With Bryan, I discussed global trends in wealth management, humans and robo components competing with one another, and expectations for the near future.> More details
Trizic: Parallel Assembly Lines for Software
|Clients||Enterprises, banks and credit unions, advisors|
|Value proposition||Bringing the power of big deployments to automate wealth solutions|
|Top Executives||Drew Sievers, CEO
Ian Kennedy, COO
Steve Mays, CTO
Steve Lewczyk, CRO
Trizic is an exemplary case of continuous integration and delivery. I met with the CEO and CRO of the company to discuss life at Trizic in detail and shed some light on the upcoming plans of the executives. The company’s office is located in a small forest in quiet San Rafael, California. The loft-like premises include a great balcony that is perfect for chit-chatting with fellow colleagues.
During our meeting, I found out that Trizic built up its process in a way that allows for multiple releases per day, even if several features are ready and have undergone all relevant tests. Not every company can say the same, as it’s usually easier for older firms to stick to a conventional release process.
Here, we present a portrait of this FinTech player through the eyes of the main people behind its game-changing tech solution.
Drew Sievers, CEO of Trizic, before starting this business ran mFoundry, a mobile banking company that he sold to Fidelity National Information Services Inc. (FIS) in 2013.
Earlier in his career, Drew was President of web architect firm, Novo, where they built highly transactional internet businesses for clients like Toyota, Lexus, General Motors, e-Trade and Orbitz. Novo was ultimately sold to Publicis. Drew also has a venture fund that invests in early-stage FinTech companies. Along with banking and financial services expertise, Drew has years of experience in strategic planning, advertising, and marketing, working in North America and APAC.
Steve Mays, Trizic’s CTO, has a long background in supercomputing technology, Internet technologies, and telecoms. He has worked for governments around the world and became familiar with blockchain before it started making major headlines.
Steve was also part of Twitter’s early operational team. He has worked on special effects in movies with George Lucas and Industrial Light and Magic, and was the US government’s representative in Central Asia in the mid-2000s for electronic governance.
Steve Lewczyk, the newly appointed CRO of the company, has been in the wealth-management space for about 30 years. His whole career has been sales, sales management, marketing, and growing businesses. He built a data aggregation platform called Advent Custodial Data, which works with data from a hundred different custodians and prime brokers for about 3,000 registered investment advisors, asset managers, and enterprises.
Steve was also with Fidelity Investments for four years, launching institutional wealth services for registered investment advisors. Later, he started his own company called Nirvana Solutions—providing general portfolio management and risk management for hedge funds—which is still operating.
What can Trizic do for its clients?
Trizic helps clients with three main problems:
- Revenue going down because of compressed fees;
- Sky-high operating costs because of software that needs human capital to operate, or additional software on top of the existing system;
- Increased regulation of the wealth industry.
Trizic provides digital workflow automation technology to RIAs, Broker Dealers, Asset Managers, Wirehouses, Banks, and Credit Unions. While they deliver technology for many different constituencies, their approach for banks and credit unions is unique.
Many banks currently use the same wealth technology software they installed years ago, but the software has typically become too expensive to operate efficiently. This inefficient, legacy software was created for a different time. Thus, it’s hard to get all the pieces in sync when they operate under one single umbrella for workflows like new account onboarding, moving accounts to financial advice, and managing portfolio rebalancing. This is where Trizic technology helps banks improve their operating margins by significant amounts. As a result, it becomes a win–win situation wherein both the clients and Trizic can benefit and generate more profit.
Unlike its competitors, whether it’s pivoting B2C solution providers, or B2B roll-ups that have acquired various technologies, Trizic has built its system in continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) Agile style. This approach is highly flexible. For instance, if a client decides to change the way it handles treatment of taxable events and other transactional costs the algorithm is able to accommodate the necessary changes at a per client level. Trizic can do the job rapidly, in many cases pushing complex changes to their algorithms into production within a week. One aspect of this delivery model that makes Trizic unique is the “feature flags” the company utilizes for every single part of the system. There is no branching logic, all of the code is live at the same time, just with different flags enabled for different clients.
