Rob Johnson, Coremont CTO, on his approach to getting the most out of technologies and teams at Coremont.
Coremont was established to provide a full-stack servicing and support model for the finance sector. The firm already had well developed processes to support buy side firms, but needed to transition from: servicing a single client to multi-client; co-located to geographically diverse, and correspondingly on-premise to cloud focused. This required the creation of a functionally-rich content delivery portal and the clear understanding that we had become a fintech.
While we have established an office in Asia and one in the US, the majority of the team work in London, where numbers have doubled over the past two years as a result of organic growth. Building out teams in this organic fashion has enabled us to maintain the “can do” culture of the firm while taking on ideas from new joiners, encouraging us to try out new working methods. The intention is always to maintain a fun and flexible working environment that is also intellectually challenging. Recently ensuring regular contact with all staff across the firm, even if only via video link, has proven effective in maintaining a culture of engagement.
One consequence of our openness to new ideas is an improved release cadence that was initially fortnightly but is now often multiple times a day, including the continuous integration/deployment of key modules, while running a blue-green deployment model to ensure uptime. Having external viewpoints from experienced new joiners on our processes coupled with introspective analysis encourages us to continually challenge the way we operate. An ongoing process of review and automation seeks to avoid building in manual steps to processes that do not demand them. Just as it became normal across the industry to conflate development and operations functions within software teams into “devops” we emphasised the point that operational efficiencies are always subject to change by creating the role in Technology of “Head of Production And Change”. This is perhaps at odds with the conventional segregation of functions into “Run The Bank (RTB)/ Change The Bank (CTB)” but for good reason. It is essential that those carrying out the operational aspects of the firm are integral to its evolution and must be agents of change within the organisation. That way roles never become dull and careers do not stagnate. Continual review also encourages all team members to contribute ideas and opinions that ensure broad acceptance but also a culture that encourages change where there is benefit. The vast majority of the firm’s growth has been in technology so while Coremont evolved from a finance firm it is now clearly fintech through and through.
Growing a firm and significantly expanding its mandate can present difficulties. One challenge in a growing organisation is maintaining agile governance so decision making does not slow or get impeded with the knock-on effect that staff morale suffers. Coremont focus on keeping bureaucracy to a minimum. Challenging processes is of paramount importance to maintain velocity. Nobody likes unnecessarily slow processes. Another challenge the firm observed is maintaining the sense of inclusion felt by both the new joiners and those that have been with the firm during the transition. Appreciating the value that both bring is key, new ideas from one party, institutional knowledge and experience from the other.
Being on-cloud wherever possible frees the platform of many restrictions such as long release cycles, limited test capacity and slow infrastructure provisioning that are familiar to traditional IT departments. It also offers the potential for staff development beyond traditional platforms. These are all attractive features for the development teams. Being able to scale environments on demand is particularly effective in avoiding restricting development teams for example.
Having taken the portal (called Clarion) through MVP in 2020, in 2021 we will be focusing on enhancing its functionality. All the fundamental requirements are in place, now we will focus on building out the enhanced functionality that adds value to the trading experience. Our development priorities are largely driven by the demands of our clients and prospective clients so the vast majority of feature requests in the product backlog are intrinsically linked to client requirements.
Finally, throughout our tech stack we will be assessing our services as we continuously onboard new clients to ensure that resilience and scale are maintained, notwithstanding the fact that 2020 saw record trade volumes in a very volatile trading environment. Containerising new and existing development will continue to be a priority for 2021 to facilitate portability while addressing the capacity to scale many times the existing trade volumes across the entire stack.
Republished courtesy of the Financial Technologist. Issue 3 2020.