Prime brokerage, trading platforms, the dynamic of the retail OTC electronic trading business and liquidity distribution via innovative means. This is how we see the year ahead, in a detailed and presumptive preview
The final week of 2016 has commenced, and the end is nigh for what has been yet another fascinating year of evolution, sudden change and rapid innovation within this multi-faceted and very interesting industry, across all sectors from the top level Tier 1 banks, right through to the institutional partners which provide a live market, the technological developers which continue to pave the way forward and the retail brokers whose continual concentration on furthering the refinement of the electronic trading business.
This year, tremendous changes in the way that liquidity is delivered to OTC participants has taken place, with banks for the very first time since the advent of direct market access trading for retail customers (which in itself opened new markets for Tier 1 banks) have begun restricting credit to OTC FX firms to the point that Citigroups risk managers consider a potential 56% default rate when extending counterparty credit to electronic trading companies.
Partly as a result of this, 2016 was a year in which non-bank prime brokerage was a massive feature, with new prime of prime services having been launched in important electronic trading centers,Invasts Pure Primein Australia being a particularly poignant example, and many retail brokerages furthering their institutional divisions.
ADS Securities began to provide a liquidity service to retail brokers,CMC Markets continues to offer institutional servicesto firms wishing to rely on one of Londons most established and astute companies led by highly experienced senior FX industry executive Richard Elston, with a view to dominating the CFD sector, and ISPrime, which was established two years ago as part of Lord Stanley Finks ISAM hedge fund business, has been expanding its scope and gaining ground at top level, in the worlds largest and most important financial center.
Richard Elston, Head of Institutional for Europe, CMC Markets
Cost and margin has been a consideration, too, and highly well thought out solutions to keeping operating costs down have been pioneered by liquidity management firms, platform providers and retail brokers alike.
With this year looking quite different to the previous year, here is what FinanceFeeds considers to be in store for 2017:
MetaQuotes has finally managed to enter its MetaTrader 5 platform into the mainstream.
This occurred quite rapidly toward the latter part of 2016 at approximately the time that MetaQuotes refined the hedging capabilities of the platform.
In 2017, it is worth bearing certain factors in mind.
MetaTrader 5 can easily be integrated into exchanges, hence the perceived drive toward putting a large proportion of retail trading onto exchange has been made much easier by doing it via MetaTrader 5 and retail brokerages with existing, established client bases, thus negating the usual costs associated with dedicated exchange-traded platforms such as Trading Technologies, whose clients often have a $50000 minimum deposit, and whose brokerages are subject to the clearing fees and membership fees of Chicagos giant venues, CME, and ICE.
If the current dialog within the retail sector in London is validated next year, in that many large venues want to push OTC FX onto exchanges, hence the apparent lobbying of the Financial Conduct Authority by large venues which may have resulted in the proposals to restrict how CFDs are provided by large, long established British firms, then an antidote to that would be the ability for large companies to offer a completely multi-product service on MetaTrader 5, connected to various venues globally including those in the Middle East and Far East such as Singapore Exchange or Dubai Gold and Commodities exchange may emerge.
In the beginning of 2016, FinanceFeeds met with Teyu Che Chern, CEO of Phillip Capital in New York, who explained We have been bringing Asian business to the US for a long time. In the US, our value proposition is that we offer customers a lot of depth in Asia. Phillip Capital has been around for 40 years. We know Asia very well and therefore we can offer customers to know Asia from our US office.
At Philip Capital in Asia, we have been doing alot of US business for a long time explained Mr. Teyu Che Chern. We thought that maybe we should set up our own clearing firm. We started here about 5 years ago by becoming a clearing member on CME, then on ICE and then on CBOE and NASDAQ Asian futures.
We used this structure to clear for Singapore, then after a while we began clearing for customers in the US. The advantage is that you can use Philip Capital in the US to clear into all the Asian exchanges he said.
Having gone live today with futures contracts including mini-crude, precious metals and FX, a total of 8,847 contracts across all asset classes was traded at the new ICE Singapore exchange on the first day of business.
Lucas Schmeddes, President & COO of ICE Futures Singapore and ICE Clear Singapore explained:
With a range of contracts across energy, gold and FX, our Singapore exchange and clearing house provides market participants with effective tools for managing price risk locally. We would like to thank customers and clearing members for their continued support and we look forward to working with the market to develop further contracts to support trading and clearing based on local regulatory requirements.
Since then, Phillip Capital canned its plans to introduce an OTC brokerage using MetaTrader 4, but the acquisition of SMX by ICE is very interesting indeed going forward.
