David, prior to becoming CEO of smartTrade you were the company’s Chief Technology Officer. How difficult has it been to relinquish that technical but often creative role for a more senior but much more administrative one?
It has been a seamless transition as both roles require the same core skills: vision, creativity, organisation and a “know how to build” capacity. I’m surrounded by very skilled, talented and trustworthy collaborators who are doing a great job so the change has been smooth for the company and for me. I’m convinced that being able to pass on responsibilities and to delegate is a sign of a healthy company.
As the CEO of a technology company, I’m still involved in the technology strategy but at a higher level instead of daily. Another advantage of having previously assumed the CTO role is that I know how important it is to have the technology team aligned with the sales strategy to insure clients’ satisfaction.
At a more personal level, technology is my passion and I think this will insure the company’s success, because I’m always researching the latest technology trends and trying to imagine how they could apply to our solutions and our industry. I believe that will enable us to always stay ahead.
How would you describe smartTrade’s core values and vision about the type of technology it provides?
We are servicing a small industry where reputation is key. Since the company’s inception, we have repetitively demonstrated our ability to deliver quality solutions on time with no risk for our clients. Client satisfaction is our primary concern and the company structure allows us to be flexible, attentive and reactive to client’s requests. Having local operations and offices globally is extremely important to insure a minimum response time but also to better understand local trading specificities.
Since the company’s inception our vision has been to develop a technology adaptable to any asset class and provide clients with an end-to-end solution. Today it is a real value-added proposition for our clients: as cross-asset trading is becoming more and more popular, they can be performant using just one single platform.
Can you outline the key services and solutions that smartTrade now focuses on delivering?
smartTrade Technologies provides agile end-to-end trading solutions supporting Foreign Exchange, Fixed Income, Equities and Derivatives with connectivity to over 70 liquidity providers, aggregation, smart order routing, order management, pricing, distribution, risk management capabilities and a HTML5 user interface. All the modules are constantly evolving, new features are being added on a regular basis to ensure that our solutions are meeting the market demand but also future regulations requirements.
The change is more in the manner we deliver our solutions. We have put in place a structure and a process that allows us to be quicker and more effective. Over the last few years, we have seen an increasing demand for our two turn-key solutions LiquidityFX and SmartFi as managed and hosted services allows our clients to reach a faster time to market. In this uncertain and very changeable market condition if you are not able to implement a solution rapidly, you are losing money and trading opportunities.
Can you give us an example of a new feature on functionally you have added recently?
Financial firms want to trade with total control and transparency and to do so they need trading analysis and reporting capabilities. This is why we very recently launched smartAnalytics, a new solution which allows our clients to create historical and real-time dashboards and reports in order to trade more efficiently.
Liquidity FX is your turnkey product for FX trading. What modules does it offer and why do you think the platform has now become so popular?
The LiquidityFX turnkey end-to-end solution is designed to address sell side and buy side trading needs. Clients select only the modules they require and our solution can also integrate easily with third party solutions. Our excellent track record combined with the pricing model is very appealing and this is the reason why it is so attractive. Our pricing model is different in the sense we do not get involved in your trading - most of the providers charge LPs and charge on a volume base. With smartTrade’s flat fee, you know how much you pay and can rapidly save cost on trading. Besides the quality and robustness of the platform, the other attractive point is its core is cross-asset which makes the platform totally scalable.
Who are the key members of your senior management team and what individual roles do they have?
I prefer to speak about leaders rather than key people and that is a very hard question to give a short answer to as the list is very long. We have leaders in all our offices worldwide and all departments: sales, IT, support, development, QA, HR, marketing to only name a few. But if I focus on our biggest departments, sales and technology, we have our Global Head of Sales, Annalisa Sarasini who leads the sales organization and brings a solid experience of executive sales and business development in the software industry. And on the technology side, we have Emmanuel Lorge, our CTO, who is actively leading and defining the product strategy and technological vision for smartTrade Technologies.
What types of client is the company generally working with?
We haven’t got a client type, they are very diverse ranging from banks, brokers and hedge funds to proprietary trading desks. When we started off, we used to service Tier 1 banks as the investments needed to access best of breed technology was only affordable by them. But since then, the market structure has changed drastically and technology investments are mandatory if you want to be successful as a financial institution. Some solutions we are providing, such as connectivity and aggregation, are now more commoditised and accessible to more clients. Over the last two years, we have also on-boarded more Buy Side clients, looking for more transparency and control in their trading workflow. Regulation of course is another factor that pushed a variety of players towards services like ours.
What steps have you been taking over the past year or so to expand and strengthen your global head count to better serve clients and meet their needs?
smartTrade’s teams are spread across six locations worldwide, namely: Aix-en-Provence, London, New York, Tokyo, Singapore and Tunis.
We are currently in a phase of rapid growth, be it in terms of activities, client portfolio, workforce and even geography. In order to cater to this expansion, the company has to continually adapt its HR policy. For example, the smartTrade Academy has been established whereby trainers, who are also smartTrade’s employees, have the responsibility of providing a first round of training to new employees. Newcomers are consequently better integrated within smartTrade’s work structure as they have been equipped with basic theoretical and practical skills.
Researching, building and delivering electronic trading solutions that really are future proof could be considered one of the gold standards in FinTech. How has smartTrade gone about achieving this?
The core of our products are built on a very solid technical foundation but also agile so they can evolve. Our R&D department spends time and money to make sure our products stay ahead in terms of innovation. Our engineers are top class and our turnover of staff is very low.
Being in Aix-en-Provence, the “European Silicon Valley”, is a real asset because we have access to top universities which we partner with in order to be in a better position to attract and nurture young talents.
For new joiners being able to work in a global company based in such a nice environment is also a great hiring argument.
In what ways have you been working to create an environment within smartTrade that fosters innovation which of course is the lifeblood for all leading technology providers?
Our employees are key to smartTrade’s innovation, development and competitive advantage. Therefore, we offer a range of training sessions to ensure their efficient integration and skill improvement. We consider in-house training to be a top priority as it aims to equip our workforce with the essential skills required by our business activities.
Additionally, in order to accommodate the increasing head count smartTrade moved to larger premises with more ergonomic workspaces in Aix-en-Provence and London. And because we believe practicing a sport contributes to the overall health improvement and wellbeing, we installed gyms in our facilities to promote this message and encourage our employees to adopt an active lifestyle.
Looking ahead, how will you be positioning smartTrade to capture new business opportunities across the global capital markets and, in particular, lead the way in FX?
There are still plenty of market opportunities as a lot of trading firms are looking to move away from legacy vendors. There are two main reasons for that: their pricing model and their lack of flexibility. Our pricing model is to charge a flat fee per year and, contrary to other providers, we do not charge our clients per volume, nor the liquidity providers. And as a pure technology player, we can rapidly respond to client needs when they require new features or specific functionalities for their FX platform.
For me the most important thing is to continue consolidating smartTrade’s position as the leader in the market, but also to keep doing a job I love, work with talented teams in an amazing environment and great atmosphere. This make us unique and I’m convinced it is reflected in the quality of the solutions and services we provide to our clients.