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‘Strategic differences’ force departure of Swiss digital exchange boss

SIX Group
SIX is now looking for a permanent replacement to lead its new digital asset exchange. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

The CEO of Switzerland’s crypto assets stock exchange will step down just eight months into his job following disagreements on how the nascent trading platform should be run. Martin Halblaub will depart at the end of August when his contract expires.

SIX GroupExternal link, which owns the Swiss stock exchange and its SDX digital exchange projectExternal link, played down the development, saying it will not affect the operation or its timetable. But this may be viewed as a blow for Switzerland’s ambition to host the first national stock exchange to trade a new breed of digital assets.

“I fully support SDX’s ambition and business model and would have loved to lead SDX into the future.  However, I have decided with a heavy heart – given our differing ideas on strategy, combined with the stretch the role is for my life model – that I cannot engage in a long term commitment as Head of SDX,” Halblaub is quoted in the memo.

The key strategic difference is that Halblaub wanted SDX to be launched as an independent company – a plan that grated with SIX’s board who wanted the new exchange to operate under the overall SIX umbrella. 

Halblaub will be replaced as SDX CEO on September 1 by Tomas Kindler on an interim basis, according to an internal memo released on Tuesday. Halblaub’s tenure has proved short-lived having only been appointed to the top position at the start of this year.

Kindler is currently number two to Thomas Zeeb, head of securities and exchanges at SIX. Zeeb says in the memo that an “executive search” has been launched to find a permanent replacement and that Kindler is one of the candidates they are looking at. Zeeb added that Halblaub has expressed an interest in remaining at SDX as a senior advisor.

Global competition

“Martin [Halblaub] led SDX through its initial phase with great success. He helped shape SDX’s ambition, strategy and business model and has built a strong Management team around him.  We thank him for his support during this phase,” SIX CEO Jos Dijsselhof says in the memo.

In an interview with the NZZ am Sonnntag newspaperExternal link on Sunday, Dijsselhof made no mention of the internal conflicts at SDX.

Announced in July 2018, the SDX project was initially timetabled to be operational by mid-2019. But that date has been put back to the first or second quarter of 2020 following internal tests later this year with banks that have ownership stakes in SIX.

SDX faces competition from several other countries and one domestic project as it seeks first mover advantage in the tokenized digital asset business that has been tipped to bring vast efficiencies to the trading of shares, bonds and an anticipated wave of new financial products.

Projects ranging from Germany, the United States and Thailand are also bidding to become the first national crypto asset exchanges. Budding crypto bank Sygnum in Zurich has teamed up with national telecoms operator Swisscom, the Deutsch Börse and other partners to offer a Swiss trading alternative.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR