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商业 - 金融

高盛等金融巨头扶植新创公司对抗彭博终端

Robert Hackett 2015年05月14日

长期以来,彭博终端就是“金融”的代名词,然而,一家新创企业或将改变企业的通讯方式。

    
一名金融交易员监控着电脑屏幕上的数据。

    自上世纪90年代初以来,彭博一直主宰着金融通讯市场,其终端成为接入世界金融走廊的主要入口。每台彭博终端的年费为2万多美元,在安全的即时通讯领域,彭博终端就是行业标杆,超过32万客户通过它获取关键信息。

    但是,金融机构受够了这套系统高得离谱的价格,而且去年爆出彭博记者窥探终端用户行为的消息后,许多交易员至今心有余悸。(彭博对此发表了道歉声明,并更新了其编辑部守则,以竭力防止此类事件再次发生。)

    因此,2014年8月,高盛、美国银行、贝莱德、摩根大通等全球最大的14家金融机构集体投资Symphony Communication Services Holdings公司,收购名为Perzo的安全即时通讯服务,也就不足为奇。上述企业希望用价格更低廉但安全性同样有保障的技术取代无处不在的彭博终端。

    在彭博“窥探门”事件中抱怨颇多的高盛,豪掷6600万美元,成为Symphony公司的主要投资者。Perzo(随后改名为Symphony)于2012年由法国人大卫•格勒(格勒出生于法国戛纳,此前曾就职于微软、汤森路透以及Skype等公司)创建,可能很快推出替代彭博高价通讯工具的专有产品。Perzo的优势之一在于,该产品使企业能控制其员工如何通讯、与谁通讯,对于那些希望遵守监管制度的企业而言,这一功能极具吸引力。(彭博拒绝对此发表评论。)

    格勒本身是个很有意思的人。他不仅曾在好几家大公司就职,还持有飞行许可证,偶尔执行医疗飞行任务,将移植器官和紧急病患开飞机送到医院。2000年与比尔•盖茨会面时,格勒力推统一通信服务的创意,即将通讯、语音和应用程序共享融合在一起。这次会面很顺利。格勒表示:“在产品评论会中,比尔经常会说‘这是我听过的最愚蠢的想法’,他没对我说这句话,所以结果算是很好了。”

    Symphony可视为上述创意的浴火重生。当时,微软该项目被命名为“凤凰计划”,后演变为微软Lync企业通信系统。2003年,格勒离开微软,加入汤森路透领导其协作服务团队,这是他首次进入金融领域。七年后,格勒加入Skype,领导该公司企业业务部门。一年后,格勒的前雇主微软收购了Skype,就这样,格勒兜兜转转又回到了微软旗下。(微软最近宣布,微软Lync明年将改名为商用版Skype)现在,格勒再度转身,重返华尔街。

    风险投资公司Merus Capital合伙人萨尔曼•乌拉20年前曾与格勒在微软Lync项目上共事,后来成为Perzo最早期的资助者之一。乌拉相信,该服务“有望成为企业级市场的WhatsApp”。去年,乌拉所在的Merus Capital公司在种子期向Symphony投资了20万美元。今年早些时候,Merus Capital加码,又注入了350万美元投资。

    乌拉表示:“人人都猜测Symphony可能成为彭博终结者,但我们之前甚至都不知道彭博终端是什么。我们之前严重与世界脱节。”现在,乌拉比较熟悉彭博终端了。他这样描述自己第一次看到彭博终端界面时的震惊:“我简直不敢相信,我还以为他们是跟我开玩笑。”乌拉将其比作使用上世纪50年代的过时编程语言Cobal进行编程。他说道:“这像是老掉牙的东西。”确实,自20世纪80年代以来,彭博系统的硬件或软件界面鲜有更新,这招致了一些批评,甚至促使设计公司IDEO于2007年在Condé Nast Portfolio杂志上畅想了如何重新设计彭博系统的用户体验。

    就格勒而言,他的志向不光是打败彭博。格勒计划在今年夏天发布完整版本,他希望自己这款一体化完全兼容的端对端加密通讯工具能横扫目前支离破碎的加密通讯市场,取代市场上现有的彭博聊天工具、汤森路透Eikon、美国在线Instant Messenger、雅虎聊天工具、Gchat等多款产品。格勒希望,其产品在消费者中同在企业级市场上一样大受欢迎。

    与封闭的彭博系统不同的是,作为Symphony首席执行官,格勒计划将该服务开源,以便人们在此基础上构建内容和新闻内容等功能。格勒还打算在Symphony中嵌入自动化个人助理等有用的情境智能。格勒表示,该服务可能对三个等级的付费用户免费,他提到了访问公司通讯簿、无限存储、合规以及网络冗余等附加软件。就付款等级定价而言,格勒预计:专业级定价低于每月10美元;企业级介于每月15美元至20美元之间;企业增强级低于每月30美元。

    格勒声称:“我说句大胆的话。如果我们最终迫使你使用两种不同的通讯工具——姑且称之为收件箱——那是我们的失败。因为那样的话,我们未能简化你的生活,反而使其变得更加复杂。”

    虽然上述说法还有待证实,但各大企业已经对Symphony颇有信心。时任高盛首要战略投资部门负责人的达伦•科恩曾帮助促成合并,并一直推动各家企业投资Symphony。如今,高盛在一众企业中率先采用Symphony,并已将自身此前的通讯工具Live Current(该产品使雇员能轻松抓取并分享推特消息,而推特上往往有新闻)并入Symphony。尽管科恩未能对本文置评,但很可能他及其上级对该交易很满意;科恩随后晋级为合伙人。更重要的问题是,Symphony能否顺利晋级——从一家雄心勃勃的初创企业变身金融业新标杆。(财富中文网)

    译者:Hunter

    审校: 夏林

    Since the early ‘90s, Bloomberg has dominated the financial communications market, its terminals serving as key entry points into the world’s financial corridors. Costing more than $20,000 a piece per year and connecting more than 320,000 clients with critical information, Bloomberg’s terminals are the industry standard when it comes to secure, instant messaging.