Platform service cost Give a little here, take a little there
With the move into the mainstream by MetaTrader 5 comes a massive boon for firms in the retail sector with business overseas, that being that MetaTrader 5 does not need a separate server for each location, thus firms can have one MetaTrader 5 server, and run their entire business, including overseas offices, from one server, representing a cost saving.
That is all very well, however, one thing that we have noticed and have discussed with many retail brokers is that MetaQuotes has begun a program of hiking its service fee for the MetaTrader platform, which five years ago was just $500 per month, but is now $750 and many brokerages that we know are considering that it will be $1000 very soon, therefore any savings in server leasing should be weighed up against cost of support.
Indeed, MetaTrader platforms still dominate the market, however in 2017 there will be only one major contender and that is cTrader, developed by Cyprus-based Spotware Systems.
WithTradable now completely defunct,and NetDania, despite its genius pricing model, not being a relevant contender especially after thepurchase of CFH by Playtechlast month, this leaves cTrader to grow its footprint dramatically.
In 2017, we predict that many firms will go the custom platform route, not only to avoid being an also-ran and to mark themselves out as a firm that looks toward onboarding a specific client base, but given that it costs an absolute fortune to design and develop an in-house platform which, unless a British firm, is not necessarily that critical, a custom platform developed by cTrader is a good option. This gives the targeting and client servicing capabilities of a proprietary firm without the costs of development or in house support. This is a dynamic which we see expanding in 2017.
Prime Brokerage better relationships needed as the credit squeeze takes its toll
2017 will be the year in which non-bank prime brokerages and institutional liquidity providers show their mettle, and it will also be the year in which the three integration technology service providers,PrimeXM,Gold-iand oneZero demonstrate exactly how their ingenious technology can enable brokers to continue to offer top level market pricing in times of restricted credit.
The invention of the liquidity bridge was the first step toward bringing real market pricing and best execution to within the realms of the retail trader, a marriage between Tier 1 aggregated liquidity (generally aggregated and provided by technology firms other than the companies developing MT4 Bridges) and the hedging functionality and compatibility with Expert Advisers that had created the backdrop for the popularity of MetaTrader 4.
Nowadays, this model is very well established. However there are industry opinions which emanate from the very same innovators and technological leaders who developed the liquidity bridge in the first place which demonstrate that a new evolution is on its way.
A dynamic which is as concerning as it is important has developed this year, that being the difficulty for FX brokerages to gain access to the credit relationships needed to access Tier 1 liquidity as interbank dealers. Many of the firms which previously serviced this demand made substantial losses during 2015, and are taking a very close look at counterparty credit risk moving forward.
This has a very significant effect on the means by which less well capitalized prime brokerages can obtain credit from banks and subsequently means that retail brokerages are left with very few options in terms of relationships with prime brokerages or prime of prime services. Whereas prior to 2015-2016, credit was readily available for all levels of firms participating in the Retail FX vertical, today credit is much harder to come by, and it comes at a significantly higher cost.
Quite clearly, the lack of cost-effective credit options for the retail sector to emulate the professional and commercial model seen at the interbank / traditional FX clearing level has driven the cause for a solution that satisfies the demand for credit availability, lowers costs to enter the market, and disrupts the previously held assumptions about the relationships between liquidity, credit, and broker.
Imagine a world where brokers who were previously restricted by the technology available to their place in the value chain were now able to offer credit and liquidity in a similar fashion to traditional prime brokerages.
There have been incidents recently, particularly as a result of the Swiss National Banks removal of the 1.20 peg on the EURCHF pair in January 2015, which caused the insolvency of some prime brokerages, notably Boston Prime, soaked up client funds like a dry sponge in an oasis, and left brokerages unable to pay client withdrawals, with very little recourse except for waiting for the insolvency practitioner to set a cents-per-dollar settlement amount.
Yet still this model reigns supreme, and the demand for credit is stronger than ever.
There are very few retail OTC prime brokerage firms that are absolutely not exposed to any risk if every trade is sent directly to market. Even the major banks which handle the vast majority of interbank FX order flow have now moved away from this model altogether for example, Citigroup, the worlds largest interbank FX dealer, exited the retail sector altogether by offloading CitiFX Pro, its retail prime brokerage division, just 3 months after the SNB event.
That particular event has resulted in a number of changes to the OTC FX industry, however most of them have been cautionary. It would take a very innovative disruptor of technology to bring something revolutionary into the sector in order to address this and still progress in an onward direction.
During the course of this year, FinanceFeeds spoke extensively toAndrew Ralich, CEO and Founder of oneZero. Mr. Ralich is a very widely recognized industry figure and a regular speaker at large FX industry conventions with regard to connectivity and how liquidity relationships should evolve via technological advancement.
