As cloud adoption increases, how are Capital Markets firms actually implementing these strategies, and what role does cultural change play?

The rise of the “cloud strategy” in Capital Markets firms

Over the past year or so, I’ve made an observation when attending industry conferences or reading trade publications: More and more operations and technology leaders in Capital Markets firms are speaking, writing and discussing how their firm is “embracing the public cloud”.

At the 2018 Amazon Web Services (AWS) Financial Services Cloud Symposium in New York, Jeff Dowds, the Chief Technology Officer at Vanguard, was one such leader explaining the firm’s multi-year cloud migration strategy and thought process. He walked the audience through the decision to pivot from Vanguard’s original hybrid public-private cloud approach to a full public cloud (via AWS) after realizing the substantial cost savings and agility catalyzed by the public cloud without sacrificing security 

Well into the third year at the time of that 2018 presentation, Dowds outlined the three main benefits Vanguard was experiencing by engaging with a public cloud provider: 

  • Access to Innovation: Public cloud providers spend billions of dollars and 100% of their time focusing on developing the newest technology to provide a secure and robust environment for cloud computing. As an AWS client, Vanguard gets access to and benefits from the latest technology without having to deploy internal resources that would essentially compete with that. This also frees up the Vanguard team to focus on business goals and subject matter at hand, accelerating the time to change and innovate.
  • Cost advantage: Vanguard, like all firms, was concerned with security and first approached its transformation project wanting to maintain control by deploying the private cloud. What became very clear is that owning your own data center which may have unused computing capacity is significantly more expensive than paying for just what you need. What the team also discovered is that similar to the access to innovation benefit, public cloud providers like AWS employ the brightest security experts on the planet, ensuring that the data stored on their public cloud platforms are more secure than what even the most advanced technology team could create (and maintain) within their four walls. Therefore, Vanguard could save by designing an approach based on demand which only the cloud platforms could provide while ensuring the most secure systems. Its demand for computing capacity can go up or down, and cost is directly related to usage. No more fixed cost data centres. Dowds estimated a 30% – 40% savings on data center costs by migrating to the public cloud. 
  • Agility: Dowds said that through the public cloud, Vanguard can now provision computing environments in minutes. This enables teams to add development or test environments rapidly, making technology teams more flexible to meet the needs of their business sponsors.

You can listen to Dowds describe Vanguard’s strategy and process in his interview on The Doppler Report podcast by Cloud Technology Partners.

Vanguard’s story echoes those of many CloudMargin clients. Embracing the public cloud internally and via cloud-based vendors has accelerated workflows, fostered better collaboration across global teams, increased security, empowered preparation for upcoming regulatory changes, and of course, saved money.

So, if the cloud is so great, why are there still firms lagging behind?

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Since Vanguard’s AWS presentation, one challenge I often observe when talking to prospects is a gap between the corporate level and functional level across the firm. Functional leaders either don’t know about the strategy itself, how it can benefit them, how they can utilize the cloud in their own function, or they just simply aren’t motivated to take on the task when they have their day-to-day job to do.

So, how do firms bridge this gap and implement their cloud strategy successfully?

I’d argue that one of the biggest priorities should be cultural change. Once you gain buy-in and provide the right environment for the entire team to succeed, functional leaders, like Heads of Collateral Management teams for example, will take on the logistics themselves, accelerating implementation. This requires a high level of consideration and planning; just like an onboarding plan and a technical product roadmap except across multiple teams throughout the firm. Even Dowds mentions in a follow-up interview that the “softer” aspects of implementing a cloud strategy are the hardest.

Firms that succeed have prioritized and invested the time and resources into inspiring cultural change, assembling the right teams, education and building the tools for internal collaboration, decision making and self-service. 

Leading the way: How Nasdaq fueled its cloud strategy by focusing on culture 

One of these leaders that has embodied this “cultural change” mindset is Angie Ruan, the Senior Vice President of Global Technology at Nasdaq.

During a fireside chat at the 2019 AWS Financial Services Cloud Symposium held in NYC in April, she spoke about the importance of investing in cultural change and shared details about the Cloud Excellence Program that Nasdaq rolled out to facilitate the implementation of its corporate cloud strategy. 

The program is led by a Governance Committee consisting of leaders across the business. One important starting point for successful change was for every team to “have a voice” in the process. 

The three main pillars of the program include:

1. Approach with Empathy 

At the heart of any corporate initiative are the people shepherding the change. An important first step in building buy-in was creating tailored messaging that spoke to each business leader, their concerns and the benefits of change to them. This meant educating themselves on each leader’s agenda in order to map out how each would benefit from adopting the cloud in their departments. 

Where possible, they used messaging that spoke to leaders across businesses. For example, they spent a lot of time educating leaders on how the cloud provides more security for their specific teams and data. 

Selling the idea internally with the stakeholder at the center of the conversation helps get buy-in from the people who will be needed to drive the change.

2. Enable with Self-servicing 

Even with a successful buy-in phase, corporate leaders knew that functional leaders are busy and results-focused. Time and resources would need to be allocated in order to gain wide-spread adoption of new systems and processes. This would mean even less time or bandwidth to deal with current day-to-day tasks. 

To help this adoption process, Nasdaq’s tech team built out infrastructure for internal clients to utilize—including easy-to-use, self-guided tools and resources—and deploy the cloud systems in their own time.

Building and deploying intuitive implementation tools and materials helps teams see early wins which can keep them excited to continue and build momentum.

3. Empower with Education

Nasdaq recognized it couldn’t put the burden of implementation on just a few high-level leaders. Individual team members and other end users would need to be empowered with the knowledge to make decisions, eliminating bureaucracy and accelerating the implementation process. 

Group presentations and working sessions about Compliance and Security helped teams understand the strategy and working mechanics of cloud migration. Making that material available via an internal portal allowed teams to reference information as needed for their specific implementation processes.

Supportive mechanisms and accessible information builds self-confidence and trust between teams, empowering them to drive smart tech transitions


As evidenced by the gap between strategy and implementation among Capital Markets firms, I wonder how many are prioritizing this? Do firms believe that planning for cultural change carries the same weight as planning for infrastructure or onboarding? Are there change managers and internal communications teams involved? 

CloudMargin believes that cultural change is integral to the success of our clients’ cloud strategies.

The Nasdaq example offers one approach to cultural change, starting with understanding stakeholder needs, enabling those stakeholders through tools and programs, and empowering them through education.

CloudMargin has also partnered with clients to help their teams understand how the cloud can help them achieve their own goals and create value right away during their cloud journey.  

If you are interested in talking with one of our team members to learn more, drop us a line.

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