Brad Levy, the new president and chief commercial officer (CCO) of Symphony, the capital markets communication network, has outlined his vision of the company’s commercial future. The firm, which offers chat messaging and supports trade execution, along with access to a range of other services, has made Levy’s appointment as traders become increasingly reliant on electronic collaboration tools within their workflow, as a result of COVID-19 countermeasures. Moving those capabilities forward will be Symphony’s goal, Levy says.
“Anything that is in a chatty form today, any messaging, unstructured information, emails, anywhere that is part of workflow is a natural place for us,” he notes. “Not to change behaviour, but to incrementally evolve it into something more digital and automated instead of being an asynchronous ping-pong game.”
Levy will lead Symphony’s efforts within the global financial services space, focusing on expanding the company’s commercial offering on capital market workflows and solutions. To date the firm has stated its desire to be a workflow management tool rather than a trading venue, supporting execution as part of that role as technology platform. It launched Symphony SPARC late last year as a means of underpinning trading in this way.
“I think of execution as a small piece of the larger liquidity puzzle,” says Levy. “In the liquidity space there are a lot of analytics, different forms of execution, and the fitting of execution into workflows that feed down from systems that exist today. For us that may be something as simple as an API, we have to stitch that together for our community of end users.”
By focussing on the unstructured elements of communicating trades, the firm could potentially apply technologies such as natural language processing (NLP) in order to systematise the information held within, so that data can be used more effectively in automated processes.
“I think there is a lot of liquidity out there, in that unstructured conversational world held in technology like chat or email today,” Levy explains. “The importance of that liquidity, which is to some extent frozen, depends on the macro environment we are in. I happen to think we are going through a super cycle of rethinking how liquidity is found and entered into.”
Parts of the market that are finding efficiency harder to come by, typically those involved in complex instruments and negotiated trading, cannot be resolved using straightforward mechanisms such as central limit order books (CLOB). Applying technology to understand the complexity of assets and trading, instead of trying to change the structures or transaction models, could help the wider market by freeing up liquidity, assets Levy.
“I think we are a big part of the play to liquify those frozen parts of the market. There are lots of pockets of liquidity in the over-the-counter markets and more derivative, structured, fixed income or foreign exchange markets. There are many places we can go through and add execution capabilities, content, analytics, and workflow within the back office.”
Levy is chairman emeritus of the Fintech Open Source Foundation (FINOS), as well as a member of the Technology Advisory Committee of the Commodities and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and chairman of its Distributed Ledger Subcommittee.
Prior to Symphony, he was a partner at global analytics and information provider, IHS Markit, having also served as CEO of MarkitSERV and global head of its loan settlement and software services division. He was recently awarded the Markets Media Markets Choice Neil DeSena Market Advocate Award for his role in driving change within financial services.
“Brad’s unmatched experience within financial services, coupled with his inclusive leadership style and network make for a perfect combination as we enter our next phase of growth at Symphony,” said David Gurlé, Symphony’s founder and CEO.
Earlier in his career, Levy spent 18 years at Goldman Sachs, culminating in his role as managing director and global head of Goldman’s Principal Strategic Investments Group. He has served on numerous other boards within the financial sector and is an oft-requested advisor and speaker.
“The financial services industry has arrived at an inflection point, as technological developments and demand for expanded digital offerings call for true, industry-wide transformation,” said Levy. “From day one, I’ve admired how Symphony has evolved to meet the specific needs of its clients, and I look forward to working with David and the Symphony team to grow our community.”
In April, Symphony shared its growth numbers for Q1 2020, citing more than half a million licensed users, a 42% increase in daily active users and a 280% increase in messages sent after chat users reported a boost in use to support remote trading. It also launched secure virtual meetings with end-to-end encryption and recording. In June, the company reported that Deutsche Bank is using the Symphony Connect Solution for secure chat and collaboration with its clients via WhatsApp.