Mr. Ralich explained, oneZero developed a reputation for reliable, enterprise quality technology in the development of our MT4 Bridge product back in 2009. Today, we are addressing a much more pressing concern within the industry: the diminishing credit and liquidity options available for brokers looking to STP their trade flow.
In January of this year, we delivered our Margin Hub solution to the industry. This allowed brokers utilizing oneZeros connectivity for Retail Platforms to offer API based liquidity to other brokers, with all the tools needed to manage pre-trade risk and post-trade reporting. said Mr. Ralich.
As far as functionality is concerned, the oneZero Margin Hub solution now combines three components in order to provide services as a retail-facing and B2B clearing counterparty in the OTC FX industry, and is able to provide such connectivity to retail platforms such as MetaTrader 4 and cTrader. Previously, connectivity solutions available to FX brokers generally provided only one of these options, and the combination of both an institutional platform and enterprise quality Bridging solution have become cost-prohibitive in todays credit market.
Want to execute at $1 per million? Heres how!
The uptake of our Margin Hub solution has been a very exciting aspect of Q1 2016 here at oneZero. Weve onboarded nearly a dozen firms to our ecosystem who can now provide liquidity to other brokers. We find that, when two oneZero brokers connect together there are significant synergistic benefits to both oneZero and our clients.
We want to pass this savings down to the broker, and are now launching a campaign where oneZero clients who Bridge to oneZero Margin Hub users will be able to reduce their technology fees to $1 per million. We feel this is an unprecedented and disruptive move in terms of the traditional pricing structure for enterprise Bridging solutions. Andrew Ralich, CEO, oneZero
Providers in the FX clearing vertical have seen similar ecosystem style pricing models in the past, but never before have brokers been able to extend such an ecosystem from an aggregated, Tier 1 margin-capable solution all the way down to MT4 bridging.
This is absolutely what we see happening in the year ahead.
Additionally, very recently, FinanceFeeds spoke to Tom Higgins, CEO of Gold-i, who explained In order to accelerate the uptake of MetaTrader 5, two areas need to be addressed he continued. Firstly, there needs to be more support from third party vendors such as Gold-i, providing Liquidity Bridges and multi account manager (MAM) products for MetaTrader 5 with the same functionality as brokers are used to for MetaTrader 4.
In addition, the EAs need to be re-written in MQL5 so that they are also adapted from MetaTrader 4 to MetaTrader 5. This all takes time as it involves complex development. I think we will start to see significant uptake of MetaTrader 5 within the next six months explained Mr. Higgins.
We will be looking at enhancements to Matrix to take us into the institutional space. Were also focusing heavily on MT5 product development, with our MAM Pro for MT5 launching in Q1 2017. We will also look at further enhancements to Gold-i Visual Edge our impressive risk management and business intelligence tool Tom Higgins, CEO, Gold-i
Mr Higgins also explained There is a lot of work required on the side of the software vendors, but once that has happened we will be migrating people from MetaTrader 4 to MetaTrader 5 as a service and it will come with Matrix 2 as well as our bridge and other products like MAM that we will bring across to MetaTrader 5 revealed Mr. Higgins.
Within six to nine months our MetaTrader 5 integrations will be fully productized and all the liquidity providers that we have integrated with on MT4 will also be available on MetaTrader 5. However, we will start to see new brokers just taking MT5 and this will change the landscape substantially he said.
The MetaTrader 5 platform has been, until relatively recently, notable by its almost complete absence from the entire retail FX ecosystem, despite it having been launched in June 2010, to a wave of tumultuous silence.
With technology such as this taking an important part in fostering good quality market access during times at which credit is restricted, we envisage the way that the best quality prime of prime firms, which are looking at transparency in execution and how retail firms can be absolutely sure that their orders are being matched efficiently.
FinanceFeeds predicts that in 2017, retail brokerages will demand and expect more clarity and will understand far more about the internal procedures of prime of prime brokerages, largely as a result of the current credit dip, which has to now be mitigated by prime of primes.
Large North American firms such as XTX Markets and Citadel Securities may begin to expand their services to other regions and join the Tier 1 banks in aggregated liquidity feeds, and those with multiple feeds will continue to develop systems in which brokers which use their services can read what exactly is happening to their orders.
Lucian Lauerman, Head of API Business at Saxo Bank met with FinanceFeeds in London recently. He said something very interesting indeed.
