N.Y., Banks Reach Deal Over New IM Service

The agreement is designed to ease regulators' concerns over the Symphony service's retention of records.
Matthew HellerSeptember 14, 2015

The New York State Department of Financial Services has reached an agreement with four major banks that addresses the regulator’s concerns over their use of the new Symphony instant-messaging system.

Under the agreement, Symphony will retain for seven years a copy of all e-communications sent through its platforms to or from Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse Group and Bank of New York Mellon, and the banks will store duplicate copies of the decryption keys for their messages with independent custodians.

“This is a critical issue since chats and other electronic records have provided key evidence in investigations of wrongdoing on Wall Street,” Anthony Albanese, acting superintendent of financial services, told The Wall Street Journal.

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Symphony has the backing of 14 of the world’s biggest banks and money managers, including Goldman, Bank of America, BlackRock, and Citadel LLC. The four banks that reached agreements represent all of the banks in the consortium that NYDFS regulates.

The agency in July asked Symphony for details of its data retention and deletion capabilities, citing promotional materials that touted its “Guaranteed Data Deletion” and encryption protections.

The service has also sparked the interest of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has suggested financial firms could use it to shield themselves from regulatory scrutiny. Symphony has described it as a way to “prevent government spying.”

“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 last month in a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission and five other agencies.

The financial industry has been seeking ways for employees to instantly and securely communicate with each other. Symphony, set to launch this week, is viewed as a potential lower-cost alternative to a popular messaging service on Bloomberg’s terminals.

“We’re pleased to have worked cooperatively with the New York State Department of Financial Services to help resolve their concerns on proper record retention,” a BNY Mellon spokesman said.