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StreetsTalksTo Appital

We are delighted to bring you the next episode of StreetsTalksTo, where we are joined by Mark Badyra and Greg Bennett from Appital, a platform that enables the buy side community to discover latent liquidity and gain greater exposure to relevant deal flow opportunities.

In this fascinating discussion we delve into the impact of the reduction of liquidity in public equity markets, and how to uncover new liquidity and make that liquidity available to the institutional investors. We discuss the lack of transparency and efficiency across a legacy bookbuilding and deal distribution activity, and how Appital is using automation to address one of the biggest pain points for the buy-side community.

We discover more about Appital’s collaboration with Turquoise (part of the London Stock Exchange Group) which provides Appital users with a single point of access and execution, and seamless straight through processing to 20 settlement venues; and we touch on the first EMS integration with FlexTrade, with many more to follow.

Mark Badyra

Mark Badrya is the CEO of Appital. An experienced capital markets professional with front line insight into the inefficiencies of equity capital markets, Mark founded Appital to create a more transparent, automated and unbiased way to facilitate deal flow to ultimately benefit issuers and buy-side investors. Prior to launching Appital, Mark worked with the UBS Equity Capital Markets syndicate desk, successfully placing multiple IPOS and follow-on transactions across sectors. He began his career at Bank of America as a Foreign Exchange Analyst before moving to Debt Capital Markets.

Greg Bennett

Greg Bennett is Chairman for Appital. An experienced ECM operator, Greg was Head of Capital Markets for EMEA and the Americas for Fidelity International, for over a decade. Prior to that, he was a Partner and Managing Director in Equity Capital Markets and Equity Syndicate for Cazenove and JPMorgan Cazenove. At present, Greg is an active non-executive director, being on the board of Harbour Solutions Group, a litigation financing provider with over $1bn of assets under management, and an educational trust running three schools in London.

Transcript

Julia: Hello. My name is Julia Streets and welcome to the podcast series StreetsTalksTo. In each episode, I interview leaders from some of the most influential firms, bodies and initiatives in the financial services industry. On each episode, we explore what’s at the very forefront of innovation and change. We think about the challenges facing clients and also the industry at large. And we uncover the opportunities that exist both today and as we look ahead. We hope you enjoy the series, which you can find on all good podcast channels and all the episodes are listed on our website. Streetsconsulting.com. You can find these episodes using the hashtag #StreetsTalksTo. Thank you for listening and welcome to Streets Talks To Appital.

Appital brings innovation and automation to equity-capital markets to address one of the biggest pain points for the buy-side community. The lack of transparency and lack of efficiency across a legacy book building and deal distribution activity. It is plagued by inefficient phone-based relationship driven processes. The Appital platform enables the buy-side community to discover latent liquidity and gain greater exposure to relevant deal flow opportunities. Opportunities they’ve not been able to access before, and at the same time, buy-side firms are able to interact with like-minded institutions in the liquidity formation process or in the pursuit of returns for the end investor.

Today I’m delighted to be joined by Mark Badyra, and Greg Bennett. Mark Badyra is the chief executive of Appital. And prior to launching the firm, he worked with the UBS equity-capital market’s syndicate desk. Where he successfully placed multiple IPO’s and follow-on transactions across multiple sectors. He began his career at Bank of America as a foreign exchange analyst, before moving to the debt capital markets division. Mark, thanks for joining us. Great to have you on the show.

Mark: Thanks Julia.

Julia: Joining Mark is Greg Bennett, who is the Chairman of Appital and non-executive director of Mizuho International and chair of the audit and risk committee. He’s an experienced equity capital markets operator, and for more than a decade, was Head of Capital Markets for EMEA and the Americas for fidelity international. Previous experience includes being partner and managing director in Equity Capital Markets and Equity Syndicate for Cazenove and JP Morgan Cazenove. Greg, it’s wonderful to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.

Greg: Thanks Julia, I’m delighted to be here.

Julia: I’m really delighted you could join us on the show today and I’m keen to get into your view of the market at large. I want  to start with you Mark: first of all – when you are out talking to your clients, what is it that’s particularly keeping them awake at night at the moment?

