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Cobalt secures investment from Singapore Exchange

Cobalt, the FX post-trade processing network based on shared infrastructure and high performance technology, has secured a strategic investment from Singapore Exchange (SGX), which operates Asia’s largest, most diverse and fastest growing FX exchange.

SGX’s investment will support the continued expansion of Cobalt’s footprint into the FX space, further accelerating technology development and build out of the team.

Cobalt’s unique solution leverages highly optimised technology alongside an in-house immutability service based on distributed ledger technology (DLT) to deliver a shared back and middle office infrastructure that is scalable, secure and fast.

By creating a shared view of trade data, Cobalt frees up back and middle office resources from multiple layers of reconciliation; creating a ‘golden’ portfolio of FX transactions from which to provide multiple services.

The platform takes a fresh approach to financial infrastructure and has been developed to replace the dated middle and back office systems of today, which can be disorderly, inefficient, risk-laden and costly.

Adrian Patten, Co-Founder and Chairman of Cobalt, comments: “SGX’s investment is testament to our innovative application of technology in the FX space. Our platform addresses pain points faced by almost every institution that trades FX: the unnecessary cost and risk associated with post-trade processing. Singapore is an important global hub for FX and we are delighted to welcome SGX on board as we continue to expand our footprint in the region.”

Michael Syn, Head of Derivatives at SGX, comments: “We are pleased to be supporting this important FX market infrastructure, which is complementary to our growing FX futures business and a natural fit for SGX given our own commitment to product and platform innovation. We look forward to seeing Cobalt continue to gain traction in the global post-trade FX market as they pioneer FX technology development, delivering cost and risk mitigation benefits to market participants across the world.”

Henry Ritchotte, Strategic Advisor to Cobalt, comments: “Exchanges around the world continue to invest in the critical infrastructure underpinning financial markets. This collaboration between a major Asian exchange and an innovative firm that has developed a unique high performance, DLT solution is a major step forward in upgrading the systems our industry relies on to operate efficiently, safely and cost-effectively.”

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UK Remains at the Forefront of the Fintech Revolution

Despite fierce competition, the UK remains at the forefront of the fintech revolution according to the ‘Finance for Fintech’ report, launched recently by London Stock Exchange Group and TheCityUK.

The independent survey, carried out by YouGov, interviewed over 400 fintech companies across eight countries, all of which have had at least Series A funding rounds or above, and provided interesting insights into the global fintech scene.

Bullish UK fintech scene

UK fintechs are bullish about their growth prospects.

The research highlighted that fintech companies operating in the UK expect to grow by 88 per cent over the next three years, 8% higher than the overall average.

Vital to this growth is raising finance and this process is reportedly more straightforward for UK fintechs in public markets than those operating in other countries, making it an attractive location for fast-growth companies. Chancellor Philip Hammond recently supported this view, pointing out that investment in UK fintech more than doubled last year, outpacing the funding of EU rivals such as Germany.

Interestingly, fintechs surveyed placed the UK as the third best  location for businesses seeking to grow their international footprint, only behind the US and China.

Fintech Revolution in Europe?

That said, competition is heating up.

Europe increasingly seeks to strengthen its position as a regional fintech hub. On 8 March, the European Commission announced an action plan on how it will do just that; new rules that will help crowdfunding platforms to grow across the EU’s single market.

The impact of this will be interesting as one of the primary barriers to fintech growth is competition according to 43% of those surveyed.

Regulation

Fintechs require a supportive global regulatory environment to flourish.

You have to applaud the FCA’s exploration of a potential global regulatory sandbox following the success of its UK version. The UK version, launched in 2016, helped fintechs to test innovations with real customers in the live market but under controlled conditions.

The global sandbox could allow firms to conduct tests from London into different jurisdictions at the same time, enabling regulators to collaborate to solve cross-border problems.

This has the potential to strengthen London’s position as a destination for global fintech companies as they can come from all around the world to test their products and find out how they can expand internationally.

Fintech is by definition without borders.

