Brad Levy

Symphony Communications’ CEO Brad Levy on the importance of placing humans at the heart of digital strategies.

“There are seven billion people in the world.” This is how Brad Levy, CEO of Symphony Communications, starts answering a question about the audience for the financial messaging and collaboration platform.

Of course, he quickly adds, Symphony is not aiming its platform at billions of users like the large enterprise technology players such as Microsoft or Salesforce. “We’re not going after the world — we’re going after the financial world,” he explains. “We would argue that that world has about 30 million users globally.”

Even 30 million is an ambitious goal for the newly instated CEO of a seven-year-old company, whose origins stem from a consortium of Wall Street banks who were supposedly annoyed by privacy issues around the Bloomberg Terminal. 

Career history: Brad Levy 

  • 2021 Symphony Communications, CEO
  • 2018 Fintech Open Source Foundation, chairman emeritus
  • 2013 IHS Markit, partner
  • 2006 Goldman Sachs, managing director

Mr Levy has had a long career in investment banking and technology companies that service the financial services world. Those include spending almost 18 years at Goldman Sachs, eight years at market data provider IHS Markit, and serving as chairman of the Fintech Open Source Foundation. After joining Symphony last year as president and chief commercial officer, Mr Levy transitioned to CEO, taking over from founder David Gurlé in June of this year.

“It was a very tightly managed transition. I joined the company in a specific role a little more than a year ago — [and] there was no preordained timing of anything,” he says. The change in CEOs is related to the change in focus from an enterprise technology solution to a market-facing technology company. Mr Levy’s career background made him the “logical person to sit in the seat”, he adds.

Symphony currently serves around 1000 institutions, making up around half a million users on its platform. The goal for the next two years is to scale to five million users. “That’s 10 times in the next two years — that’s quite a bit ... that may be a little bit of a stretch, but I don’t think it’s out of bounds,” he adds.

As for the 30 million ‘financial world’ goal: “If you rope in corporations that have heavy-duty financial plays … then you walk back to all of the different asset classes, all the front-, middle- and back-office folks looking at the retail and wealth space, and professional traders all the way up to the large institutional markets, I don’t have a hard time getting to about 10 million, if not 30 million people,” says Mr Levy.  

To fuel the 10-times growth strategy at Symphony, Mr Levy will focus on acquisition. Recently, the company acquired counterparty mapping platform StreetLinx and trader voice and electronic communication company Cloud9 Technologies. The goal is to acquire around 10 companies in the next 24 months — all technology players with a focus on financial services. 

Mr Levy’s foot is firmly planted in the business of financial services. That means understanding which actions happen in the analogue world — such as a trader picking up a telephone to complete a block deal — and which can be scaled in the digital world. 

I don’t have a hard time getting to about 10 million, if not 30 million people

Brad Levy, Symphony Communications

“People talk like analogue is negative,” he says. “[Instead I look at] human behaviours and making them more scalable and blending that with tech, and even putting the person in the middle of the technology, versus making the market more efficient by knocking bodies out of the industry.”

An interesting example is the way many view the differences between voice and electronic trading. “The interesting thing I’ve uncovered is when people say ‘voice’, they actually don’t mean voice — they generally mean chat,” he says. “So, to me, there’s this idea of voice, video and chat as different ways of communicating — one-to-one, many-to-many, one-to-many or many-to-one — and those are all digital capabilities.” However, he adds, humans do need to be available for certain scenarios, such as volatile market environments. 

Coming back to the human is a common theme when speaking with Mr Levy, even when talking about a range of issues from ‘the metaverse’ to his secret desire to take on the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow in the wellness arena.

“Back in the late 90s, [Goldman Sachs] had a charter called human capital management. The idea was that people are our greatest asset,” he says. “And it does that in a way that not only invests in the individuals, but the collections of individuals and how they work together.”

He warns that the next five to 10 years will usher in a new world of digital through the evolution of technologies such as quantum computing. “But you shouldn’t have to live in electronic and analogue as separate worlds; you should be able to move between them more seamlessly.”


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