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Eight investment banks embrace Markit viral messaging revolution

Philip Stafford
John Lamb | Digital Vision | Getty Images

Eight of the world's largest investment banks will Monday launch their most ambitious assault on Bloomberg's grip on daily communications in financial markets with the start of free viral messaging service.

Markit, the U.K. data provider, will operate an industry-wide central directory switchboard to connect the messaging systems of Thomson Reuters, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and interdealer broker GFI Group.

Instant messaging on private networks has become one of the principal ways participants in financial markets swap the daily information that drive trading.

Trails of incriminating messages played a central role in the cases brought against financial institutions by U.S. and U.K. authorities for attempted manipulation of Libor, the interest rate benchmark.

Yet most systems operate independently. The move to connect up the fragmented market of separate chat messaging systems into a free viral community comes as financial services companies increasingly explore ways to share ever-rising IT costs and compliance requirements.

"This is about helping our customers find new counterparties and unearth new business opportunities whilst reducing complexity," said David Craig, president of Financial and Risk at Thomson Reuters.

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However, it is also expected to put pressure on Bloomberg, the U.S. financial data provider, whose distinctive, secure but expensive black terminals dominate chat around the world's financial markets. Embedding it on the Bloomberg terminal has played a key role in the U.S. group's rise in the last 20 years as it predates many internet-based alternatives.

For some banks, the instant messaging and social network is the key reason for the annual $20,000 per terminal, earning it the description of "a very expensive Facebook".

"For some big banks, it's an incredibly expensive instant messaging device," said an executive at one market infrastructure company. "They're saying, 'we're spending $120 million a year on Bloomberg. That needs to come down'."

The Markit system will act as a central, vetted directory, allowing users to connect in rival banks without leaving their own secure, internal system. The U.K. group said only the sender and receiver could view messages while message content was never stored.

However, observers warn that the biggest obstacle will be creating a "network effect" – by which the value of a service increases as more people use it.

"What's significant is the number of companies that have committed to the platform," said Lance Uggla, chief executive of Markit. "We think it will be transformational." Mr Uggla said Markit was in talks with other financial institutions about joining and had approached Bloomberg, although no decision had yet been taken.

Markit is also trying to entice institutional investors, hedge funds and pension funds to join by offering incentives for early adopters.

"We work with dozens of dealers and today we rely on multiple systems to communicate," said Jim Toffey, head of e-markets at GFI Group. "The ability to use one platform to reach many customers is extremely valuable."

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