The liquidity and collateral issues are arising from the use of prime or prime providers or brokers at the same time. Lucian Lauerman, Head of API Business, Saxo Bank
The rationale for using two prime of primes makes sense as a contingency, when one of those is a primary provider and the other one is a secondary provider. However, the reason for using a single prime broker at any given time is to consolidate positions in one place for more efficient use of collateral said Mr. Lauerman.
Mr. Lauerman stated If you lodge $5 million in total, use 5 prime of primes, put $1 mio at each prime and then are long at number 1, and then short at number 2, then long at number 3, you will lose out on netting benefit re your use of collateral, and have a complex issue to manage re ensuring you minimize your funding costs.
In terms of explaining how Saxo Bank conducts its bank relationships, Mr. Lauerman explained Because of our balance sheet and our status as a regulated bank, we have stable, decades long relationships with the largest liquidity providers in the market, and are able to effectively evaluate the new entrants to the market. This is a major differentiator.
Peter Plester, Head of FX Prime Brokerage, Saxo Bank
This was then picked up by Peter Plester, Head of FX Prime Brokerage at Saxo Bank, an institutional professional with vast experience, having spent 9 years at Rabobank in London as Head of FX Prime Brokerage between 2005 and 2014 before joining Saxo Bank, preceded by 12 years on bank trading desks.
Mr. Plester explained We are focused on adding value for our clients; from helping them access liquidity, to optimising collateral to reducing risk.
This is a value added service he said. Mr. Lauerman then explained it in detail.
This is something that we implemented within our own market making business which was established in 1992 said Mr. Lauerman.
We have designed a series of tools to optimize our flow to the market and we use that technology to benefit our clients. We are able to show them what their flow looks like and how the liquidity providers that they are accessing view their flow. We have regular conversations and understand what metrics the sources of liqudity use to evaluate flow and we have built similar reporting and analysis ourselves so we can show clients how their flow will be viewed and handled by liquidity providers Lucian Lauerman, Head of API Business, Saxo Bank
We work closely with clients to make sure their liquidity access is sustainable. This is not alchemy, it is about creating an environment where clients have reliable and sustainable access to liquidity he said.
Mr. Plester then explained If a client was to develop those tools internally, there would be a lot of cost and resources and the client would spend a lot of time talking to several liquidity providers. By outsourcing that to us, we save them time and money.
Because clients were used to having direct relationships with liquidity providers they could have lost a lot of feedback and data but they still get it because we do it for them whereas if a broker went to a prime of prime that didnt provide that, it may be that the broker begins to feel devoid of information Peter Plester, Head of FX Prime Brokerage, Saxo Bank
Mr. Plester explained that there is ambiguity among many brokerage firms about how this relationship is supposed to be structured. We have been providing this specific prime of prime service for 4 years now he said.
FinanceFeeds then raised the subject of the fact that it is becoming harder to become a prime of prime, the banks require far higher capital bases. Just a few years ago, $5 million would have got a prime brokerage relationship with a bank, now it is between $50 million to $100 million, and in many cases despite the capital being high enough, banks will still not provide credit.
Saxo Banks London headquarters, Canary Wharf.
This lack of access to traditional prime brokers has led to a prime of prime explosion this year.
Mr. Plester answered Many existing brokerage firms which are not primes have already got a feed, and have begun farming it out, however in doing that, they must establish and structure themselves in the way a prime of prime would, not just put out a feed. They would need to put out the service that a prime of prime offers, but work within the required agreements, which is very challenging.
Some of our clients put between $20 million and $40 million with us, and I wouldnt be surprised if some prime of prime names themselves have less capital than even that. If you have a client with that amount, and it is 4 times the capital of the prime or prime then there is no capital there to make the client whole. Looking at MF Global and what happened in the past, it always pays to make sure that a prime of prime is well capitalized. It is actually largely their capital that you would have some recourse to and these days there are not many around with a decent amount of capital Peter Plester, Head of FX Prime Brokerage, Saxo Bank
From freezing FX firm bank accounts for months at a time for no reason, to exposing firms to theft of their funds due to lack of security, and to the apathy and lack of interest from big banks in working with FX firms, FinanceFeeds looked closely at which mainstream banks have been engaging in such behavior this year, and why they should be avoided. We anticipate that alternative solutions for lodging client capital and operating capital for FX firms will come about in 2017, out of necessity.
Banks are always lecturing their commercial clients about abiding by the rules and how they must ensure transparency, yet research recently by FinanceFeeds has clearly shown that many mainstream banks that are in regions populous with companies either providing services to the FX industry or FX brokerages themselves are anything but transparent.
