Financial IT interview with Mazy Dar, the CEO of OpenFin.
Financial IT: Could you please tell us more about OpenFin and your background?
Mazy Dar: OpenFin is the desktop operating system (OS) bringing application interoperability and levels of innovation we commonly experience on our mobile devices, onto financial desktops.
We often take it for granted that the applications on our smartphones connect with each other allowing, for example, my calendar app to automatically launch my maps app and take me to the address I tapped on. In comparison, the trader’s desktop is a lot more fragmented and archaic. OpenFin enables this same type of interoperability on financial desktops, allowing applications to talk to each other and standardising the operating environment for hundreds of industry applications used across multiple asset classes, from the front through to the back office.
Banks, brokers, asset managers and hedge funds are now using OpenFin to build their own unique desktop environment. With OpenFin, firms can select the best applications necessary for each end user’s workflow such as trading applications, market data, research and charting tools. Even though these applications have been created by different specialist companies, because they have been built on the OpenFin platform, they can seamlessly interoperate and share information.
Essentially we are unbundling the desktop, allowing traders, portfolio managers and other end users to interact with the market in the way they prefer.
In terms of my background, I have been working in the capital markets for the past 21 years - 10 of which were spent at Creditex focused on the electronic trading of credit default swaps. At Creditex, we were deploying our front-end trading screen onto trading desks and over time, my co-founder Chuck Doerr and I became acutely aware of the huge pain points firms experience when deploying applications to end users at banks and hedge funds.
End users often want the very latest applications. They want a native, interactive desktop experience so they can access information in real-time and do things in just a few clicks, but the tough security environment means that they can’t install software themselves. An issue compounded by the often antiquated methods used to deploy software, which at some firms haven’t really changed in the past 20 years. In fact, a recent report by Greenwich Associates estimated that as an industry slow and inefficient software deployment processes are now costing financial services firms roughly $1.5 billion dollars annually.
Chuck Doerr and I co-founded OpenFin to help solve these problems - to enable firms to access the applications they need quickly, easily and securely, without excessive deployment costs.
Financial IT: What is unique about OpenFin and how it stands out among its competitors?
Mazy: OpenFin is the first common desktop operating system (OS) designed specifically to meet the security and performance requirements of the financial services industry.
The OpenFin platform is completely neutral and agnostic. We allow all users equal access to the platform and don’t offer any products or services that would compete with the applications available to users. Building on the OpenFin OS enables firms to integrate both old and new applications, and those built in-house with applications designed by third-party providers. Even Excel from a trader’s desktop can be interconnected and integrated.
We’ve created an ecosystem that brings together and allows connectivity between the applications offered by different banks, buy-side firms and third-party platforms. Take for example the fixed income front office environment - sales, traders and researchers are often using many independent applications, operating in independent ecosystems and workflows. OpenFin has enabled these applications to interconnect, bringing them together in a single, unified, workflow.
Financial IT: From your point of view, what trends are arising in the FinTech industry and how does OpenFin harness innovation to address these challenges and trends?
Mazy: There are three major trends currently arising in the FinTech industry that OpenFin is supporting through innovation - digital transformation, application interoperability and the continuous drive for increased security.
Digital transformation - Many firms are now using the OpenFin OS to launch and realise their digital strategy. OpenFin provides the foundations necessary to enable product development teams to integrate legacy technology with the latest applications in the cloud, revolutionising technology migration strategies. Firms no longer have to think about replacing their legacy infrastructure in order to innovate - OpenFin allows firms to use both legacy systems and new applications at the same time. This ensures businesses can transition resources to focus more on their strategic agenda.
Application interoperability - The financial services industry is powered by thousands of desktop applications. A combination of these in-house and vendor built applications are used by traders and portfolio managers throughout the business day. If they fail to interoperate, users are required to continuously re-key information, generating inefficiencies and creating operational risk. A trend we are now witnessing is the desire to connect up these applications, to streamline workflows and bring data out of silos so it is made available when it’s contextually relevant for decision making. This is likely to prove increasingly valuable as firms explore the potential of AI and machine learning as a means of listening to what the user is doing on their desktop and proactively inserting and connecting relevant pieces of information into their workflow.
OpenFin is helping firms to address these needs by enabling applications built on the platform to seamlessly interoperate and share information, intent and context in a permissioned manner.
To support industry-wide innovation in this area, late last year OpenFin established the FDC3 (Financial Desktop Connectivity and Collaboration Consortium). The initiative has since attracted the participation of over 50 capital market firms, united with the common goal of creating a standard protocol for interoperability and connectivity across all financial desktop applications. To support the long-term growth and adoption of these standards, last month we announced we had contributed the initiative to the independent Fintech Open Source Foundation (FINOS), whose mission is to expand adoption of open source software and open standards in the financial services industry.
Security - The challenges and threats presented by cybersecurity issues are increasing on a daily basis. It’s an area that is attracting significant attention from industry participants and regulators alike. At OpenFin we’re obsessed with security. We’ve designed our operating system to specially meet the needs of the financial services industry so we need to be. We’re continuously working to help reduce cybersecurity risks by providing a secure environment in which applications can run in a permissioned manner. The applications that run on OpenFin are completely isolated from the other applications running on the desktop, as well as the local operating system.
Financial IT: Going forward, what is next for OpenFin?
Mazy: OpenFin is now powering more than 145,000 financial desktops globally and is being used to enable the deployment of hundreds of applications to over 500 major banks and buy-side firms. Our goal is to drive industry-wide adoption of OpenFin. We are passionate about enabling innovation and we want to make it as easy as possible for FinTech firms, banks, buy-side firms and hedge funds to build and deploy new applications quickly and efficiently, directly onto permissioned desktops.
We increasingly talk to people who are really excited by the opportunities that OpenFin offers for their digital transformation strategies and, whilst we were born on Wall Street, we believe OpenFin has the potential to help drive greater efficiencies and innovation beyond the capital markets. In particular, in adjacent areas such as wealth management, corporate banking, retail banking and insurance.
It’s been a really interesting few years for OpenFin and I’m looking forward to what comes next - we were recently described as ‘the future’ by one firm we met with and I think that’s a great place to be.