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280 CapMarkets: The Best Bond Prices Marketplace

Based on an interview with Gurinder Ahluwalia

Co-founder and CEO of 280 CapMarkets

Site: https://www.280capmarkets.com/
Founded: 2016
Value proposition: Improves market liquidity, providing better access and deeper markets while expanding opportunities for municipal and corporate debt issuers.
The executive team: Gurinder Ahluwalia, CEO

Dave Rudd, President

Prescott Nasser, CTO

280 CapMarkets is an innovation driven fixed income technology marketplace providing best execution support and price transparency to advisors, institutions and issuers. Our mission is to make the fixed income markets more efficient by empowering investment advisors and connecting market participants. 280’s cloud-native BondNav® platform improves market liquidity, providing better access and deeper markets while expanding distribution for municipal and corporate debt issuers.

Gurinder A. | WealthTech Club

Gurinder S Ahluwalia is co-founder and CEO of 280 CapMarkets. He brings over twenty-five years of operating and financial services experience with a proven track record of building, fixing and growing businesses, most recently in wealth management. Mr. Ahluwalia has provided strong leadership in varied roles including CEO and President, COO, and Chief Risk Officer. Currently, he is also an Executive Advisor to Thomas H. Lee Partners and lead director of the board of HighTower Advisors.

Previously, Mr. Ahluwalia was an Advisor at Ovo Cosmico, Inc., a VC-backed start-up with a mission of making credit affordable and accessible everywhere using the blockchain. He was also CEO of AssetMark, Inc., where he focused the company’s strategy on growth through advisor engagement, improved execution, and product and service innovations. As President and CEO of GE Private Asset Management and Genworth Wealth Management, he transformed the unit from a boutique business to one with industry-leading profitability. He previously served on the board of various mutual fund families, a Senior Vice President at GE Insurance and Chief Risk Officer at GE Edison Life Insurance.

From the business and technology perspectives, what makes 280 CapMarkets so unique? What tech and/or architecture enabled your company’s success and why?

Gurinder Ahluwalia: 280 CapMarkets (or simply 280) is a technology company transforming fixed income by delivering pricing power, market clarity, and best execution support to level the playing field for independent financial advisors and institutions. 

Our innovative and patent-pending, cloud-native BondNav® technology platform serves as a marketplace which identifies the best available bond prices and aggregates offerings across numerous venues, including alternative trading systems and exchanges, inter-dealer brokers, dealers and institutions. 280 combines its tech savvy with the expertise of its full-service capital markets team to serve as a conflict-free extension of an advisor’s practice, driving profitability and growth while working to obtain price improvements and best execution on every trade.

With tech innovations happening across the entire spectrum of the financial industry, the bond market is no exception. 280 is bringing together institutional and retail offerings into one streamlined platform. 280 is the innovation leader in this space, and is dedicated to increasing pricing transparency, providing better product access and helping to ensure best execution for advisors.

Have you ever felt like you should have done something the other way from the very beginning? 

Gurinder Ahluwalia: About four years ago we asked ourselves how advisors go out and procure individual bonds.  Many of them are using different solutions but if they’re buying individual securities, we said, how do they do that and how has technology changed to help them with this process, and we didn’t come back with a strong answer. So that was the genesis of the business and what we’ve created is the ability to be the trading desk and service provider for the advisor. We’re on the same side of the table as them and the idea was to level the playing field using technology.

What’s more important, a quality product or excellent customer service? Giving the lockdown and current situation, are your priorities shifted to any of these?

Gurinder Ahluwalia: 280 CapMarkets’ well-regarded and experienced fixed income and technology teams were drawn together by a passion for improving the bond buying and selling experience for advisors. Our new approach to fixed income investing uniquely binds deep fixed income expertise with a sophisticated technology platform, allowing independent advisors to save valuable time, grow their business, and manage their clients’ fixed income portfolios with confidence.

How have you managed to foster your team? What’s the secret sauce? 