Mark: When we speak to the buy side, we often talk about three main key areas of concern. Number one is the reduction of liquidity in public equities. This is a historic problem that we’ve seen for many years, but made quite a bit worse by the introduction of MiFID two in 2018. The second is very much around the lack of any technological process in the trading of  five days worth of volume. So this is the part of the market where they are currently engaging an investment banker or broker to build a deal on their behalf. And then the final point is, the fact that in that part of the market, they’re very much reliant on investment banks and brokers to build those deals on their behalf. And quite often investment banks and brokers will be conflicted on any detail that they are required to provide to them at that point.

Julia: As I was saying in my introduction, this is very much about unlocking some of that latent liquidity that people just can’t get to at the moment. And then thinking about some of the processes that go around that and also the role of intermediaries as well, which is really fascinating. We are definitely going to get into some of that as well. I’m curious to know, Greg, as the world is changing. If I’d asked you this question a year ago, of course it would have been concerns around where are we on lockdown, etc. Now, here we are in the autumn of 2021 coming out of lockdown. Are you seeing any shifting concerns in the market or shifting dynamics in the market?

Greg: Liquidity has been a systemic issue in the market and equity markets for a number of years. Nothing has changed in the last few months that has made it any better or any worse. It’s just been a consistent issue for equity investors for well over a decade. If I go back to, when I joined Fidelity before the global financial crisis, large institutional investors were then able to call upon the capital of the investment banks to be able to execute flow as well as being able to call upon a wide range of local regional brokers, as well as the bold bracket investment banks in order to bring expertise and knowledge into the execution of that flow. But that really changed with the financial crisis and has got worse as the years have gone by.

We’re seeing reduced capital commitment by the major banks and we’re seeing reduced broker engagement. And increasingly there is a need for the institutional investor to assess how they’re going to be able to execute those flows themselves rather than having to rely on the investment banks. And digitalisation is one of those key issues that’s really developed over the last five years, I guess the pandemic has accelerated that. So liquidity remains a major issue for all institutional asset managers.

Julia: I wonder if we could get into how you’re helping the role of Appital in the marketplace as well. Mark, tell us a bit about Appital. Tell us about how you’re helping clients address these challenges that we just set out.

Mark: At Appital we’ve essentially designed a marketplace to improve the opaque and inefficient process of creating volumes in excess of five days worth of volume. And the way we can do that is essentially to provide a profile into the absolute user interface, and we can use that profile to proactively build books of demand when originators choose to do so. And you know, this is a book building process that happens in the market at the moment. But the buy-side trader would typically outsource that to an investment bank or broker to build a book of demand on their behalf. And as a part of that current process, they could lose a whole lot of control of the situation. And there really is no transparency around that process in its current form.

Julia: How do you help them build a better book? How do you help them address this question about intermediaries?

Mark: At Appital we have a very unique relationship with buy-side traders. They could disclose a very good level of detail into the platform and know that that information isn’t going to go anywhere further then within the back-end of the Appital. Because of that unique level of detail that we can capture, we can leverage that to the originators benefit by accurately targeting these transactions in a far more efficient and effective way.

Julia: If the world of FinTech Innovation has taught us anything, is it once you get that insight, once you create the marketplace and you create the parameters of the marketplace that are trusted. And then you have the data flowing throughout it, of course the insights and the value that you’ll get to a community, I’m not going to use the word ecosystem. So that community of interests that are your customers actually the value just continues to build and build and build. Greg, I’m really keen to bring you in here as well. When you look at Appital, through your extensive experience in the industry is what are the big things that shine out for you that you know that the buy-side should really be paying attention to?

Greg: When I first came across Mark, about three years ago when he had founded Appital, and we talked about the product and we talked about the issues that were facing the buy side, I’d been in the desk at Fidelity for over a decade. What Mark was talking about around inefficiencies, in managing liquidity and executing those workflows absolutely resonated with me. I believe that it would resonate with other institutional asset managers as well. What’s been great is that as we’ve gone out on the road and we’ve spoken to institutional asset managers that are trading desks and the guys who are now our clients, that they’ve really embraced this as an area of the market that they needed to see some kind of technological 

advance in, and move away from reliance on the individual phone-based broken systems and also on using the investment banks and broking community.

