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A Fond Fairwell to Fintech Pioneer Neil DeSena

Those of us who have worked in and/or around the world of electronic trading for more than 15 minutes readily know about REDI, the ubiquitous direct access execution platform for stocks and options that was introduced by Spear Leeds & Kellogg in 1987 to its professional clearing customers, a universe that grew to thousands of professional traders across the globe. For those not old enough to remember Spear Leeds aka SLK, it was one of the financial industry’s largest specialist firms with it biggest boots on the ground on the NYSE and Amex, and for decades, one of the largest clearing agents for stock and options exchange members and upstairs prop traders. SLK was also one of the industry’s most recognized upstairs market-makers until being acquired by Goldman Sachs in 2000 for a whopping $6.5bil. For those in the know, Goldman’s record-setting acquisition was attributed in part to a fellow by the name of Neil DeSena, “a boy from Bayonne” whose name was synonymous with REDI from the day it was first introduced in 1987, to the day the platform came under Goldman Sachs stewardship, to the day in 2016 when REDI was sold by GS for $1bil to Reuters Plc, and for every day in between, including now, when a trader somewhere in the world uses REDI to send a buy or sell order for stocks, options and/or futures into the now global OEMS platform.

History has already shown that the usually prescient Goldman Sachs wanted not only SLK’s prop-trading business and its clearing customers-which delivered hundreds of millions in high-profit revenue , GS also wanted to be at the forefront of electronic trading and SLK provided that. And, it was Neil DeSena who offered that entree. Until his untimely passing last week, barely three months after celebrating his 52nd birthday, Neil DeSena’s name and the brand name REDI remained forever intertwined, despite the fact that Neil had retired from his role as a Goldman Sachs MD several years ago. It was DeSena who was widely-credited for taking the REDI electronic platform from a closed stock and options order routing system for SLK clearing customers to a a billion-dollar, global OEMS platform synonymous for trading stocks and listed equity options. Upon Goldman’s acquisition, Neil became a GS managing director and under their banner, he built REDI into the industry leading global multi-asset trading system, expanding data centers and global networking through Europe and Asia with full interdependency/redundancy, creating a fully 24×7 global institutional trading platform. In 2015, Goldman sold REDI to Reuters for a cool $1bil.

Ironically, Neil DeSena was not an inventor, nor a prodigy software wonk, and not an MIT-educated computer geek or a Harvard MBA. Neil came to the financial industry as most did ‘back in the day’; he was a humble, but eager “boy from Bayonne” who came from a middle-class family and like so many others from the hamlets near the world’s trading centers, he aspired to work on Wall Street’s trading floors. As noted in his bio at SenaHill Partners, the fintech merchant bank Neil co-founded in 2013 with Justin Brownhill after retiring from Goldman, Neil’s first Wall Street job was typical to that of other 23 year olds; he scored an entry-level, back-office clerk (for retail broker Quick & Reilly). After rising through the ranks and learning how to leverage technology and lead people, Neil joined SLK in 1992, where he became the first employee of REDI. To the tens of hundreds that Neil since touched throughout his personal and professional life, ‘the rest is history’, but Neil’s history and the legacy he leaves behind cannot go without mention.

Neil DeSena was a classic innovator and entrepreneur who always maintained a prescient view when it came to the future of marrying technology and financial markets. He was less a student of technology than he was a student of human behavior and the inherent opportunities that technology-based solutions could provide to one of the world’s biggest industries. Better than most, including the legions of Wall Street technology and business development gurus, Neil had an innate and intimate understanding of the the mindset of those who navigated stock and options marts and what they would need to be more efficient and more effective, before those savvy-traders knew themselves. It was Neil’s thought-leadership, his uncanny ability to gain the trust and confidence of those around him, his foresight as to how/where/why technology could be leveraged, and perhaps most of his all, his endearing personality and sense of integrity that served as a benchmark for so many people he encountered.

Never one to rest on his laurels and certainly not like so many from the finance industry who aspire to build wealth for themselves and retire to a life of luxury, when Neil left Goldman Sachs, it took little time to decide “What’s Next?” Joining hands with Justin Brownill, one of the trading tech industry’s most successful entrepreneurs, the two formed SenaHill Partners in 2013 and framed the firm to be one of the very first fintech merchant banks focused on fostering upstart and industry disrupting financial technology firms. Since the firm’s creation barely four years later, more than two dozen finance industry tech pioneers have joined as network advisory board members; each contributing expertise, relationships and insight in their respective areas and helping to review nearly 2500 business plans submitted to SenaHill. The collective of professionals has gained the attention of finance industry and tech industry titans and has put wind behind the sails of dozens of disruptive startups focused on areas from bitcoin and distributed ledger to financial-flavored media platforms.

