To support the growth of finfire – an independent software platform for financial advisors, fund managers and insurance brokers – Netfonds needed to shift the focus of its developer team from maintaining data infrastructure to delivering more customer value. The company chose Aiven as its partner to take on the management of numerous open source technologies, resulting in optimized performance, peace of mind and developers able to focus on software production. With Aiven in place, Netfonds can seamlessly scale its data infrastructure to support the business as it continues on its growth trajectory.
Creating a new fintech from a traditional business
With revenues of EUR 176.4 million in 2022, Hamburg-based Netfonds AG is one of the market leaders for broker pools in Germany and the largest bank independent liability umbrella in the country. Established in 2000, its core business has focused on the brokerage of various asset classes, as well as asset management, legal advice, auditing, research and back-office support. In 2020, Netfonds launched finfire, a proprietary digital platform for its client base of financial advisors, fund managers, insurance brokers and other financial institutions. Since then, finfire has become a significant part of its business, establishing Netfonds as a major fintech in the German market, and making a substantial contribution to the company’s steady revenue growth.
Maintaining a fully independent platform in line with growth ambitions
As a cloud-based software solution for the end-to-end processing and administration of business transactions, finfire is used by financial advisors, insurance brokers and financial planners as well as their investor and insurance clients. Since its launch, finfire has proved to be very popular among the former, enabling them to organize their work flexibly, transparently and securely, while providing compliance support in the EU’s highly regulated financial services market. In fact, finfire has become a key differentiator for Netfonds.
Netfonds has an extensive team of developers and architects working on advancing the platform’s capabilities and ensuring it meets the changing needs of its diverse range of clients. However, the focus is very much on developing great software and applying DevOps principles to accelerate innovation rather than on building and maintaining the underlying databases, streaming technologies and related infrastructure.
According to Nis Christian Carstensen, CTO at Netfonds, the company uses Google as its cloud provider but it didn’t provide the support Netfonds required for handling data management technologies on an ongoing basis. For example, Carstensen’s team was struggling to effectively run Apache Cassandra®, a distributed NoSQL database, in the cloud.
Carstensen knew that these challenges would only increase as the company worked towards its ambitious plans for growth and the data environment needed to scale accordingly. “We’re used to growing 10% each year and we want to keep on that path,” says Carstensen. “When we developed finfire, we useda microservices environment precisely because it would allow us to scale and meet the wider company goals: to support more customers, to continue on our growth trajectory and to have a ‘think big’ mindset.”
It was clear that Netfonds needed support in managing Cassandra, as well as other technologies, to give the developer teams the time and space to focus on customer requirements.
A swift migration, with confidence in compliance
Aiven quickly emerged as the obvious choice for Netfonds. In addition to Cassandra, Carstensen was looking for a provider to take on the management of open source technologies Redis® and OpenSearch®. He was also keen to evaluate Apache Kafka® as a replacement for the existing messaging broker solution.
“We like the breadth of services that Aiven offers. We have a big zoo of technologies underpinning the finfire platform. Aiven can provide almost all the services we need,” says Carstensen.
One of the key considerations was the strict compliance environment in which Netfonds operates. For example, with the EU’s Digital Operational Resilience Act (DORA) due to come into force in 2025, Netfonds will face new rules for the protection, detection, containment, recovery and repair capabilities against ICT-related incidents.
“We needed a compliant vendor within the Google universe. Our compliance team really liked that, with Aiven, we continue to be flexible and agile, and have the ability to change cloud provider quickly if necessary,” says Carstensen. “It’s also important that we can connect our Google resources — like our BigQuery data warehouse — to the Aiven platform, and they are able to communicate without boundaries. Aiven’s pre-built integrations bring real value to our team.”
Having made the choice, Netfonds’ transition to Aiven was both easy and fast. After migrating its Cassandra instances to Aiven over a weekend, the team started evaluating Aiven for Apache Kafka®.
A demo was set up in just a few clicks and the technology was internally tested. Impressed with the performance, Netfonds chose Aiven for Apache Kafka as its data streaming technology for finfire.
Finally, the team migrated to Aiven for Redis® and Aiven for OpenSearch®, setting up all the services independently without support from Aiven.
100,000 messages delivered in near real time through 60 different microservices
Today Aiven plays a major role in finfire. Aiven for Apache Kafka ensures real time data moving through finfire is updated in each of the 60 different microservices and 60 Kafka topics in operation. “We can confidently process 100,000 messages through Kafka in near real time. But while we like the low-latency performance from Kafka, the real benefit is the reliability of message delivery now we are working with Aiven,” says Carstensen.
Aiven for Apache Cassandra® provides a critical database within finfire storing and tracking, for example, 3.5 million data points on the price of listed equities in Germany. Netfonds also uses Aiven for Redis — the in-memory aspect of the open source NoSQL datastore is ideally suited to the microservices architecture of finfire and its cache requirements.
“Aiven for OpenSearch provides a powerful interface to the data in finfire, enabling brokers, investors and our internal teams to find things quickly and easily. It can handle our large data volumes and will scale as we grow,” says Carstensen.
For example, through OpenSearch, brokers have a 360-degree view on finfire, and conduct in-platform searches across their customers, regulatory requirements, investment advice, product information and brokerage. Netfonds’ internal teams rely on finfire as part of their daily operations and the search functionality provided by OpenSearch is key to making their work efficient.
Driving business value with the Aiven platform
Thanks to Aiven, Netfonds has substantially removed friction associated with scaling its data infrastructure to support the business as it expands. With Aiven taking care of all the required maintenance, upgrades and related support, Carstensen’s team can focus on developing new features and making the finfire platform even better for customers.
“Open source solutions can be difficult to operate efficiently,” says Carstensen. “Aiven has the knowledge and experience to ensure we’re getting optimal performance and capturing more value — that’s a great thing.”
Carstensen also appreciates having a single vendor and a single contract. With a lot of solutions in place, Netfonds faced a potentially heavy management and compliance burden. Instead, with Aiven, it is easy for Netfonds to add on more services in a compliant way as needed.
Netfonds aims for more growth, more customers and seamless scaling
For the future, Netfonds is looking to keep on growing its business, adding more brokers and end customers to its platform. With Aiven services in place, they are looking forward to scaling seamlessly.
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