Cultural Shift

By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2003-09-10 Print this article Print

Foresight kept the trading exchange in business for the last two years.

Cultural Shift

The NYBOT employs an "open outcry" system, where buyers (speculators) and sellers (hedgers) meet in a pit and scream prices at each other, each betting on what a commodity will cost in six months. The open outcry system stays in place at the new location, but will be surrounded by wireless systems to move trades from paper to digital. NYBOT will keep the shouting, but encourage traders to enter details of a trade via PDA instead of paper.

The exchange introduced a series of wireless technologies at the backup site. A wireless handheld system dubbed the Automated Trading Card is for locals, traders who play commodities to profit in their personal accounts. Brokers also get a handheld that manages orders, dubbed the Order Book Management System.

Behind the scenes, NYBOT employs electronic order routing, which allows orders to be sent over the Internet directly to the booth on the floor. Currently, the booth clerk physically passes the order by hand on paper to a trader in the ring. Eventually, these orders will be zapped to traders' handheld devices.

Moscato, for one, is giving wireless a try. He has been trained to use a handheld iPaq to replace a paper-based system that for years tracked contract terms and trades after orders were placed.

But NYBOT won't be ditching paper entirely. Unlike its larger, all-electronic rival, the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange, the majority of trades at NYBOT are still tracked by paper.

"The key is to give traders a choice," says Joshua Aaron, president of Business Technology Partners, the consultant retained by NYBOT to get its One North End Avenue "A" location up and running. "It's a cultural shift, but we'll offer them both systems."

NYBOT's new trading floor consists of a series of steel trusses that ring pits for each of the exchange's commodities—cocoa, sugar, coffee and cotton, for example. These trusses hold monitors, speakers, clocks, cable trays, electrical distribution and outlets, and wireless antennae. Flat-screen displays ring the pits set up with trading data. With the flat screens, NYBOT can deliver more information in a smaller space—it also eliminates confusion with NYMEX's displays, which ring from above the entire trading floor including the area occupied by NYBOT.

Construction efforts were also complicated by the fact that NYBOT had to build its trading area, lay cable and create space for a data center all while its landlord, NYMEX, was operating as usual. NYBOT elevated by three feet its trading floor and ran its own cable, mapping out the building and then verifying its map with two engineers who had to crawl under the floor. Teams of about 20 to 30 electricians worked seven days a week almost around the clock to lay the miles of blue and white fiber optic cable that flows between floors.

The new location's data center, which runs on Tandem fault-tolerant servers, will handle trading functions, but the bulk of operations will be processed at two remote locations—39 Broadway, 10 blocks away from the new site, but on a different power grid, and Long Island City, which could be shelved if NYBOT and NYMEX eventually combine backup trading facilities.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed that financial institutions should have backup locations 200 to 300 miles from home base. When asked if his two backup sites are too close to NYBOT's main location, Gambaro chafes.

"Obviously, whoever wrote that didn't talk to the stock exchanges. How am I going to get there?" asks Gambaro. "Do I drive there every day? Do I buy a house somewhere? Move my whole family?"

As history showed, there is never an easy answer.

Business Editor
Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET News.com. Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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