JP Morgan Snags 7 AFTAs—Here’s Why They Won


In an unprecedented run of wins in the AFTAs of 2020—a year that itself lacked precedent—JP Morgan Chase emerged as the best in seven different categories: global deployment, reporting initiative, cutting-edge IT initiative, IT integration initiative, buy-side IT team, cross-asset trading initiative, and mobile strategy initiative. The financial institution splits the wins between its investment banking, asset management, and wealth management arms. 

JP Morgan’s wins reflect the firm’s journey to implement emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), transition internal systems to the cloud, and, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, transform the way its employees—from software developers to front-office bankers—do business.

Banking Business Wins

JP Morgan Chase (JPMC), the company’s banking business, locked down the category of most cutting-edge IT initiative, thanks to its firm-wide AI platform, OmniAI, the mission of which was removing productivity inhibitors for its data scientists. Built in early 2019, OmniAI now provides a single place where data scientists can discover, experiment, share, and deploy their work into production applications in a secure and compliant manner.

“One year ago, OmniAI had just released its very first capability, single-node model training, into production and only a handful of projects were using the product as early testers,” says Apoorv Saxena, global head of AI technology. “Fast forward to today and hundreds of projects across every line of business are using the platform for end-to-end capabilities, from discovery and model training through production serving on ML models.”

The development of OmniAI also serves as JPMC’s first firm-wide platform to be built natively on the public cloud. With security measures being top of mind, Saxena says the bank’s engineering teams partnered with stakeholders, met with third-party vendors to harden their solutions, and in some cases, built competing services from scratch that could definitively meet risk and control requirements. 

Once the developmental work was completed, new challenges were posed throughout the adoption process, namely contending with the “misconception” that the cloud is inherently not secure.

“In terms of advice to other early movers on cloud, our advice would be to ensure security and controls are always first – especially as an early mover, you must set the standard and ensure that the cloud offerings are every bit as secure as on-premises. We found that our usage of public cloud allowed us to differentiate in our pace of delivery,” Saxena says.

The banking arm won a second AFTA—best reporting initiative—for its automation of margin call issuance for asset and wealth management. Market volatility following the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in the US resulted in an overwhelming number of margin calls within AWM Credit at JPMorgan Chase. There were more than 600 margin calls per day requiring issuance, 12 times the historical average.

As the pandemic escalated in the spring, and with no end in sight, automation became imperative and needed to be delivered in record time. In less than 24 hours, a best-in-class automated solution was created, tested and delivered, without any increase in headcount.

Prior to this automation, each individual issuance would take an average of seven minutes to complete. As the number of issuances required averaged 275 per day over peak market volatility, the workflow saved the business team 22 hours of work each day. Before the first two weeks were over, the workflow had produced over 2,400 issuances in a matter of minutes. Darcee Roth, head of asset and wealth management innovation reporting solutions, says the AWM credit team has since identified at least 100 more initiatives within this business area that can leverage automation software to improve controls and provide efficiency.

“There are lessons to be learned, even from failures,” when it comes to R&D, she says, and the team was encouraged to have a “learning mindset.” The greatest challenge for the project was time constraint, and it included multiple logic streams, which added to the complexity of the effort.

Asset Management Wins

JP Morgan Asset Management (JPMAM) pulled a hat trick, claiming the AFTAs for best buy-side IT team, IT integration initiative, and global deployment.

The Global Portfolio Management Technology (GRT) team comprises 200 individuals with a combination of investment management and computer science expertise, otherwise known as “quants that code.” The group is responsible for investment management applications on the proprietary Spectrum platform. Recently, GRT was tapped to drive tech consolidation and overhaul of the Asset Management Portfolio Management platform, a solution that allows JPMAM advisors to look across the investment landscape, eliminate redundancies, and optimize their operating footprint.

Some of the projects that GRT has built include a machine learning-powered news-filtering module, a global capital markets monitoring dashboard, and a model hub for JPMAM to connect with other financial institutions. Another notable development by GRT is Themebot, a bot application used by portfolio managers to generate thematic portfolios, and which increased assets under management by 600% within a month of its launch.