Gurinder Ahluwalia: 280 CapMarkets has a technology-driven, entrepreneurial culture. We thrive in a flat organization with reduced hierarchy and increased engagement. Historically we have engaged in various social and community events however, during these days in a pandemic environment we have continued to excel in a remote setting while continuing to engage with our employees in regular calls and virtual meetings.

What business metrics do you use to measure your team’s efficiency (if any) and why?

Gurinder Ahluwalia: Performance feedback is continual as part of regular one on ones between a manager and his/her employee (usually every 2 weeks or so). Annual performance goals are set but often shift as priorities evolve and are treated as a guide.

280 CapMarkets has a planning process towards year end where employees can share how their goals fit within the broader enterprise business goals. We organize a set of strong alignment sessions and create a common set of shared goals. We also have a mid-year check which compares midyear performance with midyear goals and expectations. Finally, at year end we review our performance vs overall goals and company performance, which is the input for the next year.

How do you select and onboard new team members? How have you structured your teams?

Gurinder Ahluwalia: Our approach varies per business and function. Universally we are looking for people who have the drive and connect with the mission.  Then, there is anatural process of meeting various team members to see if there is a mutual fit and interest. Afterall, we spend so much time with each other one way or another – it has to be enjoyable.  Operationally, we make job postings available on our social media channels, website and through our networks.

 

How to Efficiently Onboard Software Engineers

 

What tools and/or SaaS solutions do you and your company prefer using for team communication, collaboration, task & time tracking, testing, and so on? Why?

Gurinder Ahluwalia: We use Teams for internal communications and Zoom for ease of use for setting up meetings. Also, we use Microsoft 365 for sharing documents within the organization, Atlassian Jira for technology task tracking, and planning and Confluence for product requirements and notes. Lastly, for technology testing, we use a variety of tools.

Gurinder, how do you manage your time and prioritize work, life, and personal growth activities? Have you ever mentored other projects and/or other leaders?

Gurinder Ahluwalia: Work-life balance is incredibly important and I think of it as an integrated experience vs two ends of a see-saw because the see-saw framework always seems to fail one side. Also, most importantly successful work-life integration requires a great team, both professionally and personally. 

End-to-end integrations and partnerships are a pressing necessity for every player operating within the WealthTech ecosystem. What’s the most important thing about making integrations and partnerships in WealthTech, in your mind? What aspects make the partnerships especially valuable for each side?

Gurinder Ahluwalia: Each situation is unique but if I generalize – it’s a hub and spoke model.  The hub has the clients attention and engagement broadly and the spokes are the specialists – who do their business better and stay within their vertical of specialization. The hub ensures the best of breed is connected and available.  It’s a mutual benefit to the parties and the biggest winner should be the clients of the service.

Does your company have any far-reaching roadmap concerning new integrations and offerings? How do often you release? What milestones would you like to see in there? 

Gurinder Ahluwalia: Since launching in May 2017, 280 has executed more than 70,000 trades representing more than $40 billion in par value. During 2020, 280 has provided direct access to more than 330 new issue municipal bond underwritings representing tax exempt and taxable projects across the country. BondNav has been able to help advisors obtain a better price than the listed bid or offer on more than 70 percent of its trades.

We most recently added mortgage-backed securities to our BondNav platform. We now support virtually all the over-the-counter fixed-income asset classes, including municipal bonds, corporate bonds, CDs, U.S. GSEs (Government Sponsored Enterprises) asset backed and Treasury Securities. We will continue to build out our BondNav platform to better service financial advisors and institutions. 

Are there any industry trends that make you feel comfortable or upset over the industry? Why? Are there any anti-trends you can see in WealthTech? Is there any trend that nobody speaks about?

Gurinder Ahluwalia: I think the trends are out there – and even in 2020, they continued – the breakaways, the consolidation in the wealth space and the investments being poured into WealthTech. I think these trends bode well for the ultimate consumers of these services in bringing better services at competitive price points. Afterall, an alternative is just a click or swipe away.

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