The Friday Interview: Tony O’Halloran, Merrill Lynch

27 Jul 2007

This week’s interview is with is Tony O’Halloran, chief technology officer for Merrill Lynch, who are to create 40 R&D jobs as part of a €30m investment in Dublin.

What’s unique about this investment is that it is a financial company, rather than a technology company investing in R&D. What will it involve?

We’re looking at 40 roles over a two-to-three year period depending how successful we are at identifying projects.

The plan is that the R&D will not be purely technology but very much focused on business applications. We see technology as an enabler and while we won’t be specifically doing technology R&D, we are looking at innovative use of technology in business situations.

Do you see a wider trend of financial organisations investing in R&D going forward?

Merrill Lynch would have a long history of innovation in financial services. What is unique about this project is that it will be a centre of operators dedicated purely to R&D.

The aim is to use the centre to identify, research and manage innovative projects for the company globally. We hope to practically apply R&D projects to put the company at the forefront of financial services.

Why Ireland and not elsewhere?

For the same reasons we first came here. Ireland has one of the youngest and best-educated populations in Europe, it has a sound regulatory environment and while not low cost compared to New York and London, it has a favourable cost structure.

How did local management succeed in winning this project for Dublin?

Merrill Lynch has been in Ireland since 1995 and the local operation quickly established a reputation for being able to quickly develop and implement services from Dublin.

In Ireland the company is the fourth largest bank in the country by assets and third largest by regulatory capital.

With the help of IDA Ireland, we used this reputation to sell the idea to Merrill Lynch management and the idea is to use the Dublin example as a model for other ventures worldwide.

What kind of people would you recruit for R&D roles in the financial world?

People with technology skills in areas we wouldn’t normally have. Also people with business analysis skills and with knowledge of financial services and products.

What are the projects that the new R&D centre will focus on?

There will be four projects initially. Two of these will be in the area of regulatory compliance, which will have implications for Merrill Lynch branches worldwide. These are Basel II and Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MIFID), which comes to bear in November.

The third project will look at margining services for clients and the fourth project will focus on how we can develop our process model to transform the delivery of support services for Merrill Lynch internationally.

By John Kennedy

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