Neil DeSena was an electronic trading pioneer, who worked across the full spectrum of Wall Street – from the back office to a senior role at Goldman Sachs and head of its product development for its trade execution platform REDI. In February, four years after co-founding financial technology-focused bank, SenaHill Partners, he died aged just 52.
Devastated by the loss of his business partner, co-founder and managing partner Justin Brownhill has shouldered the leadership load at the bank alongside Gregg Sharenow, the CFO and a former Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse director, and Kyle Zasky, who co-founded the electronic-trading startup EdgeTrade and sold it to Knight Capital Group, where he became an MD.
“I can’t describe how much we all still miss Neil every single day,” Brownhill says. “His vision, spirit, creativity, kindness, integrity and passion were ever present.
“We can never replace him, and we continue to strive to embody his ideals as the mantra of our journey forward, bearing his great name with the utmost of pride, and doing so for him, our SenaHill family and the whole fintech community,” he says. “He was a great man of the highest character and integrity – Neil’s legacy will shine bright and long at SenaHill and beyond.”
Right now, SenaHill is planning to gradually bolster their ranks with MD-level hires, in addition to recruiting for analysts, associates, vice presidents and directors.
“All of our co-founders have been entrepreneurs, having started, scaled and exited companies, in addition to our banking pedigree,” Brownhill says. “We’re looking for seasoned fintech minds and seasoned investment banking professionals with fintech experience from analyst through MD.
“You now have to be armed with more than just business process understanding; you have to understand how technology process and business process and the budgeting process and even the compliance process all work hand-in-hand in financial services,” he says. “It’s imperative that people have a very strong appreciation and understanding of where the industry’s going, focusing on one core niche and area of expertise.”
Brownhill got his start as a financial institutions group (FIG) analyst at Salomon Brothers and then worked his way up to VP at UBS before becoming an investment banking director at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (DLJ). At that point, he became an EVP at global equities and foreign exchange trading technology company Lava Trading, which Citigroup acquired. After focusing on electronic trading as an MD at Citi for two years, he left to launch the Receivables Exchange, one of the earliest alternative lending companies, in 2007.
Brownhill has also dedicated himself to cultivating fintechs. In addition to his direct investments and paid advisory work in the space, he mentors participants in New York City’s FinTech Innovation Lab, Barclay’s TechStars and StartupBootcamp FinTech, and he serves as a judge for the Innotribe Start Up Challenge.
“The financial technology arena is quickly becoming a trillion-dollar-plus industry – everything is being driven by technology today, including financial services, so we thought about how we could best serve the landscape,” Brownhill says. “We’re in the third or fourth inning of a major technology transformation that has been escalating over the last 20 years, starting with electronic exchanges and the online brokerage industry.
“Technological innovation has spread from the back office to the middle office and has continued to massively affect the front-office side of the business – technology is transforming the infrastructure of the industry to make it more efficient,” he says. “Where we stand now, we’re starting to see the convergence of the large institutions as people look at AI, blockchain, electronic customer service, robotic automation processing and big data, currently at the fore of evolving front-, middle- and back-office processes within the industry.”
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