Boss of top firm launches 'trading floor' at UU campus
The chairman of US financial giant CME Group Foundation has praised Northern Ireland's skills and talent base during the launch of a new 'trading floor' here.
Jim Oliff, chairman of the charitable arm of commodities trader Chicago Mercantile Exchange, said Northern Ireland had the right "academic climate".
"You have educational institutions that realise you have to target practical education," he said.
CME Group set up an operation here in 2012 and has continued to grow its workforce, with 150 staff now employed in software development and support at its Belfast base.
A seasoned trader with 42 years experience under his belt, former lawyer Mr Oliff was launching their new 'innovation laboratory', set up at Ulster University's Jordanstown campus to "benefit the entire financial service community".
The ambitious joint project aims to teach potential young traders and financiers the real-world skills needed to work in the industry.
It's been built at a cost of £237,000 - with CME Group Foundation contributing more than £100,000 towards it.
The Chicago-based group - whose business selling commodities was made famous in the 1980s film Trading Places - is already the world's largest futures exchange operator. And it's one of the leaders in the global financial technology (fintech) industry.
CME started as an exchange for trading agricultural commodities before branching out into futures and derivatives.
It still trades in futures on farm-related products from frozen pork bellies to live cattle
Speaking about the new trading floor centre, Mr Oliff said: "It's not just benefiting CME. It's benefiting many of the other fintech entities that exist.
"What we are looking to get is qualified, post-graduate students who are willing to make a move into financial services, and we are hoping to teach them the relevant skill sets that the financial services need.
"We are certainly trying to mimic a trading floor...this is a great first step." Mr Oliff - who said he has had numerous operations on his throat caused by the rather more vocal days on the trading floor - said the world he once worked in had changed considerably over the years.
"Trading is an exciting profession. I gave up the practice of law to pursue this and my father did the same thing," he said.
Alison Hamilton, the head of CME Group's Belfast office, said the firm continues to grow its base here, which now employs 150 people.
"CME Group in Belfast came in 2012 and we have grown to 150 staff and are still in a growth state," she said.
"As one of the major partners in the financial sector, we would like to benefit from people going through the likes of the academy.
"But this is about giving back into that community and helping the workforce, whether they are unemployed, or underemployed."
And the standard and level of Northern Ireland's talent pool was also praised by the firm - one of the reasons which attracted CME here.
CME's 'trading floor' is Northern Ireland's second, after homegrown fintech success First Derivatives set up its own trading room at Queen's University, back in 2012.
Enterprise Minister Dr Stephen Farry said Northern Ireland's 'fintech' sector was "key to the continued growth of our economy and I will continue to ensure the skills needs of the sector are met".
And Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell said the new project would provide students with the "very latest in the skills for real world trading".
Invest NI is putting £30,000 towards the new project.