The Role of FPGA in the Financial Services Sector and the Skills Needed to be an FPGA Developer

Written by Daniel Vaz

Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) is a digital circuit or in other words, configured ASIC. Wherever there is an extremely large quantity of data to process and the lag time in processing can be a risk, FPGA plays an important role in delivering the data processing with high accuracy and minimum time-lag. 

FPGA can solve computable issues with huge-volume and highly unstructured data. The advantage of FPGA is that processing of data is faster because of its parallelism and it’s precisely because of the number of logic gates being used. 

Some of the real-time FPGA applications are 

  • Real-time image/video processing in medical image equipment such as ultrasound, MRI, and surgical systems
  • In automotive for vehicle networking and connectivity
  • Improving computer vision, IC's designing and routers
  • It is used in the aerospace industry for communication, design assurance guidance
  • FPGA is also helping on improving our digital cameras, software radios, set-top box and wifi routers
  • Even the leading e-commerce companies are also using FPGA for data processing to get faster and accurate consumer insights
  • The financial services industry has used FPGA to process high-volume unstructured data for HFT, low latency trading and risk computation

After the financial crisis of 2008, when risk analysis had become a primary focus for the financial services institutions, the application of FPGA started expanding from high-frequency trading to algorithmic trading, to low-latency trading and to resolving financial services industry-specific challenges such as risk computation fraud detection and market surveillance. There were various reasons for this, but the main advantages of utilising the technology included - 

Accelerated Data Processing 

FPGA speed up the financial data processing because it is parallel in nature and delivers the assessment with high accuracy and minimum lag time which allows the traders to trade within nanoseconds. 

No Jitters

FPGA is a circuit which can provide deterministic latency because there is no branching of software or anything which can lead to non-determinism, which means no jitter and foreseeable reaction times, and placing trades in a timely manner reduces risk. 

Accurate Risk Analysis 

FPGA allows unstructured data processing such as video/image processing which means FPGA can consider the effect of the non-linear factor of the market to calculate the risk more accurately such as the effect of news, social media or cumulative market psychology. 

The increasing significance of FPGA’s role in the financial services industry has led to high demand for good FPGA developers. The skills essential for this role are:

  • A degree in electronic/electrical engineering 
  • Solid knowledge of VHDL, OpenCL, Linux kernel development (driver development) and x86 processor expertise 
  • Hands-on experience of FPGA families, EDA tools, simulators and logic analysers 
  • Knowledge of high-speed SERDES protocol implementation in FPGA 
  • Exemplary logical aptitude and mathematical skills 
  • Knowledge of high-speed SERDES protocol implementation in FPGA 

At Aquis Search we work closely with a variety of businesses in the financial services sector. If you would like to know more about the opportunities, please visit our job page