Fintech Interview: Andy Mahoney, Managing Director UK, FlexTrade

Second interview of people within Fintech, this one with Andy Mahoney of Flextrade...
Andy Mahoney has been working in the financial services industry for more than 15 years, with time spent at Goldman Sachs and trading systems provider, FlexTrade Systems. 
Initially a strategy specialist, Andy helped grow the FlexTrade business in the EMEA region from a four-person outpost to a major enterprise with a team of more than 100, leading to his appointment as Head of Implementation.
In 2010 he joined Goldman Sachs, where he led the REDIPlus product in Europe, and managed liquidity strategy and smart order routing across Goldman's wider electronic business. Mahoney's enthusiasm for trading technology saw him return to FlexTrade in 2012 and is now Managing Director and Head of Sales, driving the company's business strategy to regulation, cross asset trading and providing a fully open architecture, creating a new trading ecosystem that allows third-party technology to be seamlessly integrated.

Who are you? What firm do you work for? [How long have you been there? What other roles have you done before in that firm?]


This time round 8 years, previously, starting in 2004 for five years.  I started as an implementation engineer, moved to Head of Support, and then I left for two years and went to Goldman Sachs. I ran the REDIPlus product and then came back as a Product Manager for FlexTrade EMS.


The first role back was as Product Manager and my experience at Goldman Sachs was that one needed sales to help with product management because product management is such a varied function, sales input was just as crucial as input from development and other stakeholders.  When I began product management, I annoyed the sales people so much; asking so many questions about what our clients wanted, how they wanted it and how they wanted it implemented well, in the end Vikas [Kedia], who was the Managing Director at the time, said ‘why don’t you go into sales as you are annoying everyone so much with your constant questions?’


As a technologist at heart, I never had any ambitions to go into sales. I was quite reluctant at the start, however, I thought that if I can build the product I wanted - then I will go into sales.  It turned out I really enjoyed sales; it’s all the best bits of product management I enjoy and I was the one talking to the clients so I was the one who knew what they wanted. I spent two years in Sales, made head of Sales, and, as of three months ago, was promoted to Managing Director; definitely not a predetermined course.


What does your firm do?


FlexTrade is a multi-asset execution and order management system with clients across the world.  The way I see it is that it’s an order state manager with a bunch of FIX engines and market data normalisation that is completely programmable.

So that core of order state management, FIX engines, and market data is all taken care of and you just have an event-based system where you can build whatever you want based on the events that are coming in. You click a button, you get an event, when you send an order you get an event, when you receive an order acknowledgement you get an event: it’s an event driven system and you can programme anything on top of that.


This has applications across much of the financial services landcape where one uses FIX messaging or any kind of order state management.  We have ended up building out a product for buy-side OMS, buy-side EMS, sell-side OMS, sell-side EMS, algo server – all these different products but it’s a common core of FIX engines, market data normalisation, and order state management presented into one place.


What made you go back?

I am not particularly career driven, when I was looking to leave Goldman Sachs, well, I am an amateur Cheese maker, and my plan was to leave and run a dairy. I had a job lined up as a dairy manager to bring together two production process, once making blue rind cheese, one making white rind cheese.   The problem with blue and white rind cheeses is that white always takes over blue, so the logistics of this manufacturing process was going to be my job and I was really excited about it. A complete diversion from what I had always done.  The slight problem was that it was going to require a huge lifestyle change, a huge salary change, and upping my entire life.


The day I was about to resign from Goldman Sachs, Vikas contacted me to ask me to rejoin FlexTrade. I thought “I know that if I go and talk to him, I will take it”.  There was so much going on at FlexTrade it really relighted my passion, I really like working with technology, it’s a very flexible, entrepreneurial firm.  If you have a good idea you can get it done. I just thought I will give it a couple of years, at worst case I build up some savings for a future cheese making career.  And here I am eight years later talking to you…


What has your journey looked like from starting your career to here?

It wasn’t designed to happen like this at all!


