Before there was Bloomberg there were things like clay tablets and messengers and tickertape to help people working in the markets remain informed. In the future, there may still be Bloomberg, but there may also be something different – more open source, more controlled by the people who use it.
This, at least, is the vision of Symphony, the uber-fintech with a $1.4bn valuation that's backed by most major banks. As we reported last month, Symphony has hired Craig Butterworth, a former fixed income salesman and most recently Nomura's global head of client ecosystem. Butterworth is leading a new account management team at the firm.
“There’s a massive opportunity at an industry level for us to replumb the capital markets system from front to back,” says Butterworth. “Banks today are products of years and years of sticky tape and superglue when it comes to technology and the world has moved on. At a time when the fee pool is declining, this creates a big impetus to reduce complexity and cost.”
Symphony’s pitch is that it’s an encrypted communications platform designed especially with the compliance-conscious financial services community in mind. Butterworth says the fact that users of the system have unique access to their own data (even Symphony can’t access it) is a big selling point. “If you’re a bank and you want to do something interesting with your chat history, like to apply AI or integrate tools to improve workflow, there’s no way to do that. Right now, banks don’t actually own the data that flows through most chat systems. Symphony’s point is to put data back in the hands of people who own it.”
Ultimately Symphony wants to be a trusted “backbone” for market participants, says Butterworth. The company will partner with other leading fintech firms to deliver an array of services to users. One example is MarketEarlyBird, a curated Twitter feed that complies with regulations to deliver fast news to trading floors. Another is ChartIQ, a charting application with a Symphony interface.
Symphony already has 400+ clients using its products, including 19 of the 20 biggest banks. And it now wants to work with its largest clients to collaborate on creating new solutions.
This is where Butterworth comes in. “Symphony has some very big banking and buy-side clients with complex requirements. Rather than each firm using Symphony to individually solve a particular pain point, we aim to collectively partner with them in order to build solutions which are scalable at an industry level. It’s a collaborative relationship.”
As Symphony builds these collaborative relationships, Butterworth will be heading a global account management team linked to a new market solutions division, formed in June. Butterworth's team will consolidate feedback from key clients and work with the solutions team to generate new products and partnerships.
Butterworth expects to hire for his team, but says finding the right people won’t be easy. “What I really need are people who deeply understand the pain points of a capital markets business,” says Butterworth. “Who understand how things work from the front to the back and are genuinely intellectually interested in using technology to bring everything together in a more client-centric, efficient and agile way.”
Butterworth says this digital transformation skillset is increasingly sought after and is about being a generalist rather than a specialist in any one area. “The day when you could be a master at just one aspect of the process is over.” Both fintechs and banks are chasing the same people.
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