“We can have 100 different features that all coexist within our single instance of software and we can turn things on and off, whenever it needs to be done.”
– Drew Sievers
When it comes to innovating and adding new features quickly, Trizic can react easily since they don’t have to deal with traditional product releases. The solution the company offers is completely extensible, so as the need arises, anything can be plugged in.
For example, the platform enables advisors to create their own RTQs and push them into production seamlessly. Trizic does not create the models deployed on its platform; the clients use either their own or those from third-party vendors and slot consumers into the right portfolio in a consumer-lead manner via the firm customizable onboarding risk questionnaires.
The engine architecture allows for customization or standardization where and when needed: many banks want to see their workflow become compliant with internal standards, but they also expect an opportunity to customize in order to be able to capitalize on their unique strengths.
The core of the platform
Trizic’s API powered platform, has several key partner (Custodian, CRM, ACH, account aggregation) integrations and its investor solution can be deployed inside of a bank’s online banking site or mobile banking app, allowing wealth management to smoothly integrate with the bank’s existing omnichannel strategy. The platform’s automation means banks can cost-effectively offer a wealth-management solution for clients who have between $500 and $250,000 in assets—typically an unprofitable space for institutions.
A related business sector in which Trizic operates is the relatively new domain of credit unions, which is an emerging vertical in WealthTech. The company’s management is very optimistic that Trizic will succeed in this sector for a number of different reasons. The firm has already signed its very first credit union client, and has five more similar deals to be finalized in the near future. The strength of Trizic in this space lies within its strategic partnership with FIS, which is a well-known $30B Florida-based financial software provider that has chosen Trizic as its digital wealth platform.
Along with opportunities come challenges, and this emerging space around credit unions is no exception since these institutions do not make quick decisions. For example, some of Trizic’s competitors signed deals with large BFS players two years back, but nothing has really happened yet after the initial stage of contract signing.
“FIS/Sungard is one of the biggest providers of trust accounting systems for major banks and credit unions. Our direct competition has no ties with them. Trizic has competitive advantage here, with unique access to the trust systems.”
– Drew Sievers
Trizic has direct access to their systems, TrustDesk, Addvantage, GlobalPlus, and Charlotte. Trizic also has access to other FIS-related systems including mobile banking, online banking, core banking, WealthStation, and others.
When it comes to the client pool, Trizic operates in all the sectors its competitors are trying to access. Trizic sees two types of competing firms:
- B2C pivot companies who take a consumer-facing solution and then attempt to enhance it into an enterprise offering.
- B2B roll-ups that use technologies that might have been developed in different languages, with different methodologies, and thus will have scalability and stability challenges.
“Trizic is a single platform; it’s one code base, so the solution is designed to allow massive automation across the entire practice for all of those segments.”
– Drew Sievers
Further, Trizic has a variety of features that are extremely innovative and can be added any time for the firm that controls the platform. Being able to complete a level of segmentation on a portfolio is definitely a feather in Trizic’s cap, as it enables financial advisors to find out where the practice is leaking money and investigate the causes of this, what their break-even points are, etc.
“We are a software company. We are not a sub-advisor and we won’t be one.”
– Drew Sievers
The company’s management notes that Trizic is not a financial planning platform and doesn’t have plans to buy one, because that space is already crowded—there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, Trizic just integrates into such platforms, presenting itself as a digital hub at the center of every possible bit of connectivity out there.
A close-up look at security
Trizic’s CTO emphasizes the necessity to automate and secure your data at rest, in flight, in logs, in backups, everywhere. Consequently, if there are logs for example, there should be clear process flows and steps to minimize PII storage, risk, leakage; get data from a partner at request time if you don’t need to store it. Along with encryption comes the need to create, revoke, monitor encryption keys and SSL certificates over secure, authenticated channels as that rapidly becomes the biggest issue in encryption. Steve Mays has a long history in software development; he mentions that the company selected HashiCorp’s Vault and then wrote several extensions to that to give them this level of service.