    Still, financial firms are tired of the terminal’s exorbitant price tag, and many traders are still wary after Bloomberg reporters were caught snooping the activity of terminal users last year. (Bloomberg issued an apology and updated its newsroom rules in an effort to prevent such an incident from reoccurring.)

    It’s not surprising, then, why 14 of the world’s biggest financial firms—including Goldman Sachs , Bank of America , BlackRock, J.P Morgan Chase , and others—bought a secure instant messaging service called Perzo in August 2014 through a venture called Symphony Communication Services Holdings. They want a cheaper, yet equally secure, technology to replace Bloomberg’s ubiquitous terminals.

    Goldman Sachs, one of the most vocal gripers in the Bloomberg affair, shelled out $66 million to became the principal investor in Symphony. Founded in 2012 by Frenchman David Gurle (who hails from Cannes and previously worked at Microsoft, Thomson Reuters, and Skype), Perzo—since renamed Symphony—may soon offer a proprietary alternative to Bloomberg’s premium messaging tool. One advantage: the product grants enterprises control over how and with whom their employees chat, an appealing feature for those looking to comply with regulatory Chinese walls. (Bloomberg declined to comment.)

    Gurle is an interesting figure himself. Not only does he have a background at several big-name companies, he’s also a licensed pilot who occasionally flies medical missions to transport organs and patients from airfield to hospital. He initially pitched the idea for a unified communications service—one that bundles messaging, voice and application sharing—at a meeting with Bill Gates in 2000. It went well. “If you’re in a product review with Bill, you’ll hear him say, ‘This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,’” Gurle says. “I didn’t hear that comment, so it was a very positive outcome.”

    Symphony can be considered a rebirth of that initial pitch. “Project Phoenix,” as the Microsoft endeavor was dubbed, evolved into Microsoft Lync, a business communications system. After leaving the software giant in 2003 to lead collaborative services at Thomson Reuters for seven years—Gurle’s first foray into the financial world—he joined Skype, where he headed the company’s enterprise business division. A year later, Gurle’s former employer Microsoft purchased Skype, bringing his career full circle. (The company recently announced that Microsoft Lync will be renamed Skype for Business next year.) Now Gurle has turned another revolution, returning to Wall Street.

    Salman Ullah, a partner at the venture firm Merus Capital who two decades ago worked with Gurle on Microsoft Lync and later became one of Perzo’s earliest funders, believes the service “has the potential to be the WhatsApp for business,” as he put it. Last year, his firm invested $200,000 in Symphony’s seed round. Earlier this year, the firm upped its contribution, injecting an additional $3.5 million.

    “Everybody has speculated about how Symphony could be a Bloomberg killer,” Ullah says. “We didn’t even know what it was. We were so decoupled from that world.” Now Ullah is more familiar. He describes his shock at first seeing the interface of the Bloomberg terminal: “I couldn’t believe it. I thought they were pulling my leg,” Ullah says. He compares the experience to coding in the démodé programming language Cobal from the ‘50s. “It’s like clay tablet era,” he says. Indeed, the Bloomberg system has seen few updates to its hardware or software interfaces since in the 1980s, a fact that’s illicit some criticism and even prompted user-interface IDEO to imagine a possible UX redesign for Condé Nast Portfolio magazine in 2007.

    For Gurle’s part, his ambition exceeds unseating Bloomberg. With plans for a full release by this summer, he would like his end-to-end encrypted messaging tool to sweep the currently fragmented landscape (cluttered with Bloomberg chat, Thomson Reuters Eikon, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo chat, Gchat, etc.) with an all-in-one, fully compliant alternative. He hopes it will be just as popular with consumers as businesses.

    As CEO of Symphony, Gurle plans to make the service open source, so people can build features, like content and news elements, on top, unlike the closed Bloomberg system. He also aims to embed helpful contextual intelligence in Symphony, such as an automated personal assistant. The service will likely be free with three paid tiers, he says, mentioning add-ons like access to corporate directories, unlimited storage, regulatory compliance, and network redundancies. In terms of the paid tier pricing, he expects: Professional (less than $10 per month), Enterprise (between $15 and $20 per month), and Enterprise Plus (less than $30 per month).

    “I’m going to make a very bold statement,” Gurle declares. “If we end up forcing you to use two different communication tools—inboxes, let’s call it, for lack of a better term—then we have failed,” he says. “Then we will not have simplified your life, we will have made it more complicated.”

    While that statement has yet to be proven, major enterprises are already putting a lot of faith in Symphony. Darren Cohen, then head of principal strategic investments at Goldman Sachs and who helped spark the merger tête-à-têtes, has been a firebrand within the consortium of investing companies. Goldman Sachs now leads the pack in adopting Symphony, and the company has already folded its former tool—Live Current, which allows employees to easily grab and share tweets (where news often breaks)—into Symphony. Though Cohen was unable to provide comment for the story, odds are good that he and his superiors are pleased with the deal; he has since been promoted to partner. The bigger question is whether Symphony will see a promotion of its own from ambitious startup to the new gold standard of the financial industry.

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