Risk & Compliance

Warren Sees Danger in Wall Street Messaging Service

The Symphony messaging service is being pitched as a way for banks to reduce compliance and enforcement concerns, says Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Matthew HellerAugust 12, 2015
Warren Sees Danger in Wall Street Messaging Service

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has raised concerns about whether financial firms could use a new instant-messaging system to shield themselves from regulatory scrutiny.

In a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission and five other agencies, the Democrat noted that the developer of the system, Symphony Communications LLC, has described it as a way to “prevent government spying,” with “no backdoors.”

“The communications that Symphony will allow companies to hide from ‘government spying’ — such as text messages and chat room transcripts — have proven to be ‘key evidence’ in many previous regulatory and compliance cases that have uncovered criminal action by Wall Street,” Warren wrote.

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“If banks are now making this information more difficult for regulators to obtain and interpret, it could prevent these regulators from identifying and preventing future illegal behavior,” she added.

Symphony, which was launched in October, has the backing of 14 of the world’s biggest banks and money managers, including Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, BlackRock, and Citadel LLC. According to The Wall Street Journal, “The firms wanted to find a way to enable employees to trade messages instantly and securely, as well as provide an alternative to the messaging system provided by Bloomberg LLP.”

But in a letter sent last month to Symphony, New York State’s financial regulator asked the startup for details of its data retention and deletion capabilities, citing promotional materials that touted its “Guaranteed Data Deletion” and encryption protections.

Warren said she had “similar concerns about how the biggest banks’ use if this new communications tool will impact compliance and enforcement” at the federal level.

LIBOR-rigging schemes, she noted, were facilitated by the use of chatrooms and text messages and “it was the trail of such messages that permitted regulators both to discover and prosecute these financial crimes.”

Symphony denied that its service could be used to circumvent compliance.

“Symphony does not change regulators’ ability to obtain messages from our clients,” a spokeswoman told Bloomberg. “Symphony delivers messages to its clients to download, decrypt, and archive, and they are able to provide those messages to regulators just as they would with other compliant messaging systems.”