On every single deployment, Trizic dynamically negotiates keys, which includes SSH keys, SSL certs, split master/subsidiary encryption or decryption keys and operates its own internal Certificate Authority or CA. As an example of their security oriented mindset: there are master keys that clients never see, and they get an encryption or a decryption key, which is a subsidiary key so that key can be generated during orchestration or creation or revoked during teardown of a previously running Amazon Web Services (AWS) Instance or one of Trizic’s immutable Docker containers. In this way, no one ever gets the master keys, which allows the company to rotate anything at any point of time in a fully authenticated, automated manner that no human administrator can match.
The platform’s queue-powered architecture
“With associates at large corporations requiring different levels of permission and integrations with all the custodians—data aggregators, quote providers, etc.—Trizic became that one-stop hub for integrating across many data sources.”
– Steve Lewczyk
Steve Mays, the company’s CTO, points out that Trizic focuses on business process automation that works for both small and large enterprises. He mentions that you can’t trust and switch over to a new thing until you have conducted tests. Along with his team, Steve began scaling Trizic’s initial architecture. The process started with trying out a few URI-based servicesthat they put into HashiCorp Consul for service registration. However, constantly doing lookups and managing one to one service communication wasn’t the best idea for scaling and for multi-region. The solution was to use queueing-based microservices. This gives Trizic the ability to arbitrarily turn on additional Docker containers if a given service needs more performance or fault tolerance with very low cost and in an entirely automated manner. Queues provide fast, RAM-based data storage and strong assurances that data has been only read once, while allowing for multiple services to take on work from that queue in parallel.
“Now we have an automated, cloud-deployed, test driven, secured, auditable platform.”
– Steve Mays
The engineers at Trizic built a whole consumer API that calls on the queue with a near-cache concept using AWS’ ElastiCache (or hosted Redis) and a far-cache concept that keeps the session—anything in the user session, anything about the user account when logged in or cached from the database—stuck in Redis, so that it can then be used over and over again and automatically deleted when the user isn’t logged in anymore via settable Time to Live (TTL) options when data is inserted into that cache.
If the data isn’t in the cache, a tiered data architecture with Java/Spring, Amazon Relational Database Services (RDS) and from 3rd party partners can retrieve that data and there are more chances for caching to speed up access, while being secured and ephemeral in nature. Trizic built out an abstraction layer to allow for access to multiple data partners via microservices, not just its own local data stores. When the time came for adding additional custodians, the company quickly deployed microservices working with queues to publish accounts that need orders generated and executed, communicate with the proper custodian, using data from right data partners. Thus, the services can be rolled out in just a few months, not a year.
“…we can implement services in any language, like GoLang for example. We have a very small service that tells us if today is a trading day and if so, is it shortened. This service doesn’t really have fast-moving data, doesn’t access any other data sources, reads a flat file once a year and loads that into RAM, we decided to try the service in GoLang, living alongside a Java architecture.”
– Steve Mays
The initial approach was to split every business process into its own set of services, out of which there are at least two components—a producer that gets data from the data store and writes it to a queue; and a consumer, which consumes this data and does something with it. There is a contract between the two, what is in the message on the queue. What the consumer does with the data or where the producer gets the data is immaterial to each other. This was one of those “aha!” moments when Steve Mays realized that Trizic could actually turn this into “Henry Ford’s assembly line concept but for software”. By allowing engineers to agree on format and data (or contract), splitting work up into a constellation of producers and consumers (or collectively “workers”), many engineers can work on the same project without running into merge conflicts.
As previously mentioned, Trizic adopted configuration flags—a concept wherein one continuously writes little bits of software. In such a way, mini “chunks” of code are written and deployed every hour, as quickly as possible, and without regard to order of completion, in a completely safe manner.
“You basically build up your prod like Legos, as opposed to large deploys. Now we’re becoming a test-driven infrastructure and architecture, not just test-driven development.”
– Steve Mays
The idea is to deploy the whole architecture all over again on another set of servers, and run it through the unit, integration, security regression, performance regression, and test frameworks. Then, only if everything passes, the changes take place. With Docker and DevOps, whole environments are testable along with their security, configuration, performance, exactly like we use to test just code.
