An Interview with Gary Ma


Bhattacharya: How far in advance does UBS chart out its regional IT strategy; and how closely aligned is the local strategy with the greater group’s technology blueprint?

Ma: IT strategy evolves continuously but has gained significant momentum in light of the introduction of the single technology umbrella.  However, it invariably goes hand in hand with business strategy which, typically, is set on a forward three-year cycle.  In Asia Pacific as elsewhere, regional autonomy and mandates are aligned with the global strategy.  The process of identifying the right balance between regional focus and global direction helps us to lever our global scale and expertise and ensure we have the best time-to-market for our regional requirements.

Bhattacharya: As CIO, can you share with us some of the IT developments we can expect to see from UBS in 2010?

Ma: Reflecting the increase in client demand for these products, the technology platforms from which we deliver dark pools, algorithmic trading and direct market access areas are all developing rapidly.  Internally, we are working towards increased cost efficiency and effectiveness of our technology investments across the board.

Bhattacharya: What are the more noteworthy investment banking IT trends you’re keeping an eye on?

Ma: Current priorities are electronic trading across asset classes, including dark pools, algorithmic trading, and high volume direct market access.  However, I am also responsible for integrating the structured product offerings of UBS Investment Bank’s equities and FICC businesses.

Bhattacharya: What are your IT priorities for the next 12-18 months?

Ma: The next 12-18 months will be a watershed for UBS Group Technology as it is being transformed into a single unit to cater to the technology needs of all of the UBS Group’s business units.  Integration on this scale presents significant challenges and will encompass all aspects of the technology offering including operating model, governance, technology and architecture roadmaps, etc. At the same time, Asia Pacific is the fastest growing region for the UBS Group globally and it is at the centre of extremely aggressive business expansion plans. Technology enablement will be crucial to their success. 

Bhattacharya: How do you see your key customer channels evolving in the next five years?

Ma: From an investment banking perspective – high volume, low latency connectivity will continue to be extremely important especially for hedge funds.  We are also committed to providing clients with more direct and efficient access to developing markets such as mainland China. Our aim is to offer common and standardised access not only across asset classes but also between equities and FICC products.

Bhattacharya: Online trading has experienced considerable growth across Asia Pacific’s investment and wealth management sector. How has this impacted Straight-Through-Processing (STP); and what are some of the advancements being made in same-day settlements?

Ma: STP is simply a must these days, especially for UBS which manages extremely high transaction volumes day-in day-out.  It is essential for our systems and processes to be running at maximum efficiency virtually every hour in the day, and every day in the week.  Same day settlement is slightly different and is driven primarily by the requirements of local markets.  Relatively new markets such as mainland China are already operating on a very short settlement cycle.  Market participants are demanding maximum efficiency and transparency with minimal settlement risk, exchanges and central depositories in the region will have no option but to rise to the challenge.

Bhattacharya: Cloud computing gained significant mileage during the economic crisis. How is UBS Hong Kong placed with respect to ‘the cloud’?

Ma: We continue to look at the opportunities associated with cloud computing which has the potential to generate significant cost efficiencies. However, security and reliability remain paramount and our priority is to ensure that its introduction is well managed and orderly.

Bhattacharya: From a technology standpoint, how does the Asia Pacific’s investment banking sector differ from its North American and European counterparts?

Ma: As part of a global organisation, our technology footprint in Asia Pacific is similar to that in Europe and the United States.  However, our operations here are far from homogenous and span a large number of countries so, unlike in other regions, we need to cater to the linguistic and regulatory requirements of the various domestic markets.

Bhattacharya: Every leader, particularly at your level, has a legacy they wish to be remembered for. What is yours?

Ma: I spent the four years between 2005 and 2009 in mainland China, designing, planning and managing the implementation of the entire technology and application infrastructure for UBS Securities UBS’s domestic securities franchise in China. Subsequently, I was appointed as its CIO. During the period China hosted its first Olympic Games in Beijing – it was a unique experience, for the firm and, of course, for me. I am proud to have been involved in setting up the technology which has helped UBS Securities consolidate its success to this day.