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GFI's CTO Races Against Derivatives Deadlines

With tight deadlines for rolling out new derivatives trading platforms, GFI Group's CTO, Jerry Dobner, is relying on the firm's in-house development staff to launch a swap execution facility by October.

Like many chief technology officers on Wall Street, Jerry Dobner of GFI Group works long hours and faces tight deadlines for implementing new features in his firm's derivatives trading platforms that comply with market reforms. Yet many people would be surprised to learn that Dobner has found a new passion in riding a Citi Bike -- from a New York bike-sharing system -- to work each morning. "Here's my stress relief. I take the Citi Bike every day," Dobner says enthusiastically during an interview in his office. Once he commutes into New York City from a northern suburb, Dobner uses a mobile app on his iPhone to find a rack where he can pick up a Citi Bike, then cycles down the West Side Highway of Manhattan to the company's offices in lower Manhattan. Dobner began the exercise routine in July and hasn't missed a day. "It's fantastic," he says of the ride, which takes about 35 minutes. He then returns the bike to a rack near the office building.

GFI provides wholesale brokerage services, clearing services, market data and analytic software products to institutional customers in a variety of markets. "We write exchange-like systems for derivatives," says Dobner, who's managing a revamp of GFI's trading platforms to be in compliance with the new derivatives market structure under Dodd-Frank.

Dobner joined GFI in 2001 as a senior developer and architect, and two months later became lead developer and group architect. Moving up through a series of technology roles, he served as head of development for EnergyMatch, GFI's electronic over-the-counter energy marketplace, and then rose to become global head of development/e-commerce across all trading systems. "I was a take-responsibility type, and so I handled a lot of responsibility and kind of grew with that," says Dobner, who was named CTO in October 2011.

Among his responsibilities, Dobner oversees business analysis; quality assurance; and development of GFI's electronic trading platforms, including technology development, system support and investments in two subsidiaries, GFI Fenics and Trayport.

Today, GFI, which earned $919 million in revenues in 2012, has more than 2,000 employees, including over 1,100 brokerage personnel, and has offices in 17 countries. It provides both hybrid electronic and pure electronic trading platforms for OTC derivatives in a range of asset classes. "The nice thing about GFI is we're a medium-sized corporation, so you can do things that you can't do in a small company," says Dobner.

Unlike large firms where technology professionals can get pigeonholed into certain niches, Dobner says, "I got exposed to project delivery, system management and networking design. I could get involved in everything from time to time. It was a great experience."

Racing Compliance Deadlines

Now Dobner's team is racing to meet brutal deadlines to build electronic trading platforms that comply with the new swap execution facility (SEF) rules passed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). "It's been busy lately," says Dobner, understating the amount of pressure his team is facing. "Regulation has come down very abruptly in the sense there was a complete lack of clarity and then all of a sudden there are the rules and you have 120 days to implement them. Until we had the final clarity of what the rules actually are, we couldn't build."

But Dobner's team hasn't been sitting idle. "We've implemented a lot of functionality to bring us closer to where we need to be," says Dobner. For the past four months, his team has been working to adapt its existing platforms to comply with the SEF rules, which take effect in October.

GFI is also in the process of obtaining its exchange license from the CFTC and plans to launch a designated contract market. "The rules of engagement of a DCM are different than a SEF," explains Dobner. "DCMs are meant to be an all-to-all market, and with full transparency, while SEFs are meant to accommodate trading protocols that are designed for less liquid instruments where it's important not to just open up the covers to everything because that would chase away liquidity."

His top IT priorities are to add functionality such as different trading protocols and connectivity for SEF workflow to GFI's main derivatives trading platforms, CreditMatch, ForexMatch and EnergyMatch. The goal is not only to keep up with regulations but to position the firm to surpass its competitors. GFI was among the first interdealer brokers to file an application for designation as a SEF in July. "We're planning for the next 10 years. Our intent with the futures product is to work with the market and develop something that would be useful for them," says Dobner.

Filing to become a DCM wasn't that hard because GFI had all the technology in-house, according to Dobner. "We had all the essential pieces of a DCM anyway, so it was just a matter of the process of filing an application and adding a few small pieces of functionality that allowed us to file to become a DCM. We scrambled and the team really pulled together," says Dobner, who oversees a team of 150 development pros, who sit side by side with the trading floor and interact with the business directly.

Ivy is Editor-at-Large for Advanced Trading and Wall Street & Technology. Ivy is responsible for writing in-depth feature articles, daily blogs and news articles with a focus on automated trading in the capital markets. As an industry expert, Ivy has reported on a myriad ... View Full Bio

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