Having embraced instant messaging early in that technologys development, financial services companies banded together in 2002 to promote standards for interoperability. The result was a user group known as FIMA, or Financial Services Instant Messaging Association. From modest beginnings, the group now counts delegates from 24 major financial services companies.
"Realizing that IM was increasingly important as a trading and marketing tool for the financial industry, with the obvious negative of not being an open communications system, such as e-mail, were trying to put some pressure on the vendors to come up with an open system, like e-mail is," said Delphine Cottin, an IT executive at a major financial institution in New York and user group chair of FIMA.
The group meets monthly and occasionally invites vendors to give product strategy presentations. The group is planning a session focusing on interoperability Oct. 20 in New York.
"Its an open forum," said Cottin, noting that such messaging powers as America Online Inc., IBM, Google Inc. and Reuters will be presenting.
When the group was founded three years ago, the dream of interoperability was far off. "At that time, nobody was talking to anybody," said Cottin.
Now, she says, Microsoft is using the same protocol as IBM, SIP (Session Initiation Protocol)/ SIMPLE (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions).
Support for SIP/SIMPLE and XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) are among FIMAs top requirements. Also high on the list are directory-based authentication, archiving and support for virtual domains.
Yet, Cottin said, there is still much work to be done. "If you look at a trader today, you will see him working with 20 screens because he has one community on AOL, another on MSN, another on Reuters and so on. Its a complete headache." Cottin lays the blame at the feet of the major vendors who are loath to lose control over their user communities.
In addition to pressuring vendors, the group also serves as a clearinghouse of best practices for its members, according to Amanda Jones, instant messaging business analyst at UBS Investment Bank in New York, a unit of UBS AG, of Zurich and Basel, Switzerland.
"We look at what each other is doing," said Jones. "If Lehman Brothers is using a new product, then we might want to look at that.
"The greatest value is the peer information we tend to share and our exposure to the different vendors."