Meet the tech that wants to replace the Bloomberg terminal

Symphony
Source: Symphony
Symphony

The future of the trading floor is chat, according to Symphony, a start-up that's a darling among bankers, and is scoring screen time all over Wall Street.

Symphony is cloud-based chat application for businesses, similar to popular products like Slack or Google Chat. But unlike many of its competitors, Symphony offers end-to-end encryption, gives businesses more control over who owns their data, and offers compliance measures designed to appeal to the financial services industry.

That's important because the financial industry has faced billions in fines over alleged misconduct conducted over chat.

The clamp down after these incidents was "stronger than anyone could imagine," David Gurle, founder and CEO of Symphony, told CNBC.

Gurle spoke amid the company's 2016 "Innovate" conference, where the company debuted new features of its messaging platform like bots, integrated apps, screen-sharing and video chat.

Symphony's growing popularity also comes as large-scale cyberattacks have made headlines, after hackers stole data of 500 million Yahoo users. In February, cybersecurity concerns hit close to home for bankers, after the SWIFT network was used to steal $81 million from Bangladesh Bank.

"I think that any business today who is using information as a currency to build its success cannot forfeit the importance of security," Gurle said at the conference. "It has moved to the top of the agenda of the companies we talk to."

That's where Symphony comes in.

Here's how it works: Unlike many other chat apps, where cloud providers control the data and how it is encrypted, Symphony gives each company the keys to their encryption, so data can not be read by regulators, cloud providers or Symphony employees without permission. That allows companies to protect their data from foreign governments, and can enable features like storing video chats for future use.

On Thursday, the company announced integration from financial heavy-hitters like Dow Jones, S&P Global Market Intelligence, FactSet, IHS Markit and Selerity. Like consumer-facing chat bots, these partnerships allow companies to do more without leaving the chat interface, by pulling in financial data from analyst notes, breaking financial news, or economic information on buy-side trades.

Symphony's product first came to fame after Bloomberg reporters were caught snooping on the chat application built into to the expensive Bloomberg terminal. Though Bloomberg has since updated its rules to prevent future incidents, Symphony has bagged business from 100 companies, 116,000 users and 8,700 individuals at partners.

"I think in our business, the use case for Bloomberg gets increasingly smaller," added Nigel Faulkner, head of technology at T. Rowe Price.

Gurle said that Symphony tries to solve a problem that others seem to be missing on Wall Street, where companies are known to use 30 different communication tools within their companies. That creates silos of information, Gurle argued. With Symphony, companies can also communicate externally with any other company on the platform.

But rather than Bloomberg, he said he sees Microsoft as the company's biggest rival.

"The biggest request I get is, 'Get rid of Outlook for me,'" Gurle said.

Last year, Symphony closed a $100 million round led by Google, and inked a deal with four major banks. The company is working toward more features like scheduling meetings, editing documents, and integration with tools like Salesforce, so users can treat the chat app like their main operating system, much like consumers use WeChat in China.

"Everyone's used to working with these cool apps like Facebook at home, and then they come to work and used to have these arcane programs," said Darren Cohen, global head of principal strategic investments group at Goldman Sachs. "What Symphony shows is ... what the industry can do. It doesn't have to be this fragmented."

Cohen said that around Brexit, for instance, Goldman could have Symphony chat rooms specific to that event, helping to draw in real-time conversations across the organization. BlackRock did the same, said managing director Joseph Kochansky.

Symphony comes amid a larger trend of "consumerization" of enterprise software. Indeed, Gurle's vision for Symphony echoes that of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has highlighted how Messenger can become a one-stop-shop for commerce.

"The innovation is coming through the consumer products way faster, it's a very interesting trend," Gurle said. "Innovation used to arrive in enterprise first…they could afford it."

Like many companies in big tech, he's looking toward artificial intelligence as the next frontier, where algorithms will sort out signal from noise and keep employees from being overwhelmed by messages.

"It's easy to track a phone call that led to a trade, but not so easy for a call that didn't," said Kevin McPartland, head of market structure and technology research, at Greenwich Associates. McPartland said that having a way to track all the data points of a firm can be key to presenting smarter information to clients.

For now, Gurle's said he's focused on securing his position in the financial sector, including working with regulators, before moving to other highly-regulated industries like healthcare and insurance.

"As machine learning and data sets improve, those bots are going to become smarter," Gurle said. "I'm very confident that we are in the era of that transformation."