While the EU wrangles to tear apart the UK’s dominance as Europe’s trade clearing hub, two 30-year-old former traders have been spending the past six months trying to convince leading investment banks in London to work together.
Mohammed Cherif and Sophia Grami both quit their derivatives trading jobs at Societe Generale late last year to launch a fintech start-up. Their new firm, Synswap, will use blockchain technology to automate the OTC derivatives clearing process. If all goes to plan, the product will replace the need for clearing houses altogether.
“There are a limited number of large investment banks trading OTC derivatives, and the key is to bring them together and create a product that works for them all,” says Grami. “We’ve been building a prototype, showing to the banks, and then moving the product on based on their feedback.”
London accounts for about half of the $600trillion OTC derivatives market, and currently these trades are cleared and processed through central counterparty clearing houses (CCPs). Synswap is aiming to remove the middle man, and use blockchain technology for the whole post-trade lifecycle.
London’s clearing business is a key bone of contention in the negotiations as Britain leaves the EU. London may have to hand over the clearing of up to $570bn of euro derivatives to the EU, which in a worst case scenario could mean 100,000 jobs leave the City.
Cherif says that London is “the best city for entrepreneurs, and the best place to start a fintech firm”, but admits that they’ll have to go where the business is.
“Right now, London is the place to be, but if the banks move these functions out of the City, we’ll have to follow,” he says.
Cherif worked at SocGen for five years as a structured credit trader, while Grami spent a similar amount of time on the cross-asset solutions team at the French investment bank.
Junior traders heading out of banking into fintech is nothing new, but the pressure is growing to make the leap now as the sector becomes more and more crowded, they said.
“The opportunity in fintech is right now – in two years’ time it will be too late,” says Grami. “Especially with blockchain, it’s important to be one of the first movers.”
“Investment banking is still well-paid, but it’s not very stable and it’s a very competitive environment to work in,” adds Cherif. “It’s no secret that young people are leaving banking for fintech, but that’s where the biggest potential is right now.”
Quitting banking for fintech doesn’t mean that you need to know how to code. Charif believes that should develop an idea around what you know and then bring in the technical expertise. “We understand derivatives and also how to get a business off the ground. We’ve had to hire people who understand blockchain.”
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