This month, Stevens will celebrate the launch of the Financial Systems Center (FSC), a state-of-the-art financial research and teaching facility that applies systems thinking and related methods to understand the behavior of the complex global financial system. Supporting undergraduate programs in Quantitative Finance, Cybersecurity, Computer Science and Business & Technology, and master’s and doctoral programs in Financial Engineering, Software Engineering and Systems Security Engineering, the FSC is the first center of its kind in the U.S.
The FSC holds a special place in the heart of two Stevens alumni – Chris Ferreri (B.E. in Electrical Engineering, 1977) and Stuart Breslow (M.S. in Technology Management, 1998). As technological innovation speeds change in financial systems, the career successes of these alumni are testament to the importance of financial engineers having cross-disciplinary skills, technological expertise and a systems perspective to tackle that challenges and opportunities presented by today’s complex financial system.
Ferreri – an advisory board member of both the Stevens School of Systems and Enterprises and the FSC – is managing director of ICAP, the world’s leading interdealer broker and a corporate sponsor of the FSC. With an average daily transaction volume in excess of $2.3 trillion, more than 50 percent of which is electronic, ICAP is truly at the center of the financial markets, providing a wide range of financial products and broking services to trading professionals in the global wholesale financial markets. Ferreri is responsible for trading systems strategy, design and planning for the blending of ICAP’s voice brokered over-the-counter markets and implementation of electronic trading.
Ferreri’s background is perhaps atypical for the average finance whiz. He studied electrical engineering and began his career as a project engineer for DuPont, managing manufacturing plant projects, supervising foremen and other employees, and leading process improvement projects for technical and non-technical workers.
In 1984, Ferreri transitioned to the financial industry, becoming a U.S. Treasury broker for Garban, which later merged with another company to form ICAP. Although this may seem like a far cry from his early career, he said his general engineering education and his ability to look at the markets from a systems perspective made him an effective financial professional.
“When I entered the financial industry, it was on the commercial side as a broker – an area that was basically absent of engineers,” Ferreri said. “But my skills translated well. Because of my broad engineering skill-set developed at Stevens, I was able to communicate effectively with the technology department right away. I also had critical thinking and problem solving skills that set me apart. Even better, I understood how to analyze the interaction of all the various elements that make up today’s complex investment markets, which is incredibly important in an industry that’s rate of change continues to increase.”
Breslow is chief executive officer and chief information officer of RealTick, also a FSC corporate sponsor. RealTick is an industry-leading financial software developer and service provider for the institutional and professional trading communities. It has revolutionized the electronic trading industry with its global, multi-asset, multi-broker, broker-neutral trading technology that is used by the world’s most demanding traders to transact with the world’s leading brokers. Breslow has been CEO since 2008 after joining the company as CIO in 2006.
Breslow sought his M.S. in Technology Management from Stevens in order to round out his technical background and prepare him for a senior leadership position of a technology company. After earning his B.S. in Electrical/Computer Engineering from Rutgers and M.S. in Computer Science from NYU/Polytechnic University, his first job was at IBM as a software engineer developing microcode for high-speed network devices. He later held a senior technology role at PaineWebber (now UBS Financial Services), where he was in charge of all online client-facing activities for the broker.
“I came to the realization that my future would revolve around technology, and Stevens was the perfect fit to prepare me for the management track,” Breslow said. “With its technology focus, it was much more akin to what I was looking for than a traditional MBA program. I refer to the MS in Technology Management degree as ‘CIO training.’”
Upon completing his degree, Breslow became the global head of client facing trading and analytics technology for global equities at Lehman Brothers, and was also earlier responsible for the development of Lehman’s high-performance Equities Direct Market Access Trading platform. A few years later he became CEO and CIO of RealTick.
He said he continues to use the management skills he learned at Stevens in his day-to-day work, especially what he calls the “consultant mindset approach” to breaking down problems and opportunities into alternative solutions and manageable tasks.
Ferreri and Breslow agree that today, more than ever, financial services professionals need background in a number of diverse disciplines, as well as a systems perspective, to succeed in the field. The financial industry was one of the earliest adopters of technology, and technology is now at the heart of nearly all global financial industry activities. Mobile banking and trading are on the rise. Technology is driving better data and analytics and more sophisticated trading platforms. There is widespread automation in financial services, and the high volumes of trading that happen 24/7 are almost completely reliant on technology.
“The financial world today is a technical world, and without technology, the markets would basically come to a screeching halt,” Breslow said. “We need finance professionals who understand technology and how best to put it to use.”
“Due to the complexity of the markets today, financial engineers with a systems methodology as the core structure of their education have a clear advantage,” Ferreri added.
Ferreri and Breslow are confident the Financial Systems Center – by providing basic training in computer science, engineering, investment and finance, and systems – will instill in students an excellent understanding of the marketplace and prepare them to be valuable contributors to the financial industry, whether they find employment at an investment bank, hedge fund, financial institution or asset management firm.
“Given its focus on engineering and its location near Wall Street, Stevens has always been an excellent supplier of technical talent, and FSC is well suited to continue serving that mission,” said Breslow.
“I’m proud of the work Stevens has done with the FSC and proud to have my company’s name listed among its partners,” said Ferreri.