Increased demand from the buy-side for one-stop shop trading systems has seen a wave of mergers and acquisitions among technology providers in the last 12 months.
Investment firms are being increasingly enticed by the prospect of a one-stop-shop end-to-end system that covers all elements of the trading lifecycle due to the complexities around security and interoperability. Trading systems providers are merging their offerings and making acquisitions that expand the workflow areas that they cover.
“OMS/EMS [order management system/ execution management system] providers, electronic venues and data aggregators are rapidly merging their offerings so trading desk clients can realise benefits from automated trading without needing to assemble and maintain individual systems internally,” Vuk Magdelinic, chief executive officer of Overbond, told The TRADE.
Most recent of the wave of M&A deals was ION’s acquisition of DASH Financial Technologies earlier this month, in a bid to expand its execution method, analytics, workflow routing solutions, and regulatory technologies offering. The trading technology provider said the deal would help it better manage risk imposed by the pandemic, political uncertainty, and increasing levels of retail investment in the market.
Amidst shrinking profit margins and increasingly competitive markets, firms have chosen to combine forces. More globalised and decentralised markets have also seen firms look to economies of scale to excel and expand their client bases.
“As companies try to capture first-mover advantage in this arms race and build end-to end trade automation systems, consolidation is a natural step as the big fish swallow the little fish to maintain a competitive edge,” added Magdelinic.
Consolidation taking place in client markets, on the buy-side especially and on major trading venues, has set an example for the FinTech trading systems space.
In a market where size matters, the pooling of resources can greatly expand the reach and client base of a firm and this has encouraged firms to combine forces through mergers. This year also played host to the combination of TradingScreen and Imagine Software to create TS Imagine after the pair originally partnered in August to launch their front-to-back buy-side trading solution.
TS Imagine now has around 400 combined employees in 10 offices and serves around 500 hedge funds, asset managers, pension funds, mutual funds, and financial institutions globally.
“Periods of consolidation like this provide an opportunity to review the suitability and scalability of the systems that underpin the global trading of shares, debt and derivatives,” Andrew Morgan, chief revenue officer at the newly merged TS Imagine, told The TRADE.
“Over the coming months, expect to see a greater drive for workflow simplification in front-office, particularly as institutional investors look to consolidate multiple execution and risk platforms into one integrated solution covering equity, derivatives, fixed income and FX trading needs.”
Another notable recent deal was the $2.5 billion acquisition of trading technology provider Itiviti by Broadridge Financial Solutions in May earlier this year to bulk out its front-office and multi-asset class offering.
Broadridge said at the time that the acquisition of Itiviti, which services clients across 50 countries, would greatly expand its capital markets offering and allow it to expand outside of North America using its growing footprint in EMEA and Asia Pacific.
However, as the market has continued on this path to consolidation, regulators have raised concerns about the potential damage this may be doing to competition and client services across the financial markets.
“Any period of consolidation puts client service well and truly under the spotlight,” Sylvain Thieullent, chief executive officer of Horizon, told The TRADE. “As market participants assess the landscape post this significant period of M&A, more and more institutions will be looking for ways to enhance their service delivery capabilities while at the same time trying to reduce fixed costs by outsourcing trading functions.”
Regulators are concerned that consolidation could minimise the number of service providers in any given market, providing participants with less choice and in some cases poorer services.
It was for this reason that the UK competition markets authority intervened in ION Investment Group’s acquisition of Broadway Technology which was initially proposed in February last year.
The regulator said the deal would award the combined entity 25% market share, serving 10 out of the 18 market makers in the gilt-edged market and leaving only Bloomberg as a competitor in terms of the supply of electronic platforms for fixed income trading.
“We consider ION to already be the largest provider of these products and they’re buying one of their closest competitors,” said Joel Bamford, senior director at the Competition Markets Authority (CMA), in a statement in July when the regulator increased its scrutiny of the deal.
“We are therefore concerned that this merger could damage competition in a market which is critical to trading activities in the UK, leaving the merging companies’ customers with a worse deal.”
ION agreed to sell off Broadway’s fixed income business in November to push through the deal and subsequently received approval from the CMA that month.
Not a new phenomenon
Consolidation in the trading systems market is not a new phenomenon, with several other major acquisitions having also taken place in 2018 and 2019.
In July 2018, investment bank State Street acquired buy-side OEMS provider Charles River for $2.6 billion in a bid to significantly extend its capabilities in the front-office for asset managers.
“This acquisition will also enable us to address a large adjacent $8 billion revenue pool for front-office services,” said Jay Hooley, chairman and CEO of State Street, in a statement at the time of the acquisition.
“Clients today want solutions that can add value and achieve efficiencies from portfolio modelling and construction all the way through to custody as they face increasing complexity and regulatory expectations, and the need to manage costs and achieve product or geographic expansion.”
Shortly after State Street’s acquisition in 2018, SS&C Technologies completed its $1.45 billion acquisition of EMS provider Eze Software in a deal which added 1,050 employees in 15 offices and more than 2,500 clients across five continents to its universe.
These major deals have set a precedent on size in the market and left firms with no choice but to bulk out to compete. The ongoing demand for simplified and streamlined end-to-end solutions is likely to snowball throughout the market in years to come with more mergers and acquisitions expected in the future.