Q&A with CME Group’s Andrew Connolly

  • Photo: Andrew Connolly

    CME Group is one of the world’s leading derivatives marketplace that enables clients to trade futures, options, cash and OTC markets. It is has a major operations hub in Belfast. Sync NI speak to its head, Andrew Connolly.

    CME Group will shortly celebrate its 10-year anniversary in NI. Having worked at CME Group for nearly 10 years yourself and now heading up the business in NI can you tell us a little about how much the business has grown and evolved during this period?

    When I joined CME Group back in October 2012, I was the 19th hire into the office in Belfast and now we have around 300 employees here. 

    It's just incredible to think of the journey we have gone through, as the teams have evolved, grown and matured, not just in technology but also in non-technology areas as well.

    We now have local teams in finance, legal and marketing, too. It's been wonderful to watch the office diversify from being a mainstream technology hub and evolving into a more integrated office of cross-discipline, multi-skilled professionals.

    Prior to CME Group you spent over 14 years in the field of technical infrastructure and operations before becoming CME Group’s UK Senior Director for Infrastructure and Operations. I'm imagining no two working days are the same.

    As the head of the Belfast office, I interact daily with our local teams, as well as the ‘follow the sun’ global teams, so together we are supporting, planning and idea sharing to help advance technology and product development, in partnership with the business liaisons and product managers.

    A typical day could be meeting with stakeholders across the office to ensure their needs are being met. Or meeting with technology sponsors to ensure we are aligned and evolving for the future of the business.  It's all about making sure our colleagues here are empowered to be able to innovate and bring real-world solutions to our markets, in addition to bringing technical innovation to the forefront of what they do.

    The daily diversity of tasks the Belfast office undertakes is what makes my role so interesting.  In any given week we could be launching a new app launch, migrating to a new technology platform,  managing the applications for patent innovations or giving a presentation to schools or universities.

    I also work with external organizations to in a bid to ensure the pipeline of talent we require both now an in the future is available, so yes, every day is different on many levels.

    What would be the key challenges you face? You mentioned talent and it's a problem that everybody seems to be struggling with currently, do you have a unique perspective on that?

    I probably wouldn't say unique. Our industry is facing the same challenges as others. People are moving from one role to another, and certainly within CME Group we are expanding our capabilities and supporting internal mobility, as well as increasing hiring externally to bring in the best talent that we possibly can. At present, the Belfast market is just very buoyant.  Certainly, it’s challenging, but we also seek to diversify the routes we utilise to secure talent. We have a very healthy early career pipeline of talent with the higher-level apprenticeship scheme in addition to internships and a focused graduate program that we are working to expand.

    Tell me a little bit about the most rewarding aspects of your current role.

    For me, it’s absolutely the people. I find working with my colleagues and developing the talent we have here to be an incredibly rewarding aspect of my role. Watching people evolve through their careers and grow, and subsequently provide benefit back to the business, is certainly inspiring. Having said that, I should also stress that the evolution and innovation that we do here in Belfast from a technology perspective is equally rewarding. CME Group is amongst the technology thought leaders in the fintech industry. That industry-leading position links with the people aspect: the inspired colleagues innovate and drive their own careers alongside the growth of the business.

    When you pull a team together, what are the characteristics that you look for in the individual, even at the hiring level?

    First, it’s about the structure of the team: what already exists, what’s required, and what new elements do we need to introduce, because any team needs diverse skills. If you have a team of very similarly minded engineers, you may not get that advanced functional output. If you have a more diverse team, more ideas are generated and inevitably the innovation is much higher.

    Different ranges of skill sets and experience are important. More experienced engineers working with entry level colleagues can generate fresh  ideas, as inquisitive minds challenge the established processes and shift boundaries.

    Trust is another element that I believe is hugely important. By giving people trust and margins to operate within, they have a place to stretch, experiment and cultivate with the benefit of a supportive environment where they can learn and develop their confidence.

    Is there room in your teams for individuals from non-STEM backgrounds? What do those roles tend to look like?

    Absolutely, yes.  Across the office, we have multiple roles that wouldn't be from a typical STEM background. For example, we have a lot of folks in legal as well as HR and marketing. There are always opportunities available to people beyond those with IT degrees.

    Even within technology itself we're still looking for talent and applicable experience, and it doesn't necessarily have to be from a STEM background. You've got a lot of inherent talent within Northern Ireland because of the great education and hard work of the people.  Plus, there are the Assured Skills programs that are focused on converting folks who have may have come from a non-STEM background and those certainly have proved to be a good pipeline for talent.

    When you recruit individuals that display an aptitude for technology are there pathways for them to develop and continue to upskill?

    At CME Group, we're very keen to upskill our people. We have a proven track record of growing and developing our workforce and we invest very heavily in them.

    Training is offered in our core business as well as soft skills and technology. In the fastest growing areas of technology, such as cyber security – our training opportunities and skills development is a magnet for attracting some of the key talent in this area. There are opportunities to gain training and qualifications to remain current, which may not be available in other companies.  We are also very adept at encouraging internal mobility across our teams, affording fantastic opportunity to learn new skills in different parts of the business.

    Finally, as the Fintech sector in NI continues to gain global recognition, what do you think are the key drivers for this and is there any more we can do to safeguard NI’s standing in global Fintech?

    Certainly, the talent pipeline is one of the things we must continue to evolve and deliver. The talent from universities and the assured skills academies are areas we need to continue to invest in, given the success these programs have had. We also have such a reputable fintech industry in NI that we should be attracting back those who left seeking roles overseas, as better opportunities are now firmly established right here. We do run the risk of over subscribing our talent pools as we are a small nation, but the talent that we have here is undoubtedly world class. From a local NI perspective what we bring to the table is experience and a particular mindset. I think our personality is very amenable as we get on great with folks in other areas of the world, whether it's the US or Asia. We are very good at pulling those geographic areas of the business together effectively.

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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