Ferrari sells cars so it can go racing; Bequant built a crypto exchange to get into prime brokerage.
That’s the analogy offered by the firm’s head of institutional services, Alex Mascioli, when asked about a new banking relationship with Signature’s blockchain-based payments platform, Signet, first revealed to CoinDesk this week.
Prime brokerage, Mascioli said, was always Bequant’s race to win.
Prime brokers are facilitators for financing and trading for deep-pocketed institutional investors. While the digital asset space doesn’t have a lot of prime broker options currently, several crypto firms including Coinbase, BitGo and Genesis Trading have announced in recent months their intent to build prime brokerage wings.
Bequant was building a prime brokerage service for crypto before it was cool, said CEO George Zarya.
“When we started building the prime brokerage product almost two years ago, nobody was doing it,” Zarya said. “There were a couple of players that called themselves prime brokers, but what they were doing was aggregating liquidity.”
To compete in a newly crowded market, Bequant’s connection to Signature Bank's Signet will allow the firm to more easily settle fiat for more clients. Bequant is also connected to the Silvergate Exchange Network, Globitrex Exchange and U.K.-based electronic money institution BCB Group, Zarya said.
“It’s an important transition between the legacy financial markets and the new digital markets,” he added.
The variety of banking and payments relationships allows Bequant to serve clients that use a variety of onramps to the U.S. dollar, because no U.S. bank has emerged as a clear leader in the digital asset space, Zarya said.
The firm now boasts a list of services that includes capital introduction, fund administration, securities lending, multi-exchange direct market access, custody, collateral management, leveraged trade execution, over-the-counter block trading, risk management and smart order routing.
According to Zarya, clients care most about easy access to spot and derivatives markets, lending, managing collateral across exchanges, having analytics on top of their portfolios and APIs that can let them connect to multiple exchanges at once. The products that cost the most for the firm to build were custody and collateral management, he added.
Blockforce Capital CEO Eric Ervin said capital introduction is where prime brokers in traditional markets can stand out. (Ervin uses Tagomi as Blockforce’s prime broker.) In the traditional world, investment banks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley connect clients to hedge funds, pension funds and endowments.
Bequant is connected to 11 sources of liquidity currently including HitBTC, Binance, OKex, Huobi, Bittrex, Bitifnex, Deribit and Bequant’s own exchange and plans to expand it’s exchange connections to a dozen by the end of the year. The other four sources of liquidity are unnamed OTC desks.
“These exchanges are venues that our team has one-on-one relationships with,” Mascioli said. “This isn’t as simple as dropping in APIs.”
When Bequant launched its exchange two years ago, Zarya said he recognized there was a need for an institutional-grade exchange offering high-frequency trading services. Most exchanges are still built to serve primarily retail customers, he added, meaning their infrastructure struggles to keep up with high trading volumes.
“One of the issues that we’ve had with some of our exchanges is the rate per second allocation,” Zarya said. “If you trade a high-frequency trading strategy, you may want to opt into a higher rate-per-second allocation.” Bequant’s internal trading averages around 400 microseconds per trade, which is close to the London Stock Exchange’s 150 microseconds.
The firm is currently planning to raise a round of venture capital to beef up operating capital on its lending side.
“We’ve managed to build a great product by bootstrapping,” Zarya said. “Our exchange business turned profitable within the first 12 months. … It took us about $2.5 million to get it up and running.” Zarya expects the prime brokerage side of the business to be profitable within the next six months.
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