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‘Symphony’ looks to disrupt the world of Bloomberg terminals

LiveMint logoLiveMint 23-05-2017 AFP

Having won over Wall Street and Silicon Valley with a low-cost messaging platform that aims to remake the way traders communicate, Symphony creator David Gurle has set his sights on new industries. Barely 3 years old, Symphony quickly caught on in the world of high finance and now counts Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Credit Suisse, Societe Generale and Google among its investors. BNP Paribas recently joined in, helping bring Symphony’s estimated value to nearly $1 billion.

Created in 2012 and officially launched 2 years later in Palo Alto, California, the system allows users to send private messages, confidentially exchange research and trading strategies and place orders— all in real time. Some have even portrayed the technology as a threat to Bloomberg terminal’s dominance in trading rooms, although others say that is premature.

Gurle, 50, says he further developed the idea after working for France Telecom, Microsoft and Skype, and chose to “disrupt” the financial world because it could open doors to other enticing industries.

He said he hopes to diversify Symphony beginning in 2018, moving into sectors such as insurance, health, defence and aviation, building a secured network for businesses.

While Symphony is not really a head-to-head competitor with Bloomberg it is gaining ground on the dominant player on Wall Street.

Bloomberg, which has existed since 1983, offers a vast panoply of services, including research, analysis, trading, data and news, in addition to messaging, at an average annual cost of $22,000 per terminal. While Bloomberg is a closed ecosystem, Symphony by contrast integrates outside services—and with annual subscriptions at just $180.

But Spencer Mindlin of the business research firm Aite Group notes that “Bloomberg has been the incumbent for a very, very long time.”

Bloomberg is still the favoured channel between clients and traders, according to one Wall Street broker who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that his firm prohibited traders from using Symphony for outside communications.

Even so, most major banks are using Symphony for internal communications and for employees with administrative and marketing roles, Mindlin said.

Unlike earlier messaging systems such as FIX, AOL IM or Wickr, which moved into the financial world with mixed results, Symphony is arriving as major banks are cutting costs and keeping a closer eye on traders after the Libor exchange and interest rate manipulation scandals.

“Symphony has sophisticated, real-time surveillance tools,” Gurle said. “If there’s an information policy violation, the firm can automatically cut off communication.”

He has agreed to let New York’s Department of Financial Services, which was unnerved by the degree of encryption promised to clients, access chat logs in suspected cases of wrongdoing.

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