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SDX deal Swiss digital stock exchange offers partners ownership stake

Trading screen

The SDX platform promises to drastically reduce the time it takes to trade assets.

(Keystone / Walter Bieri)

The Swiss stock exchange is offering strategic partners a stake of up to 30% in its new digital assets trading platform. The SDX digital exchange hopes to launch by the end of this year, trading digital shares, bonds and other assets on a distributed ledger technology (DLT) platform.

Project leader Thomas Zeeb told swissinfo.ch that SIX Group, which runs the stock exchange, could allow banks, brokers and other digital asset companies to own nearly a third of SDX. The majority of the platform will be owned by the consortium of some 120 banks that comprise SIX Group.

“The SIX board is open to having a minority stake in SDX made available to strategic investors,” said Zeeb. “We are in discussions with a number of firms – such as large banks and broker-dealers – who are extremely interested in taking a stake in SDX because it gives them skin in the game in driving the ecosystem forward.”

“We are not just creating a new exchange, we are creating a new market environment. To create that environment we want to have the flexibility of allowing partners with the same vision to accompany us on that journey.”

That ‘ecosystem’ surrounding SDX currently includes Sygnum bank, the Daura digital share listing platform, Swisscom and Custodigit, which offers secure storage for digital assets. They provide specialist services and know-how to operate the new digital asset trading system.

Two other partners are expected to be announced in the coming weeks, but Zeeb would not speculate on which firms might eventually take a stake in SDX.               

Prototype

The SDX project launched in 2018, promising that “the first services will be rolled out in mid-2019external link”. The concept is to fully digitize financial assets to allow for instant settlement instead of the current days-long delay whilst trades are finalised.

So far, the project has yet to emerge from testing phase on its prototype and has been rocked by some key departures. CEO Martin Halblaub chose not to renew his contract in August following a difference of opinion on how SDX should be run. Interim CEO Tomas Kindler does not want to retain the position permanently. SIX has lined up a replacement but would not reveal the identity or say when they would start.

SDX Chief Client Officer Ivo Sauter also left in December, as did Alex Zinder who played a key role in designing and building the software architecture of the platform. Chief Digital Officer Sven Roth remains with the project as an external advisor, but his former role has now been taken on by Chief Operating Officer Paul Burd.

Zeeb regretted Sauter’s departure, which he said was sparked by Sauter’s desire to have a personal stake in SDX – a demand that was not possible to fulfill. But he insisted that SDX is on track to go live in the final three months of this year.

“This hasn’t affected our progress at all because the [120-strong] team is strong and their mandate is clear. At the launch we clearly want to have the people in place to drive the whole thing forward, but the departures have not affected the delivery of development, use case and architecture.”

Independence questioned

Some departing staff have been quoted in the media as complaining that SIX is stifling SDX’s independence. “We took a very strong view that given that we are building a regulated infrastructure for the market, it’s important that SDX does not drift too far away from the mother ship,” said Zeeb.

“It’s relatively easy to set up a digital exchange on a greenfield site, on its own, that doesn’t have back-up and depth behind the IT infrastructure, doesn’t necessarily have the robust compliance procedures in place. Leveraging what we already have in SIX is critically important in the context of building what we believe will be the infrastructure of the future with SDX.”

Zeeb, head of securities and exchanges at SIX, declined to reveal the amount of money that has been spent on the project, but said the “significant amount” was “nowhere near” the CHF100 million ($102 million) mentioned in media reports.

swissinfo.ch

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