Engineering

How Top Investment Banks Accelerate Transaction Time and Avoid Performance Bottlenecks

By | | 7 min read


Summary
Here’s how AppDynamics enabled a large investment bank to improve system performance, track trades in real time, search for trade IDs to quickly find the root cause of issues, and proactively manage SLAs.

A complex series of interactions must take place for an investment bank to process a single trade. From the moment it’s placed by a buyer, an order is received by front-office traders and passed through to middle- and back-office systems that conduct risk management checks, matchmaking, clearing and settlement. Then the buyer receives the securities and the seller the corresponding cash. Once complete, the trade is sent to regularity reporting, which insures the transaction was processed under the right regulatory requirements. One AppDynamics customer, a major financial firm, utilizes thousands of microservices to complete this highly complex task countless times throughout the day.

To expedite this process, banks have implemented straight-through processing (STP), an initiative that allows electronically entered information to move between parties in the settlement process without manual intervention. But one of the banks’ biggest concerns with STP is the difficulty of following trades in real-time. When trades get stuck, manual intervention is needed, often impacting service level agreements (SLAs) and even trade reconciliation processes. One investment firm, for instance, told AppDynamics that approximately 20% of its trades needed manual input to complete what should have been a fully automated process—a bottleneck that added significant overhead and resource requirements. And with trade volumes increasing 25% year over year, the company needed a fresh approach to help manage its rapid growth.

AppDynamics’ Business Transactions (BT) enabled the firm to track and follow trades in real time, end-to-end through its systems. The BT traces through of all the necessary systems and microservices—applications, databases, third-party APIs, web services, and so on—needed to process and respond to a request. In investment banking, a BT may include everything from placing an order, completing risk checks or calculations, booking and confirming different types of trades, and even post-trade actions such as clearing, settlement and regularity reporting.

The AppDynamics Business Journey takes this one step further by following a transaction across multiple BTs; for example, following an individual trade from order through capture and then to downstream reporting. The Business Journey provides true end-to-end, time-enabling tracking against SLAs, and traces the transaction across each step to monitor performance and ensure completion.

Once created, the Business Journey allows you to visualise key metrics with out-of-the-box dashboards.

Real-Time Tracking with Dashboards

Prior to AppDynamics, one investment bank struggled to track trades in real time. They were doing direct queries on the database to find out how many trades had made it downstream to the reporting database. This method was slow and inefficient, requiring employees to create and share small Excel dashboards, which lacked real-time trade information. AppDynamics APM dashboards, by comparison, enabled them to get a real-time, high-level overview of the health and performance of their system.

After installing AppDynamics, the investment bank instrumented a dashboard to show all the trades entering its post-trade system throughout the day. This capability proved hugely beneficial in helping the firm monitor trading spikes and ensure it was meeting its SLAs. And Business IQ performance monitoring made it possible to slice and dice massive volumes of incoming trades to gain real-time insights into where the transactions were coming from (i.e., which source system), their value, whether they met the SLAs, and which ones failed to process. Additionally, AppDynamics Experience Level Management provided the ability to report compliance against specific processing times.

Now the bank could automate complex processes and remove inefficient manual systems. Prior to AppDynamics, there was a team dedicated to overseeing more than 200 microservices. They had to determine why a particular trade failed, and then pass that information onto the relevant business teams for follow-up to avoid losing business. But too often a third-party source would send invalid data, or update its software and send a trade in an updated format unfamiliar to the bank’s backend system, creating a logistical mess too complex for one human to manage. With Business IQ, the bank was able to immediately spot and follow up on invalid trades.

Searching for Trades Across All Applications

Microservices offer many advantages but can bring added complexity as well. The investment bank had hundreds of microservices but lacked a fast and efficient way to search for an individual trade. In the event of a problem, they would take the trade ID and look into the log files of multiple microservices. On average, they had to open up some 40 different log files to locate a problem. And although the firm had an experienced support staff that knew the applications well, this manual process wasn’t sustainable as newer, inexperienced support people were brought onboard. Nor would this system scale as trade volume increased.

By using Business IQ to monitor every transaction across all microservices, the bank was able to easily monitor individual trade transactions throughout the lifecycle. And by capturing the trade ID, as well as supplementary data such as the source, client, value and currency, they could then go into AppDynamics Application Analytics and very quickly identify specific transactions. For example, they could enter the trade ID and see every transaction for the trade across the entire system.

This feature was particularly loved by the support staff, which now had immediate access to all of a trade’s interactions within a single screen, as well as the ability to easily drill down to find the find the root cause of a failed transaction.

Tracking Regulatory SLAs in Real Time

Prior to AppDynamics, our customer didn’t have an easy way to track the progress of a trade in real time. Rather, they were manually verifying that trades were successfully being sent to regulatory reporting systems, as well as ensuring that this was completed within the required timeframe. This was difficult to do in real time, meaning that when there was an issue, often it was not found until after the SLA had been breached. With AppDynamics they were able to set up a dashboard to visualise data in real time; the team then set up a health rule to indicate if trade reporting times were approaching the SLA. They also configured an alert that enabled them to proactively see and resolve any issues ahead of an SLA breach.

Proactively Tracking Performance after Code Releases

The bank periodically introduces new functionality to meet the latest business or regulatory requirements, in particular MiFID II, introduced to improve investor protection across Europe by harmonizing the rules for all firms with EU clients. Currently, new releases happen every week, but this rate will continue to increase. These new code releases introduce risk, as previous releases have either had a negative impact on system performance or have introduced new defects. In one two-month period, for instance, the time required to capture a trade increased by about 20%. If this continued, the bank would have had to scale out hugely—buying new hardware at significant cost—to avoid breaching its regulatory SLA.

The solution was to create a comparative dashboard in AppDynamics that showed critical Business Transactions and how they were being changed between releases (response times, errors, and so on). If any metric degraded from the previous version or deviated from a certain threshold, it would be highlighted on the dashboard in a different color, making it easier to decide whether to proceed with a rollout or determine which new feature or change had caused the deviation.

Preventing New Hardware Purchases

After refining its code based on AppDynamics’ insights, the bank saw a dramatic 6X performance improvement. This saved them from having to—in their words—“throw more hardware at the problem” by buying more CPU processing power to push through more trades.

By instrumenting their back office systems with AppDynamics, the bank gained deep insights that enabled them to refine their code. For instance, calls to third-party APIs were taking place unnecessarily and trades were being captured unintentionally within multiple different databases. Without AppDynamics, it’s unlikely this would have been discovered. The insight enabled the bank to make some very simple changes to fine-tune code, resulting in a significant performance improvement and enabling the bank to save money by scaling with their existing hardware profile.

Beneficial Business Outcomes

From the bank’s perspective, one of the greatest gains of going with AppDynamics was the ability to follow a trade through its many complex services, from the moment an order is placed, through to capture and down to regularity reporting. This enabled them to improve system performance, avoid expensive (and unnecessary) hardware upgrades, quickly search for trade IDs to locate and find the root cause of issues, and proactively manage SLAs.

See how AppDynamics can help your own business achieve positive outcomes.