Gabriele (Gab) Columbro is the Executive Director of FINOS, formerly the Symphony Software Foundation. The independent nonprofit organization promotes open innovation in the financial services industry. As Executive Director, Gabriele has built the foundation from the ground up, with the vision of creating a trusted arena for Wall Street to accelerate digital transformation by engaging in a new model of open source fintech innovation. FINOS is supported by the largest global investment banks, such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, Nomura, Wells Fargo, UBS, and Credit Suisse.
FINOS hosts collaborative open source software projects and working groups that standardize interactions and software development among different financial institutions. These projects enable members to collaborate using open source through programs and offerings like the Open Source Readiness Program and Open Developer Platform. Both support effective, compliant participation in open innovation. FINOS also holds events for technologists and financial services professionals, including the annual Open Source Strategy Forum, one of the world’s leading events for open innovation within financial services.
Gab understands both the intricacies of open source technology and its business benefits for the financial services industry. Gab has been dedicated to open source for more than 10 years. He continues to build communities, deliver business value through open source, and drive innovation among early-stage tech startups, Fortune 500 firms, and nonprofit organizations. Previously, Gab was the Director of product management at Alfresco. He is also a Project Management Committee (PMC) member for the Apache Software Foundation and an advisor for Bankex. He is originally from Italy and currently based in San Francisco. He holds a master’s degree in Computer Engineering and a bachelor’s degree in Informatics Engineering, both from Università degli Studi di Roma Tre, Cum Laude.
Clare Walker (CW), a principal analyst with Frost & Sullivan, had an opportunity to conduct a Movers & Shakers interview with Gab Columbro (GC), Executive Director of FINOS:
CW: Hello, Gab! Let me start by asking you to please provide our readers some background on FINOS, its mission, and your role as Executive Director.
GC: FINOS enables the financial services industry and tech companies to adopt open source and open standards for their businesses. We’ve seen other industries be successful with this. For example, blockchain, machine learning, cloud, and artificial intelligence are all powered by open design or open source. Since financial services is a heavily regulated industry, it can be challenging to embrace open source, but incorporating these and other technologies can drastically improve efficiency and compliance.
FINOS started nine months ago, and for about two years prior, we operated as Symphony. Because of my open source background, I was called to run the foundation. We believe open source is one of the best ways for banks to trust each other. We’ve built a good community around it, given the conditions in the industry – decentralized tech, pressure for efficiency, and the high cost of complying with regulations. Open source also brings innovative contributions from some of the most talented developers in the industry, no matter where they are employed. Given there’s no shortage of talent, we don’t have to fight with big tech companies for it.
CW: What are FINOS’ near- and long-term plans?
GC: This year, we expect to see full adoption of some of what we’ve produced. As a nonprofit trade association, revenue is not the primary goal – we are an enabler. Retention of our members is an indicator of the value we bring, and so far it’s been successful. So we expect to see our membership continue to grow this year.
Banks and vendors tend to keep certain workflows in isolation, even when they are not considered differentiators. We want to help them open up and let innovation happen. We also want to engage with service companies – the big four, boutique consulting, etc. – that are in a good position to help the buy- and sell- sides, as well as themselves, by getting involved with the work. We’d also like to engage more with bigtech and try to solve collective problems as a potential business opportunity. Contributing open source on our platform is not a burdensome process.
CW: Can you talk about any success stories?
GC: We’re different from some collaborative initiatives, specifically because the participation, contribution, and consumption of what we do isn’t just limited to members. Anyone can download the code and implement the standards. But the majority of downloads come from members who are involved with FINOS and, therefore, interested in accelerating growth.
We have FDC3, the Financial Desktop Connectivity and Collaboration Consortium, an open standard for desktop interoperability among financial institutions, including banks and hedge funds, with more than 40 firms participating. OpenFin, a FINOS member, started the FDC3 program.
We’ve also developed FINOS’ thought leadership with two open source strategy forums each year – one in New York and one in London. These events help executives understand what we’re about and what we’re doing.
CW: Do you still run into issues with banks wanting to keep their development proprietary?
GC: It’s been challenging to pitch open source. It can be considered an idealistic way of using technology and doing business. But 2018 was a turning point; we added UBS and RedHat as members. We also saw a shift in the desire for collaboration in the finance industry. Some formerly hesitant companies are now taking action by using us. If they don’t think they’re ready, our open source program trains and helps people figure out the next right move. Some companies still don’t understand it, but that number is decreasing each year.
CW: What do you see as the greatest challenge(s) for the next year or two, and what strategy(ies) do you employ to help overcome it?
GC: We’re trying to organically grow our community to a self-sustained, collaborative body that creates ongoing value for the finance industry. Our strategy includes overcoming cultural resistance to open collaboration, removing policy and technology frictions, providing feedback to our members, and attracting new members to FINOS.
CW: What do you see as the critical success factors in this work?
GC: We believe in participation and contribution from within the financial services workflow, including the buy- and sell- sides, technology vendors, and regulators. We need both companies and individuals to engage with our community and see the long- and short-term benefits of being involved. This is not exclusionary; openness and transparency are how we ensure a level playing field.
CW: Any other strategic alliances or partnerships planned for the next few years?
GC: We’re looking closely at formal engagements and partnerships with regulators. We believe regulatory requirements are the perfect example of non-differentiating, industry-wide requirements that would benefit from open collaboration, while providing a higher degree of transparency to regulators.
We also hope for tighter collaboration with industry consortia like the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), Financial Information eXchange (FIX) Protocol, Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), etc. Creating an open source governance and community is hard, so FINOS offers a jumpstart to these groups by helping them publish their work products in the open. As a nonprofit, we’re non-competitive and don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so we think there’s a strong match here.
Also, we actively pursue collaboration with commercial open source technology vendors, as we believe in the mutual benefit of accelerating community development while generating industry-wide business opportunities.
CW: What trends are on the horizon (on the industry-level and/or in new enabling technologies) that will affect how you conduct business?
GC: Open source is here to stay. The multibillion-dollar Microsoft-GitHub and IBM-Red Hat acquisitions, as well as the Hortonworks-Cloudera merger, exemplify how open source has produced the most groundbreaking innovations of the past 20 years. The finance industry needs to jump on the train or the gap with Silicon Valley is bound to widen.
The industry is undergoing a massive generational transformation as new fintechs and decentralized technologies enter the ecosystem, driven by technologists and developers well-versed in open source. It’s fundamental, now more than ever, for financial institutions to adopt new technologies and approaches, like cloud and open source, to attract and retain top talent.
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