Every week when I was at Goldman Sachs I would send out a REDIPlus update to the desk, what was happening with the product, how many users had logged-in, what initiatives were happening, etc.  At the end of the email I would put a “Cheese of the week”, talking about a Cheese that I was quite interested in, had been making or had been thinking about.  I realised I had done too much on the Cheese and not enough on the REDI stuff when I noticed that as I sent the email out, everyone scrolled down to the Cheese and no one read the REDI update… I thought maybe I had overplayed the Cheese bit.



Cloud - in use with your firm? Hype or real?


What we have done with FlexTrade is we started distributing the software via AWS, the back-end runs in AWS and the front-end is delivered by AppStream.  My experience with AWS AppStream is that it’s vastly better than something like Citrix Receiver.  Being able to embed an application that is not web-native into a browser is amazing.  The technology that Amazon, Azure, and others have is just mind-blowing. It is amazing how easy this stuff is these days.  I look back ten years ago when I was in a more technical role and I compare to now, when I talk to my guys I find myself saying I didn’t even know these things existed, they are just incredible.


We also have a true cloud native EMS called FlexNOW, that is built in the cloud, not an on-premise system that has been shifted to a cloud. It’s massively distributed and scalable. 

Cloud is definitely here to stay and we definitely buy into it.

There is still some resistance from certain clients to move entirely to the cloud, this might be for regulatory reasons. Some clients just want on-premise solutions.  But the cost savings are compelling if you look at clous versus on-premise. When a client asks “can we host it ourselves?” I respond with “are you an infrastructure provider? Or are you a trading shop?”. The answer is of course trading shop so I ask why are you trying to build an infrastructure to rival Amazon, Azure, GCP etc. when these are some of the biggest companies in the world and this is what they do for a living.



Where do you see technology impacting in the next five years on:

  1. You
  2. Your firm
  3. Wider market


As a salesperson selling technology, the fact that I can code is of massive benefit.  I saw the other day an advert for “that rare breed of salesperson that can code”.  But I don’t think that should be rare at all, it’s a good skill to have for a salesperson to be able to understand software and what software can and cannot do. 


Having a computer science background will stand you in good stead whatever you decide to do, whether it’s sales, product, marketing or development.


For FlexTrade, we have always been API driven, it was something that we did not use to make enough noise about.  Now, it’s a key part of what we say and how we operate.  My view is that the GUI will be largely irrelevant in five years, everything will be API driven. 

Everything will be built using OpenFin or AdaptableBlotter

A firm will do this themselves or get a third party consultancy, a UX consultancy, to get the data in the right place and the API layer will handle the rest. Open-source initiatives will allow users to see the data they want in the way they want, rather than applications “designed” through years of random client feedback.  This already exists in consumer technology and vendors will end up being the API layer.  We are really well positioned for this:

We are a bunch of geeks and we always use our own APIs

We’ve built the system that way, everything has APIs and that’s the way it’s built.  Most clients we speak to these days want an API session to pull data out or push data in or do some analysis and push data around. 


I feel that even using the term GUI is a legacy term. It’s an archaic 80s concept.

The user experience is what matters, whether that’s in a web form or a dot net form or whatever that does not matter, it’s the experience that counts.


In the wider market, the API focus extends across everything. Symphony is interesting.  How can a broker push out data to a buy-side form most efficiently? I view Symphony essentially as a transport layer, to open a channel that is encrypted and secure.  And with that channel I can drop FIX messages or REST content or a structured object. As opposed to having to establish a VPN and a FIX session. 


FIX Orchestra is really interesting for simplifying the communication between two counterparties, it’ll mean that more and more stuff is driven by APIs. 


There are going to be more and more fintech disruptors that come in [to the market] and do one thing really well.  Just solve one thing with open APIs such that clients can pick up value from multiple vendors. Essentially it’s the UNIX philosophy for the fintech age.


The disruption of billing models is a topic I want to address.  As with advertising, in consumer technology, if you are not paying for the product then you are the product.  


This is a topic that needs to be discussed more, not just in trading systems but generally, the whole concept of how people pay for technology and what value they get from the technology. And any kind of subsidisation or cross-pollination of revenues. 