The research shows that fintechs across the world are becoming increasingly cross-border in their growth aspirations with 72% of the 400 companies surveyed planning to expand into new countries. 73% believe they will need to move into new or develop existing market sectors in order to achieve this growth and almost three-quarters believe long-term growth will be driven, at least in part, by new technologies.

It is worth noting that those who have reached Series D rounds or above have the biggest appetite for expansions and anticipate achieving a monumental growth of 320%.

While fintechs seek global expansion, it is important they don’t lose sight of the importance of being located close to the core financial hubs as crossover will, by and large, determine their success.

It is clear that in order for fintechs to thrive and continue to transform the global financial services sector, they need access to finance, a supportive global regulatory environment and proximity to the global financial services sector. The UK currently offers all three.

The report demonstrates that while the UK remains at the forefront of the fintech revolution, it must continue to innovate and work collaboratively in order to maintain its leading position, especially with Europe hot on its heels.

 

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Survival of the biggest: A new era of mega-exchanges on the horizon?

The prospect of a merger between exchange powerhouses, the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) and Deutsche Börse could usher in an era of mega-exchanges, where a handful of providers dominate equity, derivative, fixed income, indices and clearing markets in specific geographies – making them a one stop shop for the entire trade cycle.

Yet the road to that reality is certainly a long one. The unravelling of negotiations between these two trading behemoths to secure a deal in 2000 and again in 2005, demonstrates all to clearly the challenge that lies ahead.

Moreover, possible legal hurdles put in place by anti-trust authorities, combined with political and economic uncertainty surrounding a British exit from the European Union, could yet prove terminal.

The rationale behind this potential corporate marriage is clear. In a statement issued by the LSEG announcing the talks, the Group pointed to “the prospect of enhanced growth, significant customer benefits including cross-margining between listed and OTC derivatives clearing.” The move, which would allow both firms to pool capital, resources and expertise to grow market share and cut operational costs is also consistent with the LSE’s long-term strategy under the leadership of CEO, Xavier Rolet.

Rolet’s commitment to strengthen the Group by completing a string of acquisitions to diversify its offering in the derivatives, indices and clearing market has paid dividends. The purchase of indices providers Russell Group and FTSE in quick succession, as well as a majority stake in LCH Clearnet, one of the largest interdealer clearing houses, has affirmed the group’s position in Europe as a leading provider of trade execution, clearing and data related services.

This strategy has led to a dramatic rise in market capitalisation by as much as fivefold and also transformed the group from being preyed upon by rival firms, to a predator seeking to grow market share, according to a recent article on the proposed deal in the Financial Times.

However, US exchanges are increasingly seeking to secure a global, rather than continental footprint with a move into European Markets. BATS Global Markets, a US operator, now runs the biggest stock exchange in Europe by market share – whilst CME, the Chicago-based group, launched in European markets in 2012 with a multi-asset derivatives offering spanning trading and clearing services – posing a direct challenge to incumbent operators.

Against this backdrop, it is clear to see why these two institutions are seeking to pool capital, technology and people to compete directly with global exchanges, particularly from the US. It is well known that this drive towards exchange consolidation is likely to result in a small number of major operators, reducing market fragmentation, something noted by Rolet in 2011.

“In five years there’ll be three, four international exchange groups with global distribution capabilities,” he said in an article in the Telegraph.

But what about end-users?

Whilst the rationale behind a potential merger has commercial objectives, it is also likely to deliver cost synergies, particularly for core customers such as large investment banks and asset managers.

For example, the introduction of new regulation designed to implement greater risk controls on global derivatives markets has placed steeper margin requirements on banks – creating a glut of capital warehoused in major clearing providers such as LCH Clearnet and Eurex Clearing. Whilst the LSEG statement specifically noted that both firms would remain as separate entities, a merger could allow banks with portfolios in each CCP to reduce net margins and free up capital that can be used more profitably elsewhere.

Whilst a deal will deliver greater operational efficiencies to LSEG, Deutsche Börse and their respective customers, it is likely to trigger further consolidation as smaller exchanges rush to pool resources and as a result, introduce a new era dominated by a handful of major global players.