Innovation

OpenFin’s Plans To Bridge The Financial Services Desktop App Gap

Building and deploying new apps for the financial desktops that keep Wall Street humming can be friction-filled endeavors. Traders and analysts juggle tasks across several platforms, and interoperability is elusive. Fresh off a new funding round, OpenFin CEO Mazy Dar tells Karen Webster why his firm is building the operating system for finance firms.

Technology makes everything faster. Apps make everything smoother and easy to use. They’re also searchable in smartphone app stores, and accessible with the simple click of a download button.

Yet, the app mindset and functionality remains a pipe dream on the PC desktop, and on the financial desktop in particular — those used by banks, institutional investors and a slew of companies that keep Wall Street humming.

Interoperability is a pipe dream, too. The trader who gets their research from a Bloomberg terminal, enters a trade, eyes portfolio risk analysis, and looks at the day’s losses and gains may be doing so across several screens, and several programs. All of this takes a lot of resources — financial sources, computing power, and, of course, human capital to keep it all running and reliable.

It’s been that way for decades. Traders and analysts have learned to deal with the friction of toggling back and forth between open screens to access the information they need to manage their portfolios.

It is a pain point all too familiar to OpenFin CEO Mazy Dar and COO Chuck Doerr, who spent years behind those terminals as analysts and traders on Wall Street. Dar told Karen Webster that OpenFin was founded in 2010 to become the operating system (OS) that powers the development and interoperability of apps on the desktop in much the same way it’s done for consumer-facing applications on the smartphone.

OpenFin recently raised $17 million in a Series C round, led by Wells Fargo, which included Barclays and a number of existing investors, such as Bain Capital Ventures, JPMorgan and others. Cumulative funding to date is $40 million. Dar said the aim is to streamline the information and transactional flows for those who ply their trade in the capital markets, and perhaps even B2B payment flows down the road.

Those endeavors are especially important in an environment where time is money. An investment firm’s trader may juggle a variety of tasks across many platforms: one to execute trades, another for research and another still for portfolio analytics. The information and access is siloed, and anything but cross-functional, making the flow of information less than efficient.

Easing the heavy lifting of technology tied to financial services has a positive ripple effect. The standard practice has been for institutional investment firms and banks to make huge investments (monetarily, and in terms of time) to do things that may, ultimately, be less than optimal.

OpenFin, Dar noted, offers an open-sourced licensing model that allows financial services firms to build new applications, but integrate them with legacy applications. “You can gradually migrate, and accelerate the migration. toward modern technologies,” he said.

Gaining Critical Mass

To date, OpenFin’s OS software runs more than 1,000 applications at more than 1,500 banks and buy-side firms (including dozens of major banks). All told, the company said this month, the OS runs on 200,000 desktops in more than 60 countries, operating as a complement to the ubiquitous Bloomberg terminals that can be found in the offices of thousands of financial firms.

Dar noted that getting critical mass from financial services firms comes as OpenFin embraced the software standard known as HTML5 early on. As banks began to look at overhauling desktop technology, with a focus on operating systems, “we were pretty much the only game in town,” Dar said, adding that the only other alternative was to try to build something themselves.

Though financial service applications have not traditionally communicated with one another, the advent of the Apple Store roughly a decade ago stirred some desires for cross-functionality.

“At the time, you could see that people in the banks were walking around with iPhones and saying, ‘Look, I want my desktop to work like that,’” he said.

The security updates, the instant deployments of new functions and the ability for phones to, of course, talk to one another had — up until now — been missing in the financial realm.

Dar told Webster that the OS can extend to other corporate desktop pain points defined by siloed information stores and flows, including accounts payables and receivables. He noted, too, that the apps on OpenFin are able to be deployed with speed, and are more secure than what would be developed at banks, where, with internal efforts, “even sophisticated developers can inadvertently make a mistake that could be catastrophic for the bank.”

He added that the apps through OpenFin do not access local operating systems, so internal data and files are not at risk. “We are not relying on or trusting the developer to make sure that that is the case,” he explained.

The end result is an improvement in existing processes, with the new wrinkle of interoperability, which improves user adoption. “That is a big part of how you drive user adoption,” he said. “If you talk to the end users, the traders and other salespeople, that’s what they want. They want the best available tools in order to do their jobs, and they want all of these tools to work together.”

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