We just want to deliver technology to buy-sides and sell-side, that’s all. It will be interesting to see how billing models evolve over the next five years. Where that transparency happens, where is the mark-up, where are things actually getting paid for? If you don’t know who is paying the bill would you want to trust your most precious assets to that system?


Fintech – is that how you describe your firm?


We were initially quite reluctant to jump on the fintech bandwagon, I am not even sure when the phrase first came out.  We have been going since 1996 and yes, we are a financial technology firm, there’s no doubt about it. Now we are happy to be described in that way, we are a financial technology company.  For me, the real question is where on the spectrum of fintech do you fit? Are you more aligned to finance or are you more aligned to technology and I personally feel we very technology focussed. We are technologists providing a solution to finance at its very heart.


Go crazy – make some wild predictions about machine learning, AI, DLT, cloud, whatever


Robotic Process Automation is a really interesting one that is not talked about much in finance. Basically, it’s any deterministic action that is being undertaken by a human, then making sure that is automated.  Essentially you are distilling down the human trader to making judgement calls between one decision which needs a human input and another.  I think this is naturally happening but it’s about embracing that and making it unique for a client, one trader’s workflow may look radically different to another’s. Metrics such as optimisation of mouse clicks, making sure you only interact with data when you only need to.


New blotter.  I follow Jon Butler on LinkedIn, he’s an ex-Goldman Sachs MD. In one of his blog posts he said the Excel-like Blotter is dead.  I have been agonising for years about the best way to present trading data.  It seems that the Excel-like format is convenient since people are used to that, but there must be a better way? We have tried to use graphical elements to present data such as charts, bubbles, we even tried augmented reality (AR) back in 2017 at TradeTech.  Internally we referred to Flex Augmented Reality as a moonshot (in the Google sense of ‘moonshot’) – you could interact with the system using gestures and it used our standard APIs but we did not expect that anyone would use it. The reason I mention his (Butler’s) post is that I though yes, here’s a different way of presenting – rather than symbol, side, size in a row and some analysis. It’s a challenging problem as it requires you to really get into depth of what the user is thinking and what they want, breaking them out of the mindset of “you’ve just got a grid”. You have to get them to explain what they are thinking when they see this data, what’s the natural next step? What’s the next thing to do?  What’s the next trade I need to look at, what’s the next judgement call I need to make?


Years ago, the salespeople at FlexTrade used to describe the product as “Excel on steroids”.  I used to hate that phrase.  While it’s weirdly apt, we can do a lot better than that.  There’s a lot more in terms of user experience that we can focus on, we can do more than simply presenting data on a grid and saying here you go. It’s about being in tune with the user in the way that consumer technology is focussing on UX all the time. The big internet firms conduct extensive research on how people use their products and how they interact with them to optimise revenue for themselves.  There is so much technology out there that can improve the user experience and I really hope that in the next few years, as with API logic and API-first systems, someone really disrupts the UX space and comes up with a better way to interact with users rather than a blotter. We are hard at it, working on this for our clients.  We are always looking for better ways to present the data and workflow.  One example, of all the orders on the blotter, can we identify which one is the most urgent and needs your immediate attention? What metrics can you use to determine that and how can we make this easy for the user to configure? So the user can look at these trades within a certain tolerance of x and building a framework not just for alerting but for determining what it is to look at next, deciding your journey through your day on the path of best execution. 


Information Security and Privacy. My University final year project was based around certain aspects of information security.  The number of RFPs we receive nowadays where Information security is absolutely paramount to the requirements is very high.  A big information breach [within financial services] could be transformative to the entire industry. We are all working to adhere to standards but in some respects this is a missing feature in financial services and there has, so far, not been a big event to shake this up.


A prediction for the next five years is that Information Security will become even more important. 

This will not only be proactive but reactive too.  As there will be events that happen and the reaction is critical.

Important Notice: Copyright Alignment Systems 2020 

The second paragraph (biography) was supplied by FlexTrade as was the picture of Andy Mahoney.  This interview was conducted remotely over a Zoom call and transcribed by Alignment Systems.  No payment was asked for or received either way.