Build or buy... or build and die Build or buy... or build and die Build or buy... or build and die

Build or buy... or build and die

Benny Boye Johansen

Head of OpenAPI, Saxo Bank

I recently read Chris Skinner’s book “Digital Human”. It provides an inspiring and insightful account of the current state of banking, focusing in depth on the rapid growth of Chinese fintechs, and presents a very clear case for pursuing Open Banking.

To that end, Chris devotes an entire section under the quite provocative heading “Build or Buy. Or Build and Die” His point is basically that banks too often insist on building the technology that underpins their value chains themselves. I fully agree with him that this is inefficient (everybody is basically building the same thing) and takes away focus and resources from what is most important: client relationships and client service.

Rather than trying to reinvent themselves as technology companies, banks should curate the best third-party solutions to support what is basically their core competency: client service. If the argument in itself isn’t compelling enough, the empirical fact that on average banks spend more than 80% of their IT budgets maintaining legacy systems makes it obvious that the current approach is not sustainable in the long term.

This message resonates well with Saxo, so I used Chris’ quote at a recent presentation, only to be immediately challenged: “If Saxo Bank has almost 800 software engineers, are you then in fact not building instead of buying? Are you really true to your stated message and vision?”

Build vs. buy

Our co-founder and CEO Kim Fournais has already touched upon our partnership vision in a previous article, but I would like to provide a complementary perspective. Prior to taking on the role of Head of OpenAPI, I spent four years as one of three Saxonian Enterprise Architects reporting to our CTO. Back then, as is the case now, Saxo Bank was continuously looking as how it can extend its offerings in terms of products, services, capabilities, and reach, so the Build/Buy discussion often came up. 

The first question in our Build/Buy decision was always “Is this core to our business? Does the system support and extend a business capability for which we already have extensive knowledge? Is this new system, which we are about to build or buy, so important to our business and our mission that we want to invest not only money but also people, vision, and focus into the area for many years to come?” 

A typical follow-up question would be: “Is there something out there that we can buy or integrate with?” Maybe we cannot buy all of the functionalities, but maybe some parts have actually been produced by someone else, requiring us not to start from scratch. This question touches upon a core question: where is it that we want to differentiate and where can we accept to integrate with a third party or off-the-shelf solution?

We regularly measure and evaluate ourselves against our stated mission, which is “to become the world’s most profitable and professional facilitator in the global capital markets”. We often ask ourselves: “can we implement the new feature or capability, using a third-party provider or third-party software while still staying true to our mission?” Is this new capability, something we would like to offer as part of our Open Banking platform, and if so, will that be possible if provided by a third party?

If the answer is “yes” we actually choose to buy/partner with someone over building it ourselves.

I should finally note that opportunities for integrating products are evolving over time, and consequently the build/buy decision must often be revisited. Back in 2000, we had our own custom-built CRM, Data Warehouse, and analytics solutions. Nowadays we use Microsoft CRM, Data Warehouse, and Power BI. Back in 2000, we also had our own custom-built websites using ASP.NET and a home grown CMS system. Today we use SiteCore. We also used to have a home-grown incident and problem management system for our IT Operating center, now we use ServiceNow.

One may say that such evolution was necessary to keep up with today’s digital advancements. But what about your trading platform? Have you not built all of that yourself, and if we want to provide a first-class trading experience for our clients, are we then not forced to also build that ourselves? 

The Saxo platform

I may disappoint you. We have several key custom-built components, but they are custom-built because there is no viable solution on the market as of yet which allows us to support multi-asset trading on a single account in a completely customisable and configurable manner and in a way that we can make it available to our partners as part of our Banking as a Service in the Cloud offering. But even within core trading, we do not own and have not built our entire value chain. For example, with trading we often interface with other banks and brokers. For access to reference and market data, we work with a number of large data vendors. And when looking at other parts of the value chain, we also use third-party solutions for custody, corporate action handling, fraud detection, network acceleration, and other issues.

Even for components of our user interface – even for something which forms an integral part of the user experience – we partner with others. For example, we have not developed our own chart pattern analysis and recognition system. I am confident we could solve this in-house as the number of Saxonians dealing with AI has increased in great numbers, but why do this when Autochartist has specialised itself in determining patterns automatically for almost 15 years now?

