Adam Toms is CEO of OpenFin Europe and serves as a Non-Executive Director on the board of RSRCHXchange. Prior to OpenFin, Adam served as CEO of Instinet Europe. Hedge Funds Club’s Stefan Nilsson checked in with Adam for a chat about improving productivity in the financial world, the changing nature of work and how his background in finance has helped in his current role at OpenFin.
Improving productivity is increasingly important for firms in the financial world, not least in recent times with a sudden and unexpected remote workforce revolution. As the global pandemic hit in 2020, how did you and your colleagues at OpenFin move to assist your clients and prospects to deal with the sudden changes in circumstances?
OpenFin has been focused on helping financial institutions increase productivity from day one. Our first product, OpenFin Container, improves developer productivity by eliminating the need for costly in-house development of a web container. Our latest product, OpenFin Workspace, which we released this year, improves end-user productivity by unifying the desktop experience and streamlining workflows. One of the reasons for the accelerated pace of adoption has definitely been the pandemic. As the global pandemic hit last year, we heard from customers that on average they had half as many monitors in their home environments, which made our screen management capabilities all the more important. Many of our customers were also occasionally going to the office and switching between home and office setups, which is another area that our Workspace product solves by allowing end-users to work from anywhere. In addition, Workspace’s Notification Center was designed from the start to help teams streamline and manage activities using a single interface. With teams being so distributed, it’s imperative that communication and collaboration are supported to fill the gap that geographic distribution has forced upon teams. Notification Center is one of the Workspace components that clients are most excited about – and have rapidly adopted – because it centralises activity management as well as supports collaboration with minimal code required. We also added integrations to some of the best and most popular chat integrations including Symphony, Slack and Teams to support collaboration and communication. When you pair these two elements of Workspace – Notifications and integrations – it makes for an incredibly useful solution for our clients.
Why is Workspace relevant right now?
Workspace is relevant today because it gives firms in the financial industry the ability to solve three issues that are becoming increasingly prevalent today: First, the nature of work is changing. Employees are no longer tethered to desks, devices or zip codes. This shift in how and where we work demands new systems that are secure, flexible and easy to use. Second, focused work is under assault – especially in the financial industry, where end-users contend with friction caused by a growing tech stack. According to some estimates, the average end-user actively uses 36 applications to do their work throughout a day. More often than not, these applications do not “talk” to one another, i.e. data does not flow between them. The multitude of applications, screens and windows and the lack of data flow all disrupt the flow of work, forcing users to multi-task with some estimates putting the number of times an end-user switches applications at 1,100 or more! This constant context switching, coupled with persistent distractions like alerts and notifications, all leads to fragmented work and repetitive tasks that only serve to degrade the employee experience and reduce productivity. And this leads to the third and final reason: Expectations of technology are evolving. Today, 50% of the workforce has grown up connected, collaborative and mobile. These end-users are accustomed to and expect technology at work to work just like it does on their smartphones, tablets and laptops and that’s probably why 95% of employees believe finding information at work should be as easy as Googling it, and why 88% of employees say technology is an important part of the employee experience.
How does Workspace fit into OpenFin’s broader vision?
Workspace represents an important new phase for OpenFin. Historically, the OpenFin OS has been invisible, providing the underlying framework that enables web apps to run as first-class citizens on the desktop. The reality is that most of the end-users at the 2,400 buy-side and sell-side firms using OpenFin don’t realise that we power apps on their desktop! Now, with Workspace, we are starting to become more visible with visual components that also deliver powerful workflow automation designed to support and enhance end-users’ day-to-day work experience. Key components of the interface include a digital assistant for app and workspace discovery with integrated search, a browser built for work to power productivity, a rich notification center and a customisable content store. The new offering provides a turnkey solution, eliminating the need for costly development and standardising the workspace across the industry, which has always been what OpenFin is all about. In addition to solving all the aforementioned issues, Workspace gives customers the ability to tap into a rich ecosystem of resources and applications powered by a thriving community of partners without having to do all the technical heavy lifting themselves, which is really a new level of our central mission to create a truly open system for the financial services industry.
OpenFin is often talked about as an industry solution. What does that mean?
When we set out on our mission, we set out to solve more than a technology issue – we wanted to solve a problem for the entire industry, namely creation and deployment of engaging modern web apps that could deliver a powerful user experience with application interoperability which in turn would enable an open and collaborative ecosystem. The initial response and rapid adoption by large, global banks – the top 23 of 25 of whom use OpenFin today – most certainly validates the idea that we are an industry solution. Indeed, here in Asia ten of the largest players HQ’d in the region have adopted OpenFin for their digital workspace and interoperability strategy. Industry backing is also evidenced by our strategic investors who include Barclays, CME Group, HSBC, J.P. Morgan, Standard Chartered and Wells Fargo. The last point I’ll mention is that in addition to our customers and investors, our ecosystem has exploded with more than 3,500 applications running on OpenFin, clear evidence that there is not only interest but deepening engagement from all quarters of the industry.
Prior to joining OpenFin in 2017, you worked at Instinet, Nomura, Lehman Brothers and Barclays. How helpful has your background as a senior leader in capital markets at securities firms helped you better understand client needs in your current role?
Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with a lot of first-to-market initiatives and innovation at the cutting edge of technological developments in the capital markets space ranging from the launch of the first ETF in Europe for the iShares brand, through to the launch of the first bank MTF in Europe. Each of these launches fundamentally changed how these markets worked and within electronic trading specifically, we were always pushing boundaries from new algorithms to analytics. As part of my involvement with launch and innovation strategy, I had to think about driving end-user adoption, and this hands-on experience along with my deep understanding of front-to-back processes has allowed me to bring a client-centric mindset to the table at OpenFin where we are changing the way the industry works – a mission that relies on end-user adoption cultured by an intimate understanding of the internal workings and dynamics within the capital markets division of securities firms. This allows me and the rest of the team at OpenFin who also have a large amount of capital markets experience to help clients successfully execute their digital transformation strategies.
What made you decide to move from the brokerage business to join a fintech firm?
I enjoyed a 20+ year career in banking with many great experiences including achieving record market share and profitability as the leader at my last company. I felt compelled to share my experience and expertise to help early-stage and high growth companies in the fintech space. I’d been an active investor and advisor to early-stage companies for some time and when the OpenFin role came up I felt like it was the perfect opportunity for me to bring relevant experience to a dynamic firm with great founders who had a very compelling vision for changing the way we work in the industry. Three and a half years on and I can say I not only made the right decision but also, we as a company feel honoured and proud that the industry has placed their trust in us to deliver on this important transformation agenda.
OpenFin is the operating system for enterprise productivity, enabling app distribution, workspace management and workflow automation. Used by 90% of global financial institutions, OpenFin deploys more than 3,500 desktop applications to more than 2,400 buy-side and sell-side firms. OpenFin investors include Bain Capital Ventures, Barclays, CME Ventures, DRW Venture Capital, HSBC, J.P. Morgan, NYCA Partners, Pivot Investment Partners, Standard Chartered and Wells Fargo Strategic Capital among others. The company is based in New York with offices in London and a presence in Hong Kong. To learn more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org