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Tuning Up Symphony

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The Symphony communications service, which provides a self-contained messaging protocol for financial services firms, is finding that its openness can be a double-edged sword.

Intelligent Trading Technology spoke with Barry Raskin, managing director, management consulting at Jordan & Jordan, who is currently managing the implementation of Symphony for a major firm, about how Symphony’s openness is a strength and a challenge at the same time. Raskin, a longtime financial services industry development and management executive, also shed light on the role outside vendors are now allowed to play in the service, and how users can tailor the service to their needs.

As a messaging platform developed for a consortium of 15 large banks and investment firms to operate without reliance on major vendors of messaging services, Symphony facilitates communication between counterparties. “The openness lets you use the content and communication as more of a collaboration platform than a lot of the other services out there,” says Raskin. “It’s easily sortable and retrievable. You can bring in other content sets or functions — it’s not a closed system that you have no control over and have to wait for a vendor to make those modifications.”

Symphony’s Open Source foundation allows users’ technical staff contribute code to the service and share that code with each other. “We don’t have that with other products. That’s a real strength,” says Raskin.

However, Symphony’s efforts to build a community of users can be challenging, according to Raskin, because “competitive firms are so entrenched that getting them to switch to a different platform can be tough,” he says.

The Symphony messaging platform emerged in 2015 with open source coding that could be customised with API additions, although the platform was intended to be an alternative to vendor offerings. However, more recently, Symphony has partnered with data providers to make their content available as applications on its platform.

“The commercial relationship just exists between the bank and the vendor. Symphony just is a communication venue for them,” says Raskin.

Users can set various protocols concerning permissions for communication using bots and APIs added to the platform, Raskin explains. “You don’t have to let people talk externally if you don’t want them to – you could decide you only want them to communicate internally on it,” he says. “You can entitle people to send attachments or not, and to join a chat room or not.”

The platform is purposefully limited so that users cannot talk to more than one other firm at a time, in keeping with regulatory mandates. “Different functions that aren’t allowed to communicate with each other are restricted from doing so,” says Raskin. “Everything gets archived — every communication — so if there is ever any legal dispute, a regulator could check the logs to see who said what and when.”

The potential of Symphony is still being explored, as Raskin describes. “I see a lot of internal use cases for Symphony, not least of which is having operations people talking to your front office about trade breaks and the like,” he says. “You can actually build in some operational models and give it trade-break reporting — all of that can flow right to the platform. It removes the shackles and allows people to do a much better job.”

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