A South African leads an international team working on Threadneedle Street in the heart of the world’s financial capital in London, who are on the verge of an international smart data breakthrough

Matthew, take us back to the start when you first had the inspiration to embark on this game-changing industry disruption?

Mosaic was born directly out of the challenges I faced in my own career working as a senior trader in fixed income markets. Despite the huge size of the fixed income market, worth about $100 trillion globally [1], the availability of good data for banks on the deals they are making with clients is often remarkably rudimentary.

I wanted to ask questions like, “who are my most profitable clients?” “which ones aren’t trading with me as much as I would like them to?” and “how can I win back their business?” If I was running a supermarket, I would know exactly what the answers to those questions were. But in an investment bank, we just didn’t have the data in the right shape to answer these fundamental business questions.

So, I came up with the idea to build the systems we would need in the bank to make the data available to our traders to do their jobs more effectively. Initially, we tried to build it in house, but because of the way banks are set up, and the scale of the technological challenge, that wasn’t really possible.

We realised that the easiest way to do this was going to be to set up as an independent start-up and work with banks to help them to implement the Mosaic technology in a bespoke way to fit their specific needs.

What have been the major challenges you have encountered while building your ‘startup’?

Building a technology like Mosaic is a huge undertaking. No one has built this kind of real-time and predictive analytics system for FICC (Fixed Income Currencies & Commodities) markets before, so we were really breaking new ground.

At the very beginning, I’d always ask myself why the Apple for Fixed Income analytics wasn’t available and so that then became the goal – to build a platform that offered the beauty and intuition of an iPhone that masked the enormous complexity and computation behind the user’s experience.

To that end, we needed the self-belief that it was possible and that our designers and engineers were capable of delivering on such lofty objectives but, at the same time, remaining focused on the micro details and flawless execution necessary to capture the imagination of the biggest players in the financial markets.

You need some really powerful analytics which will interrogate the vast flows of trade data to get the information you need. But, beyond that, you also need to find a way to present that data in an intuitive, graphical way so the trader can very quickly look at their Mosaic dashboard and get the information straight away. We put a lot of effort into building something which is beautiful and a joy to use, as well as bringing incredibly powerful real-time analytics into the hands of the desks.

In what key ways are big data and smart data changing the face of international banking and finance?

According to IDC[2], the big data market currently stands at about $130.1 billion and a full 13 per cent of that spend is in banking. IDC expects the market to grow $201 billion by 2020 and I would not be surprised if banking wasn’t a much greater slice of the market by then.

That is because I think data analytics is going to become the cornerstone of a bank’s competitive advantage. One of the very interesting trends we have seen recently, which illustrates this, is that, although banks are in many cases reducing their technology spend, they are putting more budget into purchasing market data. At the same time, venues are charging more for the trade data services which they offer, reflecting the value that data represents to trading institutions.

With the leaps forward that we are seeing in machine learning and analytics more broadly, the banks can see the potential that data holds to improve the performance of their trading desks, picking out trends and patterns that no human could compute at the speed of thought. That is why they are prepared to spend so much on this data.

However, in many cases they are underutilising the data which they already hold. Banks’ trade data is spread across their organisation in different databases and held in different formats if banks bought that data together into one secure, standardised data lake, it could really speed up their big data adoption and slash the cost of buying in market data at the same time.

Why do leaders need to ensure that they make technology a competitive advantage for their organisation?

I think artificial intelligence (AI) is going to be transformative. In fact, in many industries it already is.

When it comes to financial services, at the moment we have a lot of repetitive, time-consuming tasks which staff are doing, particularly in back-office functions such as compliance. These compliance processes are vitally important and need to be done with high precision, but they involve a lot of standardised procedures.

These are exactly the sort of tasks which are ripe for automation. AI allows these repetitive tasks to be automated away, leaving staff to focus on the more subtle, valuable and interesting work.

We are seeing AI creeping into banks already, especially on the retail side of businesses, and I think that, as banks get to understand the technology better and become more confident in it, we will see AI and automation spread very quickly through every department of these companies.

What do South African businesses need to know about the big wide world that you are seeing from your vantage point on Threadneedle Street?

There is a lot of incredible talent in South Africa, but too often our home grown talent focuses on very domestic challenges and business solutions. It is a cliché but it’s true – our world is increasingly interconnected. South African entrepreneurs must start to think more globally and build companies which can scale across the planet. We have the ability, we just need the ambition.

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-26/the-100-trillion-bondmarket- s-got-bigger-concerns-than-brexit

[2] https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS41826116

Simon Lewis