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The unicorn that could help slay Bloomberg

Is Symphony a potential Bloomberg killer? The Baron asked that question when the editor interviewed the founder of the Silicon Valley start-up a year and a half ago [Symphony: movement in a major key].

How far its cloud-based messaging platform manages to dislodge Bloomberg from its dominant position as the financial world’s favourite chat system has yet to play out.

What’s certain is that its strategic alliance with Thomson Reuters, announced on Tuesday, is a big deal and possibly a game changer.

Its founder David Gurlé, a French communications entrepreneur, spent six years at Reuters, so speculation about a link between the two firms was only natural.

The collaboration could help claw back some of the market share lost to Bloomberg since the Thomson organisation acquired Reuters in 2008.

Symphony is backed by some of Wall Street’s biggest players including the world's largest asset manager, BlackRock, and investment bank Goldman Sachs, as well as Google, which operates the ubiquitous search engine and much more.

Last month it raised fresh funding that promoted it to the ranks of privately-held start-ups worth more than $1 billion, known in finance industry parlance as unicorns.

Banks have been under pressure to slash financial information costs, much of which goes on pricey Bloomberg terminals - 325,000 of them exchanging 400 million messages and 17 million chats a day. Financial data, news and other functions are included in the cost - about $22,000 per machine.

Symphony’s solution is cheaper and, for some users, better, whether it’s for exchanging chatter about trades or industry gossip.

Eighteen months ago, Gurlé, Symphony’s chief executive, was adamant that his system is not a potential Bloomberg killer, though he conceded it could be seen as a threat if the Bloomberg terminal was used exclusively for messaging.

Yesterday, he described the agreement with Thomson Reuters as his network’s missing piece. 

Debra Walton, Thomson Reuters’ global managing director of customer propositions, called it a potential game changer. She said it reflects the company’s desire to break down barriers to communication for their clients, many of whom already use Symphony.

"Thomson Reuters' messaging service is well utilised," Walton said. "However, we are not in the business of providing messaging for messaging's sake. We provide holistic workflow solutions for customers, and if their choice is to use Symphony to communicate we want them to have that choice."

The deal means that, from later this year, the 200,000 licenced users in 170 banks and fund managers in Symphony’s network will be able to share charts, news and data found on Thomson Reuters’ flagship Eikon terminals, if they are also Thomson Reuters users.

David Craig, head of Thomson Reuters’ financial and risk division that runs Eikon, took to Twitter to hail the deal.

He was not the only one celebrating. Tom Glocer was chief executive of Reuters when he hired Gurlé from Microsoft in 2003 to build Reuters Messaging, which became Thomson Reuters Eikon Messenger. Glocer left Thomson Reuters in 2011, since when he has assembled a portfolio of investments in promising start-ups. Following an investment in the venture, h​e joined Symphony’s advisory board and after the deal was announced pronounced himself “Delighted that two Fintech leaders close to my heart have joined forces to deliver open and secure messaging and collaboration.”

He told The Baron: “I think this alliance, long in the making, is really good for both companies as it is the surest path to undo what has always been an element of customer lock-in for Bloomberg. In this era of open standards and a plethora of communications services such as Slack, IM, etc, it has long seemed to me that Bloomberg Messaging represented a throw-back to a time of proprietary closed messaging services.” ■