The firm’s IT integration initiative, Morgan Institutional, began in early 2019 and aimed to give institutional clients a digital experience for their end-to-end engagements with JPMAM, including account opening, account funding, portfolio analytics, access to thought leadership and market insights, and account servicing requests including access to all reports and documents. In 2020, the asset manager grew from seven to 1,000 clients on the platform and counting, says Lakith Leelasena, head of asset management client technology.

For the first time in JPMAM history, the cloud-native project pulls a consolidated view of not only standard products but also a mix of more exotic offerings like alternatives and multi-asset solutions, normalizing data from more than 20 different internal and external data providers. The diversity of systems, not only from data providers but also workflow engines and trading systems, meant that Morgan Institutional had to build in resiliency as one of its core design principals—hence the decision to build in the cloud—and make use of microservices offering independent scaling, event-driven architecture, and a sophisticated cache layer insulating clients from internal service disruptions.

“For AM’s client business, our key focus is to continue to build and enhance our digital capabilities to give a superior experience to our clients,” Leelasena says. “We have significantly enhanced our digital, marketing, sales and client services platforms over the last two years, and continue to focus on end-to-end integrations between the various platforms, providing a superior 360-degree experience for our clients across all engagement channels.”

Rounding out the asset manager’s wins is the Asset Management Portfolio Management (AM PM) platform in the category of best global deployment. The rollout of AM PM has helped to reduce ad-hoc tools, streamlined system access and minimized risk associated with manual spreadsheet management. The platform is a noteworthy tech-leap forward, removing some of the asset manager’s dependencies on legacy systems and user tools.

David Lin, global head of beta strategies, solutions, and performance technologies, says AM PM is also based on the latest JP Morgan enterprise-wide technologies, citing HTML 5 and REST APIs for the user interfaces, access controls and 100% microservices and cloud-based services that provide scale and availability according to the firm’s follow-the-sun model.

Wealth Management Wins

The shared features between winning products across JP Morgan’s three business divisions suggests a high degree of collaboration between these teams. In the 2019 AFTAs, JPMAM won the category of best integration initiative for You Invest, but it involved a joint venture between the asset management and wealth management arms. 

Implementing You Invest required building and integrating asset management systems, as well as wealth management systems to automate the flow and provide real-time data for better investment decisions. Another example is the AM Optimizer, which provides solutions that the firm hasn’t yet found and scales portfolio optimization. While originally built for asset management, it’s now being used to optimize wealth portfolios, Lin says.

This year, JP Morgan Wealth Management (JPM WM) secured two wins of its own. Among them is best mobile strategy initiative for its Advisor Connect Mobile. 

“Like the rest of the world, most of our employees worked remotely in 2020. Connect proved to be a quicker, more flexible way for or financial advisors to better service their clients, particularly using the mobile solution,” says Freddy Tenaglia, head of wealth management advisor and investment technology.

Advisor Connect is an internal JPM WM financial desktop platform, consisting of more than 300 integrated applications supporting all wealth management front-, middle-, and back-office functions. It requires computer access, but as advisors typically spend about half their time traveling and meeting with clients, a mobile version was introduced in November 2019. As the coronavirus crisis ramped up in the spring, Connect Mobile was used to provide its users—advisors, investors and bankers—with an accessible, lightweight solution that allowed them to access client information, answer common questions, and complete customer relationship management (CRM) tasks. 

Today, there are more than 300 independently running applications available to roughly 20,000 users on the platform.

Lastly, JPM WM’s second win is for best cross-asset trading initiative, thanks to its Brokerage Connect Trading system, which supports trades for JPM’s US and International Private Bank, Chase Financial Advisors, You Invest online investment platform, and institutional clients. The system covers all asset classes, including equities, listed options, bonds, mutual funds, foreign exchange (FX), private equity, hedge funds, and structured products.

Brokerage Connect Trading’s tech infrastructure is designed to process high-volume trades, currently sitting at about 210,000 trades per day, or 60 trades per second. It is built on a modern, cost-efficient and low-maintenance technology stack with rapid autonomous code delivery and fast system recovery solutions enabled by a single framework across asset classes, scalable micro frontends like ReactJS in Chromium, cloud-based microservices like Spring Boot on Pivotal Cloud Foundry, and common services for shared data fed from strategic systems of record. 

“Wealth Management will be hyper-focused this year on wealth planning, asset aggregation and bettering the client’s 360-degree view of how they are doing,” Tenaglia says.

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