A few extreme cases that have been brought to light by our research that highlight the risks that face brokerages that are forced to use 3rd tier banks have recently emerged because of the reluctance by mainstream firms to maintain their business, some of which involve the theft of capital from accounts held by brokerages, due to lack of security of accounts, as many lower-level banks in overseas regions do not have the same level of security as those in regions in which FX firms (and companies in every industry sector) are used to.
In some cases, the level of theft of capital has been into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is alarming and most certainly a point worthy of consideration for brokers considering placing their business with banks that are not structured according to Basel III liquidity ratio levels or under strict regulations in terms of data security and identity verification compliance procedures.
We know of one brokerage which had its accounts closed for absolutely no reason whatsoever in Cyprus, which was then forced to use a third tier bank, and has had approximately $350,000 stolen from its operating capital account by fraudsters because third tier banks have weak security and their systems are easily hacked.
FinanceFeeds conducted substantial research as a mystery shopper and found that most firms, including Barclays, HSBC, Handelsbanken, and Bank of Cyprus would either not provide an account to a FX firm at all, or randomly close commercial accounts.
Just imagine, a brokerage with a frozen account cannot pay client withdrawals, salaries, rent for premises, suppliers and then would be subjected to the media finger-pointing from clients which would assume that the firm was intentionally not paying, when in fact it was the bank freezing the firms account without explanation. The CEO of that firm explained to FinanceFeeds I will never, ever forgive the Bank of Cyprus for what they did to me. After months of wrangling with them, I managed to free my capital but they did not provide any reason for having frozen the accounts, nor were they co-operative or remorseful. I will never do business with them ever again.
FinanceFeeds can categorically back this up. Many reports that have come from very reputable sources, including accountancy firms in Cyprus and professional services companies that work on behalf of FX brokerages which have power of attorney over several accounts with Bank of Cyprus have explained that the bank routinely freezes accounts, will not allow withdrawal or deposit, and makes firms submit and resubmit ID documents over and over, every few months, citing compliance purposes, when really it is little more than low-level ineptitude and lack of regard for their bread and butter business.
In Britain, things are not much better. HSBC and Barclays, both ironically two of the worlds largest FX interbank dealers, will run for the hills if any mention of FX industry is mentioned when applying for a bank account. Handelsbanken, which is Swedish but has many operations in Britain and only works with businesses on a referral basis, will not work with FX firms or businesses in certain jurisdictions, claiming that these are high risk entities.
Whilst this is problematic insofar as it forces firms to use third tier banks, it is not as toxic as the behavior of the Bank of Cyprus, which accepts custom, then freezes accounts, meaning that companies cannot access their own capital, sometimes for months at a time, with the expense of having to keep either paying a lawyer or accountant to attempt to convince them to free it, or actually flying to Cyprus (many CEOs of Cyprus FX firms do not live in Cyprus) to be confronted by hand wringing automatons who cannot make any progress despite making special trips to the banks International Business Unit (IBU) in Nicosia.
As a result of this, we foresee a gap in the market here, in which FX firms with a banking license may be able to offer specific bank accounts for FX brokers to lodge capital, and we would welcome that as a very good step toward protecting our industry against the vast firms that either do not understand the industry properly, or set their sights on cutting off their nose to spite their face after all, Barclays and HSBC make a vast proportion of their money from Tier 1 FX dealing.
North Americas FX industry is in absolutely great shape. We see this as an area of tremendous growth in 2017.
Capitalization and execution are cornerstones of the American FX industrys pedigree and quite simply, time has shown that those that cannot cut it in America, have been unable to do so throughout their business operations anywhere globally.
It was convenient for the non-domestic firms that exited the market over the last few years to blame the inability to operate on over zealous regulation, or a net capital adequacy requirement of $20 million, however the US giants that remain do not find this difficult at all. Even FXCM, which was exposed to a vast and unexpected surge of volatility when the Swiss National Bank removed the 1.20 peg on the EUR CHF pair in January 2015, was not called up on its execution methodology, commercial leadership or capitalization.
Meeting with CEO Drew Niv earlier this year in New York, FinanceFeeds gained perspective on this, with Mr. Niv explaining If you look at FXCM today, it is effectively the same company as prior to January 15 2015. Most of our customers stayed, almost all of the staff stayed. We did sell some non-core assets and for a few months we had some losses, however we kept the market share in tact. What many people dont realize is that we effectively plugged the capital shortfall with Leucadias loan.
In terms of actual impact on the business as a result of attrition, Mr. Niv explained The customers that we lost were mainly some of the large customers. The total number of our clients that were actually affected by the market volatility that followed the SNBs decision approximately 3,000 customers which comprised of around 200 here