They recognise this is one of the last bastions of old school stockbroking. And they were really searching around for a better way of trying to execute that flow. Really with the Appital product, that’s what we’re bringing to their trading desk, is the ability for a trader – sitting there with an order from their portfolio manager – to be able to decide themselves how to execute that flow rather than relying on outsourcing it to somebody else. For a trader and a trading desk, knowing that they are in control of that flow is a really critical issue for them.

Julia: I know that you’ve been successfully fundraising. You’ve just closed recently a successful funding round, but also you’ve been working with some of the industry innovators. Mark, can I just ask you to tell us a bit more about some of the partners you’ve been working with?

Mark: Over the course of the first six months of this year, we worked very closely with FlexTrade.  With FlexTrade, we were able to develop a fixed API or a fixed-based API, whereby the Appital user interface can now be accessed via clients and FlexTrade in their current mission control screen, which is Flextrade. This was a significant step forward for us, we always knew that when we built Appital that it had to sit very neatly within that kind of current desktop. And that’s what we’ve been able to bring to fruition with the FlexTrade integration.

Julia: Also just thinking about a lot of these processes, particularly historically manual process, we’ve just been discussing. Then now of course, being brought onto electronic platforms the execution management systems as well, and executed on certain marketplaces. Can you tell us a bit about that? I gather you’ve done a collaboration with Turquoise, part of the London Stock Exchange Group.

Mark: Exactly. All flow is essentially arranged within the Appital platform.  It will be executed on the Turquoise MTF. And with that means we can execute around 4,000 equities within Europe. Which is fantastic for us at launch, but most recently as well, they’ve also announced that they can now execute a number of US equities. So with that integration, it means that our point of execution and execution workflow is something that is pre-existing within the buy-side traders arena.

Julia: Which is wonderful because that suggests not only kind of UK/European, but also international potential for further expansion, which is really exciting as well. One of the things that came up earlier in the conversation was the reference to MiFID II. It’s hard for any listener not to pick up on a reference of MiFID II as well. This is a question that I ask all our guests when they come to the show. It’s a slightly odd one, but I am really keen to know what is your favourite piece of regulation or policy right now? Greg, I’m going to come to you first of all, come and tell us what your favourite piece.

Greg: You’ve already covered it. MiFID II. I mean that was the favourite and also the least favourite bit of legislation at the moment. I mean, it really has had a pretty major impact on equity markets. To my mind, it was entirely predictable what MiFID II was going to do. And that was going to be a reduction in liquidity, a decrease in broker engagement, and ultimately an increase in the cost of capital, particularly in the small and mid-cap sectors of equity markets, both here in the UK and also across Europe. I think it’s quite clear that it was going to have that effect – if you look at the research coverage, saying it’s a mid FTSE-250 company before MiFID II came in there may have been seven, eight, nine brokers covering that stock. Now, I think if you talk to a FTSE 250 company, they’d be lucky to be having two or three, one or two of whom would already be a sort of house advisor to the company.

And that’s really had a major impact on companies and their ability to raise money. The ability for the equity market participants to actually form a reasonable view on the prospects of the business. And also then ultimately, to form a reasonable view on the pricing of that stock in the markets. That just ultimately always will lead on to a reduction in liquidity. Even though MiFID II is going through some reviews now, we see a treasury UK launch that calls for some markets review and we see the EU in Brussels say that are going to potentially re-look at MiFID II.

Ultimately it feels like it’s too little and it’s going to be too late. It really has reinforced the fragile nature of liquidity in equity markets that I referred to earlier. As an equity market participant, I feel saddened about that. However, what’s clear is that Appital, it’s really given us an opportunity to come in there and provide an alternate way of executing these flows. And really trying to bring some liquidity opportunity back into the market, which has simply dissipated over the last few years.

Julia: This sounds really important right now because as we think about life post-Brexit, and we think about the amount of innovation that’s required across the UK, and we think about the need to raise capital and bring corporates to market. This is a really important piece of the jigsaw puzzle, which is then how do you uncover that liquidity and make that liquidity available to the institutional marketplace, which is really fascinating. It won’t be the last conversation we have about this for sure. Mark, can I ask you the same question I expect you, of course, you’re a big fan of MiFID II, as well. Talk to me about the policy of regulation that you particularly like at the moment.