Irrespective of the degree of success enjoyed by enterprising start-ups that DeSena and Browhill have helped guide, Neil DeSena’s truest success is illustrated less by counting the literally hundreds of people who came to offer kindness and support this past weekend to Neil’s wife Carolyn and his three young children, Madeleine, Neil Anthony, and Jack, but more by the legacy he leaves; Neil always reminded those who were smart enough to listen that “material success is fleeting; honor and integrity are the most important virtues, as it those qualities that we should all be remembered for.” Continue reading

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2016 Top Fintech Financiers According to Institutional Investor

Identifying the top fintech financiers is no easy task these days. It seems like only yesterday when MarketsMuse curators were among the first to advance the phrase “fintech” in the course of profiling startups seeking to disrupt the financial services sect, many of which have been led by sell-side veterans who made their best trades building innovative financial technology applications for bulge bracket banks and institutional brokerage platforms. At the outset of this now mainstream trend towards disruption of legacy financial technology tools and applications, fintech was a label given to trading system firms; now it is a ubiquitous moniker used to categorize a full-blown industry that counts more than 3000 start-ups and fast growing enterprises across the globe.

(feature images courtesy of YANN LEGENDRE)

Fintech is still the term used to to describe fast-moving firms that deliver Web 3.0 trading system and institutional broker tools, but also now includes enterprises that have brought peer-to-peer lending, crypto currency, distributed ledger companies and other offerings that are rapidly changing the way financial industry firms operate, and more important, the behavior of end-users across the globe. Along the way, this evolution has also created a cottage industry of bankers, private equity firms and VCs who share the catchphrase “What’s Next?” and whose respective vision is focused on the “next great thing” within the context of the way we interact when conducting a financial-centric task.

“Many of the Fintech Finance 35 — those ranked by Institutional Investor as the leading financiers and facilitators of the ongoing entrepreneurial explosion in financial technology — have “partner” in their titles. Their firms are structured as partnerships, but all on the list are partners in a practical, day-to-day sense. They are as much strategic advisers and collaborators as they are funders; “partnerships” are what they offer to companies they invest in and usher toward growth and maturity.” Jeffrey Kutler, Institutional Investor Magazine

With that, its no surprise that Institutional Investor Magazine, which for years has been the harbinger of the financial industry’s best-in-class people (e.g. Institutional Investor All America Research Team is the bible used to benchmark equity and fixed income research analysts) has more recently started tracking the top funders and dealmakers from across the fintech ecosystem via II’s Annual Fintech Finance 35. And, hot off the press: II’s 2016 Top Influencers in Fintech Finance! With 35 top guns highlighted, MarketsMuse team arbitrarily picked out one of the profiles from the middle of list of 35 to share with our readers. The folks who have risen from last year’s #19 spot to this year’s #16 spot are the principals of SenaHill Partners, which is arguably one of the fintech industry’s leading pioneers. SenaHill positions itself as part investment bank, part PE investor, part adviser and part incubator.  Below is the excerpt courtesy of II’s Jeffrey Kutler.

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Justin Brownhill, SenaHill

Principal investor, strategic adviser, and business accelerator, SenaHill Partners gets a lot of mileage out of just 14 people. “We’re hiring,” managing partner Justin Brownhill says — an auspicious indicator for the New York firm and perhaps for fintech deal flow overall. Founded by Brownhill and co–managing partner Neil DeSena in 2013, SenaHill is staffed by people with extensive banking, brokerage, and operational experience, further leveraged by an adviser network of dozens of industry veterans, who contribute strategic insights and help identify and vet investment candidates. “Two to three generations of knowledge,” hands-on experience and a roll-up-the-sleeves attitude set SenaHill apart, says Brownhill, 45, who was an investor in and executive at Lava Trading, which Citigroup acquired in 2004, and CEO of the Receivables Exchange from 2007 to 2012. “Venture capital in financial technology is a journey, not a me-too business,” says DeSena, 52, who started the REDI institutional trading business in 1992 and ran it until 2006, the last six years as part of Goldman Sachs Group. “ ‘Five years and exit’ isn’t the way it works.” SenaHill’s 22-company portfolio includes investment research and analytics site Market Realist, where Brownhill is a board member; blockchain smart-contracts company Symbiont, where DeSena is a director and former Morgan Stanley capital markets executive Caitlin Long recently became chairman and president; and WealthForge, a private capital–

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Neil DeSena, SenaHill

raising platform that placed third in last year’s UBS Future of Finance Challenge (see Hyder Jaffrey, No. 30). Another holding, know-your-customer platform Trunomi, represents “reg tech,” the emerging regulatory-and-compliance category that Brownhill and DeSena are following alongside other fintech themes in capital markets, banking and payments, insurance, wealth management, and infrastructure. “The interest is now top-down,” Brownhill observes, referring to incumbent financial services companies’ openness to investing in or partnering with entrepreneurs. “They are hiring us to connect them with young, emerging technologies.” Says DeSena: “The incumbents need help. Their budgets are big but shrinking.”

