Intra-IDB part II: The ICAP to eCAP deal

Where there is smoke there is fire and the proposed outline for a deal which I discussed in my blog this weekend was announced today.  Long time rivals  in the inter dealer broker (IDB) space Tullett Prebon and ICAP are coming together with Tullett buying ICAP in an all-stock deal. Tullett will now be the 800 lb. gorilla of voice brokering, with about 1500 ICAP brokers  going to Tullett as part of the deal as well as another 1000 employees. The deal will also include certain electronic assets like  ICAP’s 40.2% ownership in iSwap (IRS) , certain JVs and as well as the not clearly defined information services revenue. The details of the deal terms, economics and structuring are discussed in the press release and the analyst presentation. I will focus on certain key points of the deal looking at the ICAP side. ICAP has followed a strategy of acquiring growth and putting together an impressive portfolio of front to back  technology assets. Historically, its main challenge in maintaining the voice business was not only the lower margins, and slowing environment for many of the products traded  but the internal competition between its voice and electronic channels. The electronic businesses have not grown as they should, had this internal friction not been present. This is the case across asset classes. But, as they say, better late than never, and ICAP is on the road to becoming a different company. The new ICAP (let’s call it eCAP) will include: • FX venue EBS and the related EBS businesses • Treasury exchange BrokerTec • Post-trade and processing companies TriOptima and Traiana which serve across asset classes with a focus on FX, rates and credit • FinTech incubator Euclid which has been active in making strategic bets for the firm • Tullett will have the right to the ICAP name What is not entirely clear at this point is what “information services” will remain with eCAP. Given the importance of market data, a detailed understanding of the  value of  eCAP will be a function of whether certain market data assets like data from EBS and BrokerTec will remain with eCAP. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see if the eCAP has the right to compete in interest rate swaps, or what its plans will be to develop an electronic platform for IRS given the loss of iSwap. I would imagine, given the importance of interest rate swaps in the rate world that the new firm will want to have a robust offering in this area. In sum,  eCAP will be a lean technology, execution, venue, tools, pricing, and analytics company. Of course, eCAP will still have a vested interested in the voice business as it will hold about 20% of the newly issued Tullett stock.      

The future is here

The pressures are well known in banking and the capital markets. Each month there are front page articles of scaling back, overhauling, reorganizing, or closing major bank lines. A continued reworking, a forging of a new business is occurring. Old models are shrinking and being replaced by new business models or being cast aside. Since the 2008 crisis, wave after wave of pressure has made this perfectly clear. Capital constraints, on-going regulatory pressures, and an ultra-low interest rate environment have all struck hard at the existing banking & broker/dealer system. Nearly all players-big and small- are rethinking the very core of their businesses. And this is a multi-threaded problem across all businesses: equities, FX, fixed income, and derivatives. Banks and broker/dealers are trying to balance their existing franchises against the pressures they are facing to create a lean profitable business that supports their clients. There are no easy answers, given the strong interdependence between the wealth, asset management, and capital markets businesses across all products. Many of the solutions are moving from efficiency, or cost-cutting to effectiveness. Costs are being cut-there are improvements in risk, compliance, processing. The cost side is getting better but the challenge remains on the revenue side. This drive for effectiveness is driving business models that support internal and external clients from a compliance, transparency, regulatory, fairness and cost perspective are driving more automation and electronic trading solutions. Celent will be discussing the evolving landscape of innovation in automation and technology at two upcoming roundtables. On September 15th in London we will be looking at changes in the US and European fixed income markets and how new technologies are driving change. Then on September 22nd in Zurich, we will be looking at wealth management and the capital markets and the many changes that are occurring in Swiss banking.

Lessons of Bondcube

We have been following the development of Bondcube since early 2013 after its foundation in 2012. Founded by CEO Paul Reynolds and CTO Mark Germain, Bondcube had a unique vision to support trader workflow in fixed income to support greater liquidity in the market. While many FinTech start-ups focus on B2C and the client experience, Bondcube was squarely focused on B2B and workflow support for traders. While Bondcube leveraged new Web 2.0 capabilities such as chat and tracking, it was essentially a new tool for an existing audience with the vision created from former industry insiders trying to create something new. The central idea was that Bondcube could revive large order execution, minimize the market impact of search, and be disruptive to existing marketplaces like MarketAxess, Bloomberg and Tradeweb. It planned to optimize trading via chat and by leveraging historical inquiries. We understand it was marketed at zero cost to buyside and (relatively) cheap connectivity for dealers. Bondcube decided to focus on both the Europe and the US, like existing competitors. An investment by Deutsche Boerse AG suggested that Bondcube might have some legs to build traction, but today’s news on liquidation suggests that further funding was needed and the shareholders declined to do so. Brad Bailey is compiling an updated report on the platforms in the market today, but this is clearly a sign that the market is still sorting through the various ideas and that incumbency (and inertia?) still has great value. Also, sometimes the market asks for change but then does not actually adopt the change it’s clamoring for. All too often the buy side says “Yes! Yes!” but does not adopt new options rapidly, but only after long trials and testing. Capital (and patience) can disappear before the testing and optimization process is complete.

All MiFID, All The Time

I just spent a week speaking to many of Celent’s UK based clients.  I was surprised by how high MiFID II was on everyone’s agenda.  Whenever I posed the question—what are you most interested in discussing? The answer was firmly-MiFID II.  The response was typical for the entire client spectrum: buyside to sellside; venue to infrastructure provider; vendor to regulator. It was most apparent regarding anything fixed income, given the potential magnitude of change coming to those markets. It is interesting to note the divergence, from a fixed income perspective between the US and Europe. On the US side, we have been discussing the evolution of fixed income markets-the gradual pace that occurs as a function of a naturally changing environment. Generally, change is slow, but sudden shifts to the established environment can occur. In a similar vein, think of the Cretaceous period-80 million years with incremental natural selection occurring over vast time frames but ruled by dinosaurs.  Of course, during those long periods of time stresses occurred that accelerated the process of change. In the US fixed income market, those stresses come from dealer decreasing balance sheet, transition to alternative liquidity, buyside flexibility, rise of new venues, QE, and, ever restrictive capital/regulatory regimes. By contrast Europe, where under MiFID II, slated for implementation in the next 18 months, market participants are looking at a major shift in the climate. Implemented as currently written, MiFID II will be a radical remapping of trading across the universe of FI products-an asteroid, plummeting into the Gulf of Mexico-ending the cretaceous period with a “bang”, and life/trading as we know it.  Of course, we know how that story plays out – the dinosaur die off made way for those nimble, tiny creatures to find their way and-well, become the established order.