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Exclusive Interview with CEO David Gurle: $1B Messaging App Symphony Partners with WeChat

Cloud-based messaging startup Symphony announced a partnership with Internet giant Tencent to integrate their services with WeChat, a massively popular messaging application in China.

The California-based startup is aimed to serve professionals in the banking and investment industry, and is positioning itself to be a cheaper means of communication and information sharing than alternatives like Bloomberg’s terminals. It also seeks to address regulatory issues behind companies’ usage of such messaging applications to conduct business.

The partnership with WeChat, announced at the Hong Kong FinTech Week event, aims to connect Symphony’s 450,000 global users with WeChat’s 1 billion daily active users.

“The [WeChat] ecosystem is without a doubt the primary way of communicating for many of our clients in China and beyond, but until now it was difficult to reconcile the ease of use with our industry’s stringent compliance requirements,” says Chris Bezuidenhout, Chief Information Officer for Investment and Corporate Bank, Deutsche Bank Asia Pacific in a statement released by the two companies.

Earlier this year, Symphony was valued at over USD$1 billion after multiple rounds of investment.

However, it remains to be seen how the collaboration will be influenced by the ongoing trade friction between China and the US amid increasing scrutiny of Chinese companies’ global dealings. Recently, Tencent has been under the spotlight for its relationship with the National Basketball Association following comments made by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey in support of Hong Kong protests.

Full Transcript

Sam Reynolds: Hey, guys, we are back at Hong Kong FinTech Week, and I’m joined now by David and Queenie from Symphony. They had a really exciting announcement today at the show. But first of all, let’s talk about what is Symphony and why is it required?

David Gurle: It’s a pleasure to be here today. Symphony is a secure and compliant calibration platform designed for global markets. And it helps markets connect inside and outside their organization so they can effectively accelerate their business processes. At the foundation of Symphony, there is a world of trust like blockchain delivers trust when it comes to business transactions, we do the same thing for communication exchanges, so Symphony facilitates the community to exchange information to conduct business interactions and transactions in this trusted way. Thanks to its secure and encrypted technology like blockchain is.

Sam Reynolds: Well, that’s great, thank you. So, trust. So if I have telegram or WhatsApp or a WeChat, and I know you or your colleagues and trust you, why can’t I use those programs to talk to you about business?

David Gurle: Well, you know, people do use those programs, to talk about business, but unfortunately, the authenticity of the information, the verification of your identity is not possible through those platforms. And so unless we have a face to face interaction to begin with and then we tie our identity, to this face to face interaction, it is very hard to know that after we no longer see each other, you are still the same person I am talking to. And so companies, as they go and take huge risks and liabilities when it comes to their business interactions, have to guarantee that they can trust each other. That’s the foundation of any business transaction, as you know. And those platforms do not cater to such solutions, whereas Symphonie does.

Sam Reynolds: Yeah, for instance, you know, a big growing fraud category right now is wire fraud, where I think I’m talking to you and you say wire me a million dollars. Here’s my account number. But it’s not you. It’s some crook. Right. So I definitely think a huge market for a trusted platform.

David Gurle: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, believe it or not. About six months ago, my CFO received an email from me asking for him to wire money for a given account. And the first thing he did is sent me that message via Symphony. He says, is this really you? Because you’ve never asked for something like that. And clearly there are exploits. There are threats that facilitates, you know, criminals to take advantage of the email system that we use every day to do such criminal acts. And a solution like Symphony, where the identity is authenticated and verified, definitely erases that kind of interactions and therefore it’s safer and there is much, much, much less risk. And you can trust. And then you can execute. But you know what to execute on.

Sam Reynolds: Great. So today at Hong Kong FinTech Week, you now enjoy your partnership with Tencent and WeChat. Can you go into that agreement, first of all, and how that works technically?

David Gurle: To talk about that, it’s my pleasure to introduce my colleague Ms. Queenie Chan, and Queenie Chan is the executive sponsor of this partnership and relationship, and she’s going to be able to describe what we’ve been doing in this partnership with Tencent and also with some of our joint open partners.

Queenie Chan: Thank you. Yes, today we’re very delighted to represent the company to announce our partnership with Tencent. And this is an unprecedented partnership that we are connecting our over 400 companies of customers as well as four hundred sixty thousand users from the global financial services to the different domain, which is a large captive of Chinese users through WeChat. And the way we do it is that we are connecting the users in both domains in a very compliant and governed channel so that all the users, without being compromised on a convenience, and also the usage habit, they are able to connect with each other in a very secure and compliant manner. And we’ve started this project about 12 months ago and we worked on a few product development process together with our joint development partners, including Deutschebank, Citibank, BNP Paribas, as well as Goldman Sachs. And it has been a very pleasant journey working with these partners as well as Tencent management and a team to bring it to fruition. So we’re very happy to launch it today at the Hong conference that we believe it is a very relevant location for us to announce this great news and we look forward to have more development together with all our partners mentioned.

Sam Reynolds: That’s great. So we’re here at Hong Kong FinTech Week, what are the big trends you’re seeing on the show floor?

David Gurle: Innovation, innovation, innovation. I mean, you just walk around and you look at the dynamism that enthusiasm that exists. And, you know, every year you think it is the end of the you know, the growth. And every year it’s bigger and bigger. And so I just look at what happened here in Hong Kong three years ago, about 300 people. And today I think it’s over eight thousand people. And the same thing happening obviously in other countries. And the world that we are in is in massive transformation. And the transformation is enabled by technology. And fintech is a perfect kind of venue for that, because on the one hand, you have all the economic ground through which our life is governed, and on the other hand you have the technology that enables us to take advantage of those tools, those services at a much lower cost with far more convenience than we ever had before. Today you pretty much can [have just] virtual banks. like I mean, when I grew up there was like I had to go to the teller and queue and sign a form and write a check. Yeah, I don’t even know how to write checks anymore. And so so life is evolving really to the advantage of the consumer, and there is clearly a definition of cost as well. While we are getting better services. So I see that scene here happening in front of our eyes and I’m excited about the future.

Sam Reynolds: Well, great. Well, thanks for your time. Thank you.