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The Fintech Finance 35 will be honored at the iiFintech Awards taking place on December 1. The awards program was designed to bring together the honorees of the Tech 50, Fintech Finance 35, and Trading Technology 40 to explore how financial technology will continue to transform the industry.

This ranking was compiled under the direction of Senior Contributing Editor Jeffrey Kutler. Individual profiles were written by Kutler, Asia Bureau Chief Allen T. Cheng, Senior Writers Frances Denmark and Julie Segal, and Staff Writer Jess Delaney, as well as by former Editor Michael Peltz, Content Editor Anne Szustek, Associate Editor Kaitlin Ugolik, and Assistant Editor Jen Werner.  To read the entire story from II, please click here

 

2016 Top Fintech Financiers According to Institutional Investor
top fintech bankers

Institutional Investor’s Top-Ranked FinTech Bankers Include…

Institutional Investor Magazine has recently announced the world’s top 35 FinTech Bankers, and…

As astutely noted by Institutional Investor Magazine’s Senior Editor Jeffrey Kutler, “The origin of the term “fintech” is difficult to pinpoint; only very recently has it become an accepted label for one of the hottest segments of the technology market. The availability of high-­performance computing and low-cost distribution channels is attracting a steady stream of entrepreneurs with ideas for improving, if not revolutionizing, financial products and processes — and investors are in hot pursuit.”

With that lead in, MarketsMuse curators are happy to excerpt II’s latest ranking report, this one profiling the top fintech bankers and financiers. We extend a special salute and shout out to merchant bank SenaHill Partners, led by securities industry veterans Neil DeSena and Justin Brownhill—whose boutique merchang banking firm is ranked within the top 20 of 35 firms profiled by Institutional Investor’s global survey.

Institutional Investor’s first Fintech Finance 35 ranking turns a spotlight on the financiers who are abetting this flowering of innovation. They include deal makers at various stages of the investment cycle and facilitators of the incubating, mentoring and capital-­raising ecosystems that accelerate promising financial start-ups’ paths to commercialization.

According to one global tally, by consulting firm Accenture, fintech investment tripled in 2014, to $12.2 billion, its growth rate dwarfing the 63 percent for venture capital overall. Research firm CB Insights estimates that fintech’s share of total venture capital activity quadrupled between 2008 and 2014, to 12 percent.

That’s the big picture. Here we present perspectives on the boom through the lenses of some of its leading players. (To account for firms’ partnership structures, a total of 41 individuals are recognized.) Opinions and investment theses vary, as does the approach of a traditional venture fund manager compared with that of a corporate strategic investor. But all share a conviction that fintech is here to stay and an enthusiasm for the work, which neither begins nor ends when checks are issued. Venture capitalists typically meet with hundreds of prospects over the course of a year before making a relatively small handful of bets, and through board seats or other types of advisory relationships they provide ongoing guidance, often drawing from extensive industry experience.

The Fintech Finance 35 ranking was compiled by Institutional Investor editors and staff, with nominations and input from industry participants and experts. The evaluation criteria included individual achievements and leadership at the respective firms, influence in the community at large, and the size, reputation and impact of the respective funds and institutions in the financial technology industry — particularly in the current wave of fintech financing.

The Fintech Finance 35 was compiled under the direction of Senior Contributing Editor Jeffrey Kutler. Individual profiles were written by Kutler; Asia Bureau Chief Allen T. Cheng; Senior Writers Frances Denmark, Julie Segal and Aaron Timms; Research Staff Writer Jess Delaney; Senior Contributing Writer Katie Gilbert; Associate Editor Kaitlin Ugolik; and Editor Michael Peltz.

And, coming in at #18… Continue reading

FinTech-Wall Street Wonks v. Silicon Valley Socializers

MarketsMuse special update-courtesy of MarketsMedia reporting with a refreshing reprieve from all-things Greece …While Silicon Valley salivates over the next social media-powered “Unicorn”, the global financial industry is fixated on FinTech. Just like the litany of aspiring app companies accelerating the ‘next great idea’ produced by West Coast Wonks, as noted in today’s coverage by the Wall Street-focused, tech-centric media platform, MarketsMedia.com, financial-technology startups need capital to turn their idea into a viable business, and more important in most cases, they need the right strategic advice to operate, expand and then potentially merge or sell the enterprise.

Venture capitalists and angel investors can provide initial funding; consultants can help with operations; investment banks can arrange additional capital raises and advise on M&A. SenaHill Partners is unique in that it has stitched together all that is needed over the ‘fintech’ lifecycle.

