- no hardware costs for financial firms
- no costs to provision extra lines
- no additional costs for private lines and disaster recovery centers.
By moving to a solution like Cloud9, financial institutions can easily save tens of millions of dollars in communication costs, without compromising security, quality, or performance.
Despite initial hesitation by the industry, the cloud has proven to be a secure, compliant, scalable, and cost-effective infrastructure capable of serving some of the world’s top financial services firms.
“I think we’re in the middle of a complete change in the way that the industry consumes technology,” says Mullins. “Now more than ever financial firms are moving toward innovation.”