CIO Profile: JP Morgan's Mark Kimber and Simon Cooper's tech goals

If I were to share the quotes from Mark Kimber and Simon Cooper with you without telling you the organisation they lead IT for, you would think this was an interview with two techies in a Silicon Valley startup.

Their enthusiasm for technology and, importantly in the current economy, tech people is infectious.

But Kimber and Cooper are equally enthusiastic about their organisation, JP Morgan, and its sector, banking.

As they point out, JP Morgan is more than a bank: it’s one of the world’s technology leaders and the UK represents a considerable part of the bank’s technology account.

“JPMorgan is a 25,000-person organisation,” says Mark Kimber, iCTO and EMEA CTO for the firm’s Investment Bank division. “And seven thousand of them are technologists.”

The US-based organisation, JPMorgan Chase, provides wholesale banking services to clients such as corporations and financial institutions as well as sovereign and hedge funds.

In the US its Chase operation is a consumer-facing retail bank which provides traditional checking accounts, credit cards and mortgage services.

It is the largest investment bank in terms of revenues, the largest credit card issuer in the US and one of the largest processors of transactions.

The bank grew considerably when Bear Stearns, a rival US investment bank, saw its market capitalisation shrink so much that at one point it had lost 47 per cent of its equity market value.

In March 2008 the US Federal reserve helped create a deal with JP Morgan and on March 16 of that year Bear Stearns, one of the most famous banks in US history, was subsumed into JP Morgan.

JP Morgan is a truly international bank with operations the world over.

“The markets never sleep; we operate from Tokyo through to Chile and in every market in between,” says Simon Cooper, CTO Core Processing.

Investment Bank CEO Jes Staley calls JP Morgan a technology company, and the importance of technology is felt right across the organisation.

“If we can’t clear transactions then it [technology] becomes very visible,” Cooper says of the pressure he faces.

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The two UK-based technology leaders provide JP Morgan in Europe and globally with its infrastructure and back end technology. Kimber is CTO for EMEA and CTO of infrastructure globally, which includes the processing platforms for financial transactions, in short the infrastructure and production environment.

Cooper, meanwhile, provides the back end systems for the global investment bank, which includes the processing platforms for transactions, which Kimber describes as the “engine” of the bank.

“One of the things I like about the organisation is that it is very team-oriented, so we are two members of a wider technology team and it’s a very supportive set of relationships,” Kimber explains.

“We are joined at the hip and it is definitely a case of two heads are better than one,” Kimber says of his relationship with Cooper, who sees his interactions with the iCTO as a significant part of his role.

“My role is two-fold: to invest in the technology to make technology a better fit with the business, and to give support to Mark. As and when something happens we support Mark’s team and I think it’s a very good split as the investment team doesn’t get bogged down keeping infrastructure running.

“It also means I don’t get woken up at night,” he says with a definite smile. “It relies on a very good relationship and a high level of trust,” says Cooper.

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In terms of reporting lines, Cooper works for the Chief Administration Officer (CAO) of the investment bank, who reports to the investment bank CEO. Kimber also reports to the CAO and to the Head of Markets Strategy.

Between them their operations cover both ends of the UK, with Kimber based in London but spending a lot of time at the bank’s Glasgow centre, and Cooper based in Bournemouth but spending a lot of time in London.

“The big challenge is data management, as volumes are going through the roof and the market is moving to higher volumes and smaller tickets and that means more and more data,” says Cooper.

“I think back to when I started and we worried about databases of 100 megabytes, now we don’t worry about terabytes. It brings a whole new set of challenges on tier management, backup policy and disaster recovery. When you are looking at large scales of data, the decisions we make are very different to five years ago.

“The bank has a mix of third-party software and in-house-developed applications. The challenge is how you plug it all together, because always buying and always building is not the way,” Cooper adds.

JP Morgan has an IT budget represents just 10 per cent of the bank’s turnover. Outsourcing is a very small part of the organisation’s strategy.

“We have some great technology clients and we are very close to some of the emerging trends, so we benefit from the influence with the technology markets,” says Kimber.

“The challenge is in joining the technology and getting the benefit for JP Morgan. For example we are doing some really interesting stuff around low latency, cloud, big data and mobility.