Our merchant-banking value proposition connects the dots at every strategic level between global financial institutions and the entrepreneurial innovators of financial technology,” SenaHill Managing Partner and Co-Founder Justin Brownhill told Markets Media in a June 29 telephone interview. “We feel that we can get the right ideas in front of the right people better than anyone else. That’s the mission of our organization.”

Neil DeSena, Senahill Partners
Neil DeSena, Senahill Partners

As profiled by MarketsMedia.com, New York-based SenaHill, founded in 2013 by Wall Street veterans Neil DeSena and Brownhill, offers principal investing via its SenaHill Investment Group, LLC unit, and investment banking through SenaHill Advisors, LLC.

Wall Street is a relationship-driven business, a fact that is not lost on SenaHill. The company splits its formidable roster of talent into two categories: active advisors, formerly top people in the financial industry who can help startup and emerging fintech companies get the right exposure and introductions; and inactive advisors, who provide guidance, insight and background from their current positions in the industry.

SenaHill’s advisors include Stanley Young, formerly the chief executive officer of NYSE Technologies; David Ogg, CEO and founder of Ogg Trading; Joseph Wald, CEO of Clearpool Group; Sam Ruiz, an independent advisor and former head of equities trading at Nomura; and Craig Marshall, a start-up vet who is credited with creating the general-purpose prepaid category. Network Advisors include among others, The JLC Group, whose principal and securities industry veteran Jay Berkman has helped “connect the tag line to the bottom line” for various fintech platforms during the past two decades, including the corporate bond market’s BondNet Systems, OEMS operator OMEX Systems, insurance claims receivables management firm ViaNovus Capital, SROcalendar, the provider of “Compliance Officer-In-A-Box” solutions and KeyID, the secure messaging platform for the banking industry.

“As companies come to us, we can reach back out into the industry to these senior resources in our network and ask them about the space, the people, the product and more,” said DeSena, who headed REDI in 2000-2006, when the global multi-asset trading system was owned by Goldman Sachs.

For the full story from MarketsMedia.com, please click here

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Frmr NYSE Capo Niederauer Backs Bitcoin-based ‘smart securities’ startup Symbiont

Tech Talk: Bitcoin’s Distributed Ledgers: A FinTech Innovation..

MarketsMuse Trading Technology/FinTech department profiles Wall Street’s rapid embracement of the tools that power Bitcoin with a look at Symbiont, a company that aspires to disrupt the capital markets process.

Distributed ledgers, the technology behind the Bitcoin blockchain, can be used to issue, trade and process an array of financial instruments on a single, global, decentralized peer-to-peer financial network. And guess what, Symbiont, a startup that’s backed by several high-powered Wall Street figures, has established a platform for so-called smart securities, or financial assets that are programmable versions of traditional securities, using the distributed ledger.

Early investors include Duncan Niederauer, former CEO of NYSE Euronext, and Matt Andresen, founder of the Island ECN. “Symbiont is bridging the gap between Wall Street and the emerging blockchain ecosystem,” said Niederauer, managing member of 555 Capital and a member of the Symbiont Board of Directors.”It’s an exciting, timely and much-needed development for the long-term health of the markets.”

Neil DeSena, Senahill Partners
Neil DeSena, Senahill Partners

SenaHill Partners, the recently-established fintech merchant bank led by former Goldman Sachs trading tech honcho Neil DeSena and former Citigroup tech titan Justin Brownhill will serve as Symbiont’s business development agent. “SenaHill Partners is focused on fintech companies, and specifically on assisting a transition from analog-based financial services into technology-based financial services,” Smith said. “All of our access into the Street comes through SenaHill, so SenaHill is an important part of the Symbiont story.” SenaHill Partners also served as merchant bank and deal advisor to Livevol, the provider of equity and index options technology and market data services. During the first week of June, Livevol entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by options exchange CBOE Holdings, Inc.

“The real value of this new technology is in the underlying protocol, the distributed nature of the Bitcoin blockchain, and the immutable nature of its ledger,” says Symbiont CEO Mark Smith. The distributed ledger is “a way to create new securities that could solve some of the problems that existed in the more opaque, less transparent, less liquid markets,” Smith said.

“We have launched Symbiont to create a generic platform that can operate on multiple types of cryptographically protected distributed ledgers to create what we are trade marking Smart Securities,” said Smith. “It’s a digital security that can be programmed with all the terms and conditions of a financial instrument. Once issued on a block chain, it can act autonomously to execute and extract terms and corporate actions without any human intervention.”

MarketsMuse sends a shout-out and thumbs up to June 18 reporting of this story by MarketsMedia.com