From Skype to Thomson Reuters, David Gurlé has sat on the cutting edge of enterprise communications for two decades, in 2014, David founded Symphony, a communication and collaboration platform for financial services.
David joins us on the podcast to talk about how communications technology has evolved in the financial sector and looks out ahead to what’s in store. More than just a platform to connect, Symphony has APIs so that its users can share and automate workflows. The company recently released the second generation of its platform with simplified interactions and a customizable UI and smart notifications.
Symphony is a global organization that provides secure communication and collaboration services to the financial services industry. My background is all in telecommunications and IP communications. I founded Symphony in 2014.
I was really frustrated by the lack of privacy and data protection that communication media were providing. It felt that the world needed something that put security and privacy first, as opposed to convenience and growth. I take pleasure in building products that people use. We give our customers choice in how they want to take care of their privacy.
In 2014, there were other information service providers looking at the messages of their customers. Symphony came at the right time with the right technology to quickly grab the marketshare and mindshare.
Serving financial services
From the beginning, we targeted financial services. The industry is a hub to many other industries that have to interact with financial services to grow and run their businesses. Also, the bar for security and regulatory requirements is very high in financial services. If we can be successful in this industry, we could export this success into other verticals.
The market for communication media in financial services is a very mixed bag. There’s Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters on one side and Microsoft, Cisco, and other smaller messaging players. It was a very fragmented market — no one was trying to do end to end and front to back.
The new operating systems
There’s the communication aspect — messaging, voice, video, file and screen sharing. Then there’s the platform aspect — integration with other third party systems. Communication and collaboration systems are becoming the new operating systems. It needs to be open and integrate with other information systems where the data resides in order for people to extract this data. API integration is absolutely crucial if you’re trying to do something in this space.
Changing use cases
Prices discovery is a fascinating use case. You’re a buyer and want to purchase a financial instrument, like a debt from a foreign country. You are going to talk to the sell side, your brokers. The brokers will hustle and send you back quotes. It’s an onerous and cumbersome process. If you can automate it and accelerate it, that becomes cost-saving for both sides of the transaction.
Now, assume you’re a broker. You have all these instruments in your basket that you want to sell. You want to publicize this to buyers. That use case is really important — it literally clogs the mail systems on the buy side by hundreds a day. People have to employ manpower to go through all that to not miss opportunities.
Learnings along the way
On the positive front, we made a huge bet on starting with security first. It turned out to be a very difficult engineering task. I’m glad we made it at a time when there was time for us to mature the product. From MVP stage, we were able to achieve the dominant position we are today in financial services.
The area where we should have done better was the pace at which we rewrote the platform. The success of our original product caught us by suprise. We grew really fast and that growth came with pain. We had service issues here and there, and it kept us busy. Rather than trying to reinvent the platform into a more scalable, more modular architecture, we were chasing patches after patches to keep the service side. I wish we had taken the opportunity to rewrite the platform a year and a half earlier.
We had to rewrite our whole platform. That doesn’t only mean rewriting the backend in micro services and spreading across multiple geographies. It also meant we had to reinvest the user experience. We grew from capital markets — a very high volume, high density use case where people have 30 to 50 different conversations going on across multiple screens. You have to do something very simple. Our user experience was perceived to be complex.
We took on that challenge of building 2.0. We started around two and a half years ago and released it this February. It really gave us some breathing room and a refreshing look and feel that’s far more competitive with companies like Microsoft Teams and Slack. We’ve done that and kept it loyal to the use cases of financial services.
Changing end users
It’s changed in a fascinating way. First of all, there are generations in the workforce. The Millennials have entered into the workforce massively where a large part of our customers are these users. That has an effect on expectations that they use everyday. If it doesn’t cater to their needs, they will bring the software that does. We call this Bring Your Own Application. They are more demanding but also more flexible.
The older generation, which I’m a part of, has learned that there are also tools that live outside their work environment that can be more friendly and easier to use. This puts pressure on information technology teams to transform their organizations’ applications and software choices at a faster cycle than they were done in the past.
The cloud became something you have to have. I remember in 2013, the conversations I would have with chief information security officers. They said, David, the cloud in financial services will never happen. Look where we are today. Things have changed.