Op-ed

Why Retail Brokers Must Take Control of Their Tech to Survive

Accelerating investor demand for new functionality requires brokers to adapt.

Retail trading has transformed due to the pandemic. Surging volatility and housebound investors have driven historic levels of participation, as the would-be traders that took to their phones and desktops with ambitions of capitalising on soaring markets. For the trading platforms facilitating this boom, this has presented an opportunity but also a challenge as record volumes and a new cohort of investors, looking for the right trading platform, brought their technology and capabilities into sharp focus.

Trading platforms must be equipped with the latest technologies to attract and retain the army of new retail investors. However, despite some smart interfaces, quite often trading platforms rely on legacy systems, some of which are up to 20 years old, that underpin their trading operations. While on the surface brokers will look different, under the bonnet they can look similar, using the same ‘off the peg’ vendor technologies and base legacy systems. The challenge for brokers is, therefore, in differentiating and modernising their technology and offering their clients something truly unique in a highly competitive and commoditised marketplace.

The pandemic has demonstrated how fast markets can move. Relying on vendors for innovation can, therefore, mean falling behind. With accelerating investor demand for new functionalities, tools and access to asset classes, brokers are constantly having to adapt their technology to satisfy an ever-growing group of investors. This is challenging enough, yet the real problem lies in their competition who, in many cases, are doing the same thing, looking at similar solutions from a narrow pool of third-party providers. The result: a dulling of the competitive landscape as firms look to satisfy similar demands using the same building blocks.

Another critical issue retail FX brokers are facing lies beyond the world of finance. As smartphones become a focal point of our work and home lives, retail trading apps have surged in popularity. However, new restrictions through Apple’s App Store have come into play. Apple has begun restricting downloads in certain geographical locations, demanding that brokers have complex and hard-to-acquire individual licences. If brokers cannot comply, they are dropped from the store. With such widespread reliance on the App Store and Apple’s app infrastructure, this is proving to be a significant spanner in the works and has caused some brokers to look into building web-based platforms to side-step the problem.

Amanda Harrison, Senior Sales Executive for Adaptive Financial Consulting.

Facing pressure to compete through technology and the wake-up call from changes to the App Store, the argument for retail trading platforms to take their technology stacks in-house has never been stronger. Their choice is to either continue building on top of legacy infrastructure with vendor products or invest in a bespoke technology stack from the ground-up that perfectly fits their needs.

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There is no getting away from the fact that rebuilding large brokers’ technology stack is a significant undertaking. It requires time, investment and a clear idea of the direction of the business, yet the long-term benefits are clear:

  • Differentiation: By retaining ownership of their technology, retail brokers can focus on offerings that will enable them to truly set themselves apart from the competition and respond more quickly to changes in the marketplace, whether asset classes, access specific liquidity, or market events, or developing unique trading tools.
  • Controlling innovation: Internalising their technology stack gives firms flexibility and control over the direction and pace of modernisation. Vendors can be slow to develop and implement new functionalities, which may not meet a retail broker’s specific needs as the functionalities are built for mass-market appeal. Controlling this process, therefore, allows a broker to create tools and functionalities specific to their customers.
  • Controlling long-term cost: While businesses have to take the initial plunge, modernised infrastructure requires far less long-term investment and removes the need to constantly plug holes in legacy infrastructure. Having a powerful engine built specifically for flexibility, therefore, requires far less maintenance and saves costs in the long-term.

In the rapidly changing world of retail trading, brokers cannot afford to fall behind. The mainstream popularity of retail trading is attracting a whole new audience looking for the trading platform that will be the bedrock of their future success. In such a lucrative market, there is a race among incumbents and new entrants to capture this market. Retail brokers cannot afford to leave their futures in the hands of vendors. To keep up with the rate of participation, platforms need to control their destiny by owning their technology.

 

Amanda Harrison, Senior Sales Executive for Adaptive Financial Consulting.

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