Product roadmap drawn from inspiration from clients
Trizic embraces the needs of its clients without having to be concerned about the client’s scale. Learning both from small firms and well-established large enterprises, the WealthTech player collects feedback and further reflects on those insights when polishing its services.
“Because the roadmap is flexible we don’t create releases and try to cram features into it, but prioritize client needs and minimum viable versions of features instead.”
– Steve Mays
The digital solutions provider takes a holistic approach when it comes to product development, and looks into integrations and product features. Trizic has associates on board with years of industry expertise who have coded large systems and bank payment solutions, meaning that they’re fully versed in how to deal with huge amounts of complex and highly secure data. The integrations team is focused on improving existing integrations with custodians, trust systems, and CRM as well as bringing new integrations online quickly.
“…a huge part of our value is connecting to everything.”
– Drew Sievers
Trizic can easily integrate with multiple systems without having to change their core because they build Integration Adaptors or microservices to handle just the partner specifics of the communication. Trizic handles API communications, reading from its own data, chaining together 3rd party partner data to make the complex easy for its customers.
At Trizic, knowledge management and learning from mistakes are common practice. The team has engineering documents with all the features listed, where they dot the i’s and cross the t’s, with all details being thoroughly recorded. For example, API documentation is no longer error prone and delayed HTML or PDF documents; the company moved to RAML for describing its internal and external APIs and then added in RAML2HTML to render that RAML in a human readable form with ontology, examples, errors all explained as its committed to making it easy for partners to integrate with the company.
“The stories get written for everything that gets added to the platform.”
– Drew Sievers
In that way, summaries of all features and product details are always to hand to share with new customers, partners, employees, auditors.
Team structure and coding philosophy at Trizic
“I’m still absolutely, 100%, categorically opposed to releases of any sort. You release code as it is ready. In any order. You build up code, Lego by Lego until its finally all tested in pre-Prod and feature flags are enabled in Prod.”
– Steve Mays
Trizic’s CTO is not a big fan of short-term sprints, so they adopted Kanban, and the team builds up a corpus of trusted code over time using config flags, which allows for substantial flexibility: when needed, certain features for clients can be turned on or turned off.
Unlike a conventional release, at Trizic each feature can be released once it’s ready and has undergone all relevant testing. This tricky transition is possible due to pure CI/CD using Ansible when all the source code is covered with unit and integration tests, as well as Selenium Web Driver test for UI and a steady progression of approvals through various environments so that its proven before being deployed to production. Such an arrangement is a great example of classical Kanban with continual delivery and a pure DevOps culture. Additionally, microservices or modular architecture adds up to the bigger picture, enabling such flexibility and fast time to market.
Trizic has a group of programmers called “Engineering,” so they do not have separate departments based on technology. Whether an engineer works on automating deployment, ensuring that we have easy to use UX, secures our platform, develops features or improves data throughput, it’s all Engineering. While engineers do specialize, they work together to bring the team’s experience into solving problems versus focusing on the differences between department goals.
“The CEO just sees engineers and wants us to work together to reach our product vision, he doesn’t care who is in what specialty”
– Steve Mays
We mentioned earlier that Trizic has joined forces with FIS, a global player that offers tech solutions to 14,000 banks and credit unions. They provide the core banking systems, payment systems, and mobile banking solutions, as well as online banking, etc.
Along with mFoundry, founded by Drew Sievers, FIS purchased Sunguard, one of the biggest providers of wealth technology. However, when these two titans became one they still lacked one component: a digital wealth-management platform along with a robo-advisor. Trizic became that missing puzzle piece and offered a solution for retail banks, private banks, asset managers, and broker-dealers.
Trizic has great potential to be leading player when it comes to tapping into the relatively new community bank and credit union space, due, along with the powerful technology behind its product, to its partnership with FIS, which opens many doors for the company.
With years of industry expertise and deep domain knowledge, the team at Trizic has managed to build unique internal processes to simplify the procedure of creating technology for a vast array of clients, whether they are large enterprises or small banks.