29 February 2020
Kevin Mak (right, left photo) started Ironfly as a way to visualize tons of real-time data for financial traders. Photo: HKEJ
Kevin Mak (right, left photo) started Ironfly as a way to visualize tons of real-time data for financial traders. Photo: HKEJ

How to visualize tons of real-time data without blinking

“Fintech” is is a relatively new buzzword that is used to describe technology-enabled financial transactions.

Peer-to-peer lending and third-party payment services such as Alipay and Tenpay are good examples of this concept.

In fact, it’s more than that  

Take Ironfly Technologies.

The two-year-old start-up provides trading solutions to institutional investors such as funds and banks.

It visualizes tons of real-time data, improving trading efficiency, founder Kevin Mak says.

In investment, time and accuracy are everything.

Other than making sense of raw data, Ironfly helps traders identify outliers easily and efficiently and thus enhance performance.

It began as a business-to-business model but Mak hopes to eventually launch services for individual investors.

The company is moving along quite nicely.

Mak says the group serves a few funds on a trial basis but expects to record revenue as soon as next month when it goes into full commercial operation.

Mak grew up in Australia where he majored in computer studies.

Five years ago, he moved back to Hong Kong and worked as a fund trader.

However, he was intrigued to find that an international financial center like Hong Kong is still a slave to Excel spreadsheets.

“I know that computers can do much more than that,” he says.

So there was Mak trying to figure out how to turn his discovery into a start-up.

He invited two of his classmates from Australia to join him. “You know, they say co-founders are important.”

Ironfly takes its name from an options strategy called “iron butterfly”, which sets a definite dollar limit on the amounts that an investor can either gain or lose.

Mak says incubator Cyberport and accelerator Blueprint have helped Ironfly in different stages.

“In our initial stage, a lot of research and development had to be done. Cyberport provided a perfect environment for us to create our product,” Mak says.

Blueprint helped Mak and his partners pitch their product to potential clients.

Ironfly provides niche services. Mentors help the company explore which other areas its technology can be applied.

“For example, could we use it for logistics or emergency planning? Say we visualize the foot traffic data on every MTR station. If the image shows that traffic has surged in a particular station, MTR could immediately send more staff to the station for backup,” Mak says.

Hong Kong does not have many admirers of its fintech track record.

Mak puts it down to demand and supply.

“In western countries such as the United States, it is a hassle to go to banks when they close at four in the afternoon,” he says.

However, it is much easier to deposit, withdraw and transfer funds here; there is always a bank around the corner, so there is no motivation for people to develop mobile payment like in mainland China.

And don’t forget Hong Kong pioneered the stored-value smart card known as Octopus.

“I think local start-ups should focus on what they are most familiar with and try to be experts at problem-solving.”

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EJ Insight writer