Mark: Probably follow Greg again in terms of MiFID II. It really, I think comes back to where Appital was born from. Because when I was working in an investment bank, it came in 2018 and I felt firsthand how much additional operational legwork that we had to go through to get these deals over the line. And I always felt like there had to be a better way to get this kind of operational work done, and that would be to create some technology within the equity market space.

Julia: In order to find out more about this podcast series StreetsTalksTo and today of course, we’re talking to Appital, you can find all our episodes on Streetsconsulting.com/streetstalksto and on our hashtag StreetsTalksTo, no surprises there at all. So I hope you’re enjoying this conversation with Appital. It is very interesting to talk to an organisation that is so of its time right now. Early on its journey, successfully fundraising, got some critical partnerships in the industry and a wave of support from the buy side of the institutional world, and geopolitical time where it feels like this potential is ready to be truly unlocked as well. I’d love to think about, I mean I paint a picture of the road ahead and pick me up at that point. I’d love to hear your thoughts about what are you thinking about as you look at the pathway ahead. Mark, let me come to you first of all. And then Greg, I’d love to hear what advice you’re giving clients.

Mark: With all of our releases over the summer, being this integration with FlexTrade in the EMS space, or whether it’d be Turquoise and completing that partnership for a point of execution. We now – as a business – have to take those technological challenges and complete them over the next three to four months. I think we need to scale that as well. So we’ve completed one EMS integration, but we have more to come and this will allow us to extend our reach even further to the wider buy-side community.

Julia: Because we know it’s all about distribution and scale. Not only from an investor’s point of view, who’s backing Appital, but also in terms of the ability to change a market and also welcome more participants into the market as well. Really, really interesting. Well, I wish you every success with that pathway ahead and, and it’ll be interesting to see how that goes further announcements, no doubt in due course. Greg, let me come to you for final remarks on the show today. I’m really keen to hear, as you’re out of the market, I will call you a veteran in the industry, seasoned, perhaps might’ve been more appropriate. But I’d love to hear your thoughts about when you are talking  to clients or when you’re talking to the market, what advice do you give them as they in turn plan ahead?

Greg: I think for all institutional investors now there is a recognition that, we’ve moved on from the model of the post big bang, through to the financial crisis, reliance on investment banks, reliance on brokers. I think there’s a real theme running through institutional asset manager and trading desks at the moment, which is that they need to be relying on themselves to try to execute their flows.

I think I’d encourage all investors to really look for ways of engaging directly with each other. There’s a need for them to use alternative liquidity providers and they’re starting to do that. But there’s a real need for electronic liquidity platforms. And again, they’re really gripping this and really engaging with those platforms of which clearly at Appital, we’re here to help the institutional buy-side community. We’re here to try to enhance the liquidity and that wider market and allow that trading desks to be more self-sufficient in managing that illiquid flow. So really, I believe it’s happening. I believe it’s a theme that’s 

really resonating with institutional asset managers and really keen to encourage them to carry on and use us to help facilitate that .

Julia: Well it’s been a wonderful discussion. Thank you both for taking the time to be with us today. I know just how busy you are building your business and extending your reach with a very clear pathway ahead. It’s been fascinating hearing your views from the macro down into the micro in terms of how you’re building the business and the impact that you’re having on the market. But also the relevance and residency of why now. Mark Badyra thank you so much for being with us today.

Mark: Thank you very much.

Julia: And Greg Bennett, Chair of Appital, thank you for being with us also.

Greg: Great to be here. Thank you.

Julia: And let me just tell you how you can find out more about Appital. Their website is Appital.io. They’re on Twitter @AppitalHQ, and also you can find them, of course, on LinkedIn. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I have. Thank you to all our listeners. I’ve been Julia Streets. And thank you for listening to StreetsTalksTo Appital.

Kieron: This episode of StreetsTalksTo was produced by me, Kieron Yates, on behalf of Streets Consulting Limited. Streets Consulting is a business development, marketing, communications consultancy that’s focused on helping Fintechs from the smallest startup companies to some of the world’s largest global organisations. Everybody’s trying to innovate and everybody’s trying to grow. You can find this episode on Streetsconsulting.com and using the hashtag #StreetsTalksTo. We can be found on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @StreetsConsult. Thanks for listening.