Marquee is a big deal at Goldman Sachs. With Marty Chavez recently promoted from chief information officer to CFO at the bank, Goldman's previous statements about being a technology company look truer than ever. And Marquee is Chavez’s baby. Fundamentally, it allows clients to connect directly to the risk management and analytics tools Goldman uses in-house.
James Blackham, who worked as the head of digital structuring at Goldman Sachs, was there at the start of Marquee’s development in 2013. He got it off the ground and was responsible for the design, planning, budgeting, implementation, delivery and rollout of Marquee.
The initial aim, he says, was simply to bring banking into the 21st century.
“At its nascent phase, Marquee was about allowing clients to interact electronically with the bank,” he says. “Outside of banking no-one talks on the phone anymore - they order a car, or a pizza, or chat using apps - but within banks, it was all voice.”
Marquee also opened up the various divisions of Goldman Sachs and brought them – kicking and screaming – on to one platform.
“Marquee is essentially a platform that allows different businesses at Goldman to open themselves up to clients in a secure and consistent way,” says Blackham. “Before, if, say, the interest rates business wanted to share analysis with clients electronically, it would have to build something bespoke. It would be hugely time-consuming and expensive.”
It's also allows clients to educate themselves and make quick decisions without talking to Goldman's sales teams. One example of this application is SIMON (Structured Investment Marketplace and Online). This allows clients to learn about structured products and execute trades through an app. Before, they would have had to speak to structured products experts at Goldman to understand what was on offer.
The Marquee team is growing. Right now, Goldman is hiring developers in New York to work on its equities offering. Goldman is not necessarily looking for finance expertise, but instead knowledge of open source technologies like React, Elasticsearch, MongoDB, and D3 and a passion for “solving large scale engineering problems” are required.
“The best way to describe it is that it’s an elite, strong team across all the disciplines – whether that’s domain knowledge or technical skills – but when we hired externally, it was usually from big tech firms like Google,” says Blackham.
After over 11 years working at Goldman Sachs – as a managing director since 2011 – Blackham left in the July last year. Since then, he’s been working on a fintech start-up in stealth mode, which has just come out of the shadows.
His new firm, Just Miles, is taking on the insurance industry – specifically car insurance – by allowing customers subscribe on a rolling basis and being billed on how much they use the car, rather than a set rate.
“The reality is that insurance firms charge you the same amount for your car insurance whether you’re commuting to work every day, or leaving it on the street gathering rust,” he says.
Getting into insurance may sound like the more boring end of the Fintech spectrum, but it’s actually a shrewd move. While payments and FX start-ups are ten a penny, InsurTech (as it’s known) is just getting started.
Tech VC funds are more interested in investing in insurtech than any other part of finance. Timo Dreger, a managing director at Berlin-based Apeiron Investment Group, told the Economist Finance Disrupted conference in London last week that: “In the whole insurance industry, there's a lack of innovation and the user experience is pretty horrible.”
Just Miles has secured a round of VC investment to get the product off the ground.
Like other areas of Fintech, finance professionals are also leaving to start their own insurance firms. Tobias Taupitz, who worked in FIG investment banking at Barclays until September, launched Insure-A-Thing last year, which focuses on bicycle insurance.
Blackham says that the skills learned in banking have been useful in getting Just Miles off the ground.
“We’re taking the big data and analytics skills we learnt at Goldman Sachs and applying them to car insurance to make it fairer for the consumer,” says Blackham. “Understanding the regulatory environment is important – and we got that experience at GS, as well as building robust, secure software that does what it’s supposed to and is scalable.”
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