Business

Symphony sets sight on financial world and more

NEW YORK 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 three 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 US$1 billion (S$1.38 billion).

Created in 2012 and officially launched two years later in California, the system allows users to send private messages, confidentially exchange research and trading strategies and place orders - all in real time.

Some people even portrayed the technology as a threat to the Bloomberg terminal's dominance in trading rooms, although others said that is premature.

"I had been dreaming about this tool since my childhood," Mr Gurle, 50, said in a video interview conducted over Symphony.

"If, for example, a banker is advising Airbus in a bond issue to finance its next investment, they will work with legal, government and auditing services," with each communicating on the same platform, he said.

He said he hopes to diversify Symphony beginning next year, 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 US$22,000 a terminal.

While Bloomberg is a closed ecosystem, Symphony integrates outside services - and it offers annual subscriptions at just US$180.

This flexibility allowed it to rack up 200,000 users in barely two years, and it is on track to reach 300,000 by the end of this year. There are 325,000 Bloomberg terminal users.

Mr Spencer Mindlin of business research firm Aite Group noted that "Bloomberg has been the incumbent for a very, very long time".

"There still is a long way to go" for any competitor," he said.

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

Goldman Sachs recently replaced its various internal messaging platforms with Symphony, according to a spokesman.

With US$25 million in revenues last year, Symphony's goal is for a positive cash flow by next year.

"Symphony has sophisticated real-time surveillance tools," Mr Gurle said.

"If there is an information policy violation, the firm can automatically cut off communication."

He has also 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.

- AFP

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