Written by Sean Mogle
Fintechinnovationboom
It would be a huge understatement to say that capital markets are a dramatically different place now versus 20 years ago. Over the last two decades, technology has permanently changed the face of finance, offering participants unprecedented ways of trading across a dizzying array of venues and products. Global regulation, meanwhile, has done its best to keep up, leaving a patchwork of rules that would baffle the 1997 observer in their scope and complexity.

It would be a huge understatement to say that capital markets are a dramatically different place now versus 20 years ago. Over the last two decades, technology has permanently changed the face of finance, offering participants unprecedented ways of trading across a dizzying array of venues and products. Global regulation, meanwhile, has done its best to keep up, leaving a patchwork of rules that would baffle the 1997 observer in their scope and complexity.

As with any industry undergoing sudden and radical change, communication is critical – both internally and externally. Disruption tends to lead to confusion; and when new ways of doing things upend the old, errors and inefficiencies become inevitable. For a revolution to be sustainable, the learning curve needs to be surmounted. As the “script” that drives the sales and marketing process, PR and communications are a key component for engaging markets and prospects as well as facilitating change.

Big bang, bigger buzz

The fintech boom is a prime example. When financial deregulation in the UK inspired a wave of innovation in capital markets (the “Big Bang”), trading technologies grew increasingly sophisticated. New entrants began to replace the old guard on the Square Mile.

As companies raced to seed their brands amid the wave of innovation, sales and marketing activities flourished. Agencies like Aspectus emerged to help providers differentiate their products and brands. Our work through the years with some of the most recognizable brands from the early phases of the fintech movement included Fidessa, one the most innovative and influential tech providers to the buy and sell-side. Our work since then has succeeded in highlighting Fidessa technologies while championing the cause of electronic trading globally.

By the late 90s, the buzz had made its way across the Atlantic, where a new generation of high-speed electronic trading tools was attracting a growing following among Wall Street traders. The PR effect was amplified by the dotcom boom, which thrust interest in trading into the mainstream. As volumes soared amid rising stock prices, day traders chased profits over retail platforms with the same fervor as their institutional counterparts.

On Wall Street and Main Street alike, demand surged for market information and trading insights, ushering in a golden era of 24/7 programming on financial news networks like Bloomberg and CNBC. The pace and scope of information sharing helped sustain interest in electronic trading and contributed to the innovation that endures today.

Reshaping the rulebook

PR also played a major role in shaping the regulatory forces that made electronic trading a permanent fixture in global markets. In the UK, the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID) and Regulation National Market System (RegNMS) in the US were shaped by a collaborative communications process between public and private sectors, where viewpoints from both sides were solicited, compiled and considered to create the final ruling. Companies took an active part inserting their brands into these discussions, contributing sponsored thought leadership, commentaries and proactive media campaigns which still endures today.

Then, and in the years since, Aspectus has helped a number of top fintech companies strengthen their brands around critical pieces of financial markets regulation. For ITG, one of the industry’s best known execution and technology providers, we most recently conducted a successful campaign around FINRA’s tick size pilot program in the US. And looking ahead to the implementation of MiFID II, we are working closely with dozens of fintech leaders like NASDAQ, as well as a prominent operator of electronic derivatives and fixed income markets, to ensure that they are positioned at the forefront of sweeping industry change.

A Crowded Desktop

Fast forward to today. The steady march of automation has fundamentally changed the way financial markets operate. Even though they are faster and more efficient than ever before, the rise of alternative trading providers has resulted in abundant fragmentation.

Traders nowadays have an unprecedented range of options available at their fingertips, with a myriad of exchanges, ECNs, and dark pools all vying for order flow. In the age of the crowded desktop, companies must work hard to differentiate themselves from competitors both old and new, ensuring that they are clearly articulating the value that they bring to the order management process. This is especially important given the rising popularity of execution analysis and measurement.

Communications and PR has evolved to help providers set themselves apart. As trading has grown more sophisticated, PR has followed suit, encompassing more channels (social media, multimedia, creative branding/marketing) than ever before. A recent Aspectus project for retail brokerage OANDA, for example, involved creating a four-panel illustration aimed at FX traders. This generated significant attention for OANDA across both social and traditional media.

The trading landscape will only grow faster and more complex in the years ahead. To be successful in an era of unparalleled execution options, companies need to present a clear, compelling and message about the value they bring to workflow across the entire execution process.

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