Staying true to our vision

To summarise, although Saxo has almost 800 software engineers and IT specialists, we are indeed true to our own vision. Our raison d’etre is to democratise trading and investing, and we want to do it in a scalable manner by offering our Open Banking Platform and services to our own clients and partners. To do so, we have made and are still making conscious choices about what to build and what to buy. A significant number of the 800 engineers are indeed building customised software, but the remaining part is really focusing on integrating third-party applications, software, and services supporting this with people and processes to ensure that when your organization or service interfaces with Saxo Bank and our Open Platform, all of the underlying complexity is abstracted away.

This is also where we think we bring the most value. For the last 25 years, we have spent time, money, and focus building, curating and integrating components, systems, and services so that a third-party broker, bank or technology company can engage with only a single company through a coherent interface to offer their clients access to trading and investing in the global financial market across a vast range of asset classes.

This is why I wholeheartedly agree with Chris Skinner, and this is why we are seeing more and more companies taking the leap of faith and choosing to “buy” (or partner) rather than build when it comes to trading and investing capabilities.

Saxo Capital Markets (Australia) Limited prepares and distributes information/research produced within the Saxo Bank Group for informational purposes only. In addition to the disclaimer below, if any general advice is provided, such advice does not take into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider the appropriateness of trading any financial instrument as trading can result in losses that exceed your initial investment. Please refer to our Analysis Disclaimer, and our Financial Services Guide and Product Disclosure Statement. All legal documentation and disclaimers can be found at

The Saxo Bank Group entities each provide execution-only service. Access and use of Saxo News & Research and any Saxo Bank Group website are subject to (i) the Terms of Use; (ii) the full Disclaimer; and (iii) the Risk Warning in addition (where relevant) to the terms governing the use of the website of a member of the Saxo Bank Group.

Saxo News & Research is provided for informational purposes, does not contain (and should not be construed as containing) financial, investment, tax or trading advice or advice of any sort offered, recommended or endorsed by Saxo Bank Group and should not be construed as a record of our trading prices, or as an offer, incentive or solicitation for the subscription, sale or purchase in any financial instrument. No representation or warranty is given as to the accuracy or completeness of this information. All trading or investments you make must be pursuant to your own unprompted and informed self-directed decision. No Saxo Bank Group entity shall be liable for any losses that you may sustain as a result of any investment decision made in reliance on information on Saxo News & Research.

To the extent that any content is construed as investment research, such content was not intended to and has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and as such, would be considered as a marketing communication.

None of the information contained here constitutes an offer to purchase or sell a financial instrument, or to make any investments.Saxo Capital Markets does not take into account your personal investment objectives or financial situation and makes no representation and assumes no liability as to the accuracy or completeness of the information nor for any loss arising from any investment made in reliance of this presentation. Any opinions made are subject to change and may be personal to the author. These may not necessarily reflect the opinion of Saxo Capital Markets or its affiliates.

Please read our disclaimers:
- Full Disclaimer (
- Analysis Disclaimer (
- Notification on Non-Independent Investment Research (

Saxo Capital Markets (Australia) Limited
Suite 1, Level 14, 9 Castlereagh St
Sydney NSW 2000

Contact Saxo

Select region


The Saxo trading platform has received numerous awards and recognition. For details of these awards and information on awards visit

Saxo Capital Markets (Australia) Limited ABN 32 110 128 286 AFSL 280372 (‘Saxo’ or ‘Saxo Capital Markets’) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Saxo Bank A/S, headquartered in Denmark. Please refer to our General Business Terms, Financial Services Guide, Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determination to consider whether acquiring or continuing to hold financial products is suitable for you, prior to opening an account and investing in a financial product.

Trading in financial instruments carries various risks, and is not suitable for all investors. Please seek expert advice, and always ensure that you fully understand these risks before trading. Saxo Capital Markets does not provide ‘personal’ financial product advice, any information available on this website is ‘general’ in nature and for informational purposes only. Saxo Capital Markets does not take into account an individual’s needs, objectives or financial situation. The Target Market Determination should assist you in determining whether any of the products or services we offer are likely to be consistent with your objectives, financial situation and needs.

Apple, iPad and iPhone are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the US and other countries. AppStore is a service mark of Apple Inc.

The information or the products and services referred to on this website may be accessed worldwide, however is only intended for distribution to and use by recipients located in countries where such use does not constitute a violation of applicable legislation or regulations. Products and Services offered on this website is not intended for residents of the United States and Japan.

Please click here to view our full disclaimer.