James Ditmore joined online brokerage firm Ameritrade Holding in 1999 and has overseen the investment of $100 million to re-engineer the company's technology base.
Chief Information Officer, Ameritrade Technology Group
Degree: Bachelors degree in math and computer science from the College of William & Mary
Favorite TV show: NBA playoffs
Stress reliever: Playing basketball
James Ditmore joined online brokerage firm Ameritrade Holding in 1999 and has overseen the investment of $100 million to re-engineer the companys technology base. Perhaps the most visible evidence of the expenditure is the speed with which Ameritrades home page pops up on a computer screen. The time has been cut to less than 3.6 seconds from 15 seconds at the start of 2000. Transactions are executed in 5.5 seconds compared with 27 seconds, and the cost of executing a trade has fallen to $11.23 from $25.27. Before joining Ameritrade, Ditmore served as vice president of systems development at Bell Atlantic, in charge of wholesale systems. He spoke with Business Editor John Mulqueen.
Do you have an e-business manager?
Not really. Almost 99 percent of our business is e-business, so all of our business managers are e-business managers. I have individuals who work for me who have applications responsibilities, who focus on their peers in the business side and make sure their needs are met. All of our lines of business are Internet-focused. It is not like a brick-and-mortar company, where someone focuses on traditional channels and someone else does the Internet.
What major issues did you face when you arrived?
Ameritrade became a successful national brokerage almost overnight, and the regional brokerage IT [information technology] shop that it had in place was out-manned. There was a lot of work to address quality, availability and performance, and we had Y2K [year 2000] to worry about. We had two trading systems, three brokerage-clearing systems. We had to get to one.
What has been your most successful project?
Wireless. We were the first to market with a wireless access project. We were the first to provide transactions over a wireless Web connection. We did it in six weeks with Sprint and delivered in December 1999. About 2 percent of our trades are executed on wireless.
Can you serve the very active investors who say online services are not fast enough to meet their needs?
The people who are doing arbitrage between different markets and so forth are very different types of investors than what the online brokerages are about. We have acquired TradeCast, which caters to day-traders with different products. The average investor wants the best execution and those are the investors we are interested in.
What type of new services are you working on?
We are looking at adding a good intuitive interface so users can handle more difficult tasks. We are improving statements and confirmations of trades, and improving portfolio management, so people can understand how their investments are doing, how they are allocated. They will get a statement via e-mail. We will roll out a nice asset allocation and basic financial planning tool. We are not getting into banking. We do not have our own mutual funds like [Charles] Schwab [& Co.]. We are going to focus on directed online investing.