Last week collaboration vendor Symphony held its annual Innovate event in the digital format to which we have all grown accustomed. At the event, the company announced a number of new features and functions that align it with the current work from anywhere trends driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. Symphony has often been referred to as “Slack for financial services,” but in actuality, the company is much more than Slack.
It’s built the product on the concept of community, where members have access to people in other companies—with the right compliance settings, of course—which makes cross-company collaboration easy. Symphony CEO David Gurlé explained that people who must continue to socially distance can use the product to maintain digital proximity with one another; be built off that concept at the event.
Symphony 2.0 is now generally available with some new features
Last year the company announced Symphony 2.0, which became generally available this month. The second generation of the platform features a cleaner design and a simpler user experience that is built from the ground up for secure team collaboration. The development of this version was done jointly with many customers to make improvements that address the collaborative workflow needs of financial services and capital markets firms—many of which have accelerated their digital transformation initiatives due to COVID-19.
As one would expect, the pandemic created a surge in use, and since the start of the work-from-home period, the platform recorded tremendous growth. Monthly active users increased by 32 percent, from 318,000 in December 2019 to 410,000 in October 2020. Messages sent through Symphony skyrocketed by 300 percent, from 56 million to 174 million during that time frame, while meetings surged by 380 percent, from 26,000 to 146,000. Bot messages also grew by 79 percent from 7 million to 12 million. During his keynote, founder and CEO Gurlé talked about how Symphony has let him work with teams across all the regions of the world. The event was filled with customers who were in time zones that ranged from Europe to Hawaii to Asia, showing how COVID-19 flattened the world and collaboration tools let us work and not skip a beat.
APIs enable custom bots to automate workflows
One of the new capabilities in Symphony is the use of APIs to build customized bots, automated workflows and integrations that extend the platform’s collaboration capabilities based on the specific needs of the organization. To date, there have been more than 2,000 applications developed on the platform.
While Symphony initially targeted financial services firms, it works for any industry that requires secure team collaboration. Health care is an obvious industry, as are some branches of government. Symphony 2.0 is a redesigned platform that is customizable and easier to use. The upgrade comes with a wide range of user interface extension capabilities, as well as pre-built “elements” for bots and app integrations. This means developers can use off-the-shelf components to automate workflows much faster.
Some of the new workflow features in Symphony 2.0 include chat-list filters for viewing specific types of messages, workspaces for organizing conversations and group chat for messaging multiple users. Symphony also gave version 2.0 a makeover by introducing tabs. Similar to an internet browser, users can open multiple chats and switch between conversations.
CONNECT enables connectivity to consumer platforms
Another key capability for which customers have been asking is interconnectivity with other messaging platforms. Gurlé talked about the importance of integration to consumer platforms WhatsApp and WeChat. The solution, called Symphony CONNECT, allows financial firms to communicate with clients using these popular platforms while adhering to the industry’s strict security and compliance regulations.
Deutsche Bank is integrated with Symphony CONNECT, and clients in China can use WeChat to message the bank via Symphony and access their balances. This was explained by Andrew Donnelly, Deutsche Bank’s regional head of corporate bank technology during a presentation at Innovate 2020. Earlier this year, Deutsche Bank also enabled secure chat and collaboration with clients via WhatsApp through Symphony CONNECT. Financial firms have shied away from consumer apps, but CONNECT enables them to deploy tools customers like without the risk of data being compromised.
SPARC lets traders toggle between critical apps
The other piece of the puzzle is SPARC, a workflow tool that lets buy-side and sell-side traders switch between messaging and request for quote (RFQ) negotiations within the same chat room. SPARC was originally developed for interest rate swaps and cross-currency swaps but has expanded to include new use cases in Symphony 2.0. Now users in capital markets can accelerate their trades, so negotiations that used to take time are happening in a matter of seconds.
Trading is still a chat-heavy business, with most negotiations taking place through messaging. Collaborative platforms such as Symphony allow financial firms to micro-optimize the already widely used function of chat rooms. With the addition of bots in trading chat rooms, firms can collect valuable data that allows traders to see exactly what they want to bid on.
This is especially important in the COVID-19 environment, where traders are working from home and using fewer screens, according to Ashwin Venkatraman, global head of liquidity trading at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. Venkatraman shared a demo of how the BETSI bot is optimizing the equities trading workflow for JP Morgan Asset Management. Traders no longer have to sift through various chat windows, since they’re getting the information in their trading app with the Symphony integration.
Both Symphony CONNECT and SPARC tie into the company’s vision to develop a highly secure distributed market infrastructure for future global markets in a post-COVID-19 world. In wrapping up Innovate 2020, the company expressed its commitment to continue building on all of these components to support users and their clients as everyone adjusts to the new normal.
Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.