The Matchmaker

On a Friday afternoon in early April, Rahul Merchant’s unobstructed view of the Statue of Liberty is thick with clouds and fog.

Merchant sits at a meeting table with his back to Lady Liberty and the gloomy New York Harbor eight stories below. On the desk behind him, a pile of one-page presentations is loosely stacked.

The pile is there because Merchant is “not a fan” of Microsoft PowerPoint presentations for everyday meetings. But he is a fan of powerful points.

That’s why his 11 direct reports come to his office prepared with topics to discuss—and recommendations summarized in four or five bullet points on a single piece of paper. Every time.

They can be budget estimates or personnel transfer recommendations. And they can come rapid-fire. In fact, Merchant meets with four or five direct reports every day. That means a couple of dozen powerful points a day—to act on, not just hear.

Which is why the head of global business technology at Merrill Lynch & Co. likes meetings. “You have to have your finger on the pulse of the business,” he says. “It’s about what the client thinks.”

Merchant Leads the Group Responsible for Merrill Lynch & Co.’s Global Business and Corporate Technology Operations. He Joined Merrill Lynch in 2000 as Chief Technology Officer of Its Global Market and Investment Banking Division. He Led a Reengineering of the Division, Shifting Its Focus From Treating Technology Itself as a Priority to An Emphasis on Delivering and Supporting Merrill Lynch’s Financial Services Business. in the Fall of 2004, Merchant Became the Company’s First Head of Global Business Technology.

The “clients” are managers and staff at the $22 billion New York-based financial services company. They use the technology provided and serviced by the global business technology (GBT) group’s thousands of developers, programmers, information architects, and system and quantitative analysts.

In retail banking, the clients are the 14,100 financial advisers in 630 offices globally who advise individual investors, as well as the regional and national managers of the overall business. In the institutional division, the clients are the traders of bonds, stocks and commodities, and the investment bankers who advise organizations on potential mergers and acquisitions and provide a range of financial services required to run a company.

A native of Mumbai, India, Merchant likens his role to that of a department store sales clerk. “As soon as a customer is a little confused at Macy’s,” he points out, “[the clerk] says, ‘How can I help you?”’ Similarly, “as soon as [our clients] are a little confused, we can proactively help.”

Merchant five months ago became Merrill Lynch’s first head of GBT. Until then, he was chief technology officer of the global-markets and investment banking division, one of the company’s three main business units. In his new role, Merchant is responsible for technology initiatives across Merrill Lynch’s hundreds of offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and for turning a highly stratified business into an efficient consumer of technology.

The two most critical projects Merchant has overseen in the last two years include an on-demand risk assessment and management system for institutional customers, and a global systems consolidation that will make it easier for hedge fund managers and other brokers to trade and manage financial portfolios quickly and efficiently.

Merchant says the crux of his method for responding to what clients want and what he can deliver is: Reuse existing technology, to meet new needs.

There are approximately 25 reusable technologies at Merrill Lynch, according to Merchant. Some, such as an application interface, and software packages to support stock lending and foreign currency trading, have already been deployed more than once, in different Merrill Lynch businesses.

“The real ROI, as time goes by, is generated by reusing these technologies,” Merchant explains.