People are Getting Fired for Using Whatsapp, but No One Gets Fired for Using Email

A lot of people seem to be getting fired for using Whatsapp. The fear seems palpable. 

With all the craze around messaging, people losing their jobs, and a lack of control, I wanted to share a quick excerpt from an article I found: 

“Two weeks ago, six top financial institutions met privately with…leading corporate instant messaging providers and urged them to build communications networks that interoperate. For the Wall Street firms, a lack of IM interoperability has been a source of increasing frustration and a possible pinch on profits.”

Sounds like it could have been written yesterday, doesn’t it? Funny enough, it was written almost 20 years ago. What’s that famous quote: history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme? 

Remember when Wall Street ran on AIM? (AOL Instant Messenger for the uniformed). I remember when people had their AIM handle in their signature, and it wasn’t that long ago (I won’t embarrass anyone with screenshots). AIM shut down around 2016, because, you know, it was 2016 – but as one of its most dedicated user groups, Wall Street used that tool invented in the 90’s up until the bitter end. 

My reflections back on AIM came as I have been reading a lot of headlines recently about the recently in vogue crackdown on messaging applications, with a CS Banker fired after 30 years for using Whatsapp, and communicating outside controlled/monitored channels. As you all know, messages are captured, monitored, and stored for compliance and legal purposes, regardless of the channel. Email, voice, IM, electronic, it’s all the same. This is used to track insider trading, controlling data breaches, poaching clients, etc. This problem has been massively exasperated because of the remote work environment of the last few years.

The challenge for Wall Street is that it has always been really bad at building and adopting new messaging protocols and systems itself, so we end up importing solutions from the consumer world. Take Bloomberg IM for example: I’m not sure exactly when the messenger side was launched, but voice chat came out in the early 90s, making the tool more than 30 years old. AIM, which used to be the closest competitor, was at least 20 years old when it was retired. There have been lots of attempts to launch new tools since then, or force those existing tools to open their networks, but every strategy and product deployed has met challenges. 

Bankers, fund managers, traders, and everyone else do not live in a vacuum (no one has been severed yet, but that show might give the industry some ideas!). They have lives outside the industry, where they use the latest tools and technologies that are modern, have a great user experience, and are continually innovating. They want to use the latest tools to communicate with their friends and family: that means Whatsapp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Signal, etc. To be clear, none of them were using AIM outside their workplace in the last 20 years.

The issue that we are once again running into is the reactive approach of the industry: “Okay, those tools you use in your personal life, we will try to make them work in your professional life too.” The better solution would be to take the tools and technologies that are already available, compliant, and being used on a daily basis, and make those tools better, rather than giving up and trying to adapt the new tools to a compliant setup. As the technology adage goes, evolution is always easier than revolution. 

What are the options for tools that could evolve? First, let’s accept that Bloomberg isn’t opening their platform to other applications and developers any time soon. Second, let’s accept that none of the horizontal applications (Teams, Slack, etc.) are going to verticalize their platform meaningfully for the industry. It’s just not a big enough opportunity for them.

In fact, I don’t think the solution is to reinvent a new platform, build a new industry group, or lobby the consumer technology world: I think the solution is hiding right in front of the entire industry. In fact, that article from 2002 proves they had the right idea almost 20 years ago, and I quote: “We want IM to be like e-mail.”

To give you a parallel: when Apple was looking to build their own chat application, they didn’t go about building their own network, with all the challenges that come with that (the “cold start” problem). They looked out at the world and realized there was a network available and ripe for change: text messaging. They then built iMessage on top of the texting infrastructure. Text a friend outside the Apple ecosystem, and it functions just as any text would be expected to – there is no loss in experience. Text a friend inside the Apple ecosystem, and you would get a magical, seamless, and automatic experience. You were spirited away to a new platform without even noticing. 

The compliance departments are taking on the task of Sisyphus – to push the boulder up a hill, only to see it roll down the other side, and start again. As those compliance teams in 2002 found out, unless the industry can build and adopt better solutions, users will continue to import other solutions from their personal lives. This will mean a never-ending list of applications to track, ingest, and capture. Today it’s Whatsapp, but what will it be tomorrow? 

At Street Contxt, we’ve come to appreciate the remedy and opportunity that Email holds for the industry. Rather than focusing on either a) importing consumer tools and technology into capital markets and making it compliant, or b) building a new ecosystem and dealing with network issues, the most obvious opportunity and path of least resistance is to take the application and network that already exists, and evolve it in line with the technological and communication needs of the industry.

When we look at Email, we see what Apple must have seen with text messaging: an existing ecosystem, adopted globally, and used daily, that has so much opportunity, yet hasn’t been touched. We have some exciting plans for email, and we’ll start sharing more later this year, but suffice it to say that there is a huge opportunity to take the platform the industry is already using, and improve upon it, rather than reinvent the wheel. Evolution beats revolution.

The industry is still struggling with importing consumer technologies, and trying to make them compliant, rather than working with the existing tools. Instead, we should focus on taking the tools we have, verticalizing them for the industry, and giving users an effective and valuable alternative: something built for the industry, contextualized to the industry, but known to the industry. 

Wall Street has been using email since it was invented. That’s not going to change any time soon. We just need to get rid of everything we hate about it, then people will be able to actually use it. Plus, we already know how to monitor it. 

Perhaps the saying should be: no one gets fired for using email.

Until next time,

Street Context

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