TradFi Veterans Pitch Tokenized Asset Marketplace With Eyes on U.S. Regulatory Approval

Ironlight, helmed by the former global head of trading of Schroders and Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund ADIA with the ex-CEO of TD Bank as an adviser, aims to be a premier tokenization, listing and trading ecosystem for real-world assets targeting big investors.

AccessTimeIconMay 2, 2024 at 1:00 p.m. UTC
Updated May 2, 2024 at 2:08 p.m. UTC
  • Ironlight aims to be an SEC-supervised marketplace for tokenized real-world assets (RWAs).
  • The company secured $12 million of investment, mostly from individual investors with a Wall Street background, co-founder Celebuski said in an interview.
  • Asset tokenization has become one of the hottest trends in crypto, with estimates of growing into a multitrillion-dollar industry.
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  • With global financial heavyweights hopping on the red-hot tokenization trend to bring conventional assets onto blockchain infrastructure, a new company started by traditional finance veterans is building a digital marketplace with eyes on a U.S. regulatory nod.

    Ironlight, started by Rob McGrath and Matt Celebuski, aims to tokenize private securities that are typically illiquid such as real estate, natural resources, fine art, public infrastructure and private equity while serving as a trading venue with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) blessing as a so-called alternative trading system, or ATS.

    McGrath previously served as global head of trading at asset manager Schroders and Abu Dhabi's government-owned sovereign wealth fund Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), while Celebuski founded a brokerage that did trade-cost analysis and was acquired by financial technology company Abel Noser.

    They are also joined by Greg Braca, former president and CEO of TD Bank, as a strategic adviser and board member.

    Ironlight's entrance comes as traditional capital markets and the digital asset industry are becoming increasingly intertwined, with crypto firms and traditional finance giants like BlackRock, Franklin Templeton and HSBC racing to put old-school investment products – real-world assets, or RWAs in crypto parlance – onto blockchain plumbing in the form of tokens.

    Proponents tout this as a multitrillion-dollar opportunity, betting that tokenization could disrupt the current infrastructure behind global financial markets. Potential benefits include faster settlements, around-the-clock trading and increased efficiency. The RWA market could mushroom to over $10 trillion by the end of the decade, according to separate reports by Boston Consulting Group and digital asset manager

    "It was obvious that there was going to be a sea change in the financial markets and we wanted to be a part of that," Celebuski, who serves as president and chief operating officer at Ironlight, said in an interview with CoinDesk.

    After leaving their TradFi tenures, the founders raised $12 million from mostly high-net-worth individual investors in their network to put together a team and build the tech from the ground up, Celebuski said.

    With no plans for allowing cryptocurrency trading on the platform, the company's goal is to leverage distributed ledger technology, or DLT, to connect buyers and sellers in a more seamless way. They also plan to partner with sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and traditional market makers to facilitate trading tokenized assets.

    The development behind the trading venue is at advanced stages, and the company has already applied to be a regulated broker-dealer by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and expects an approval in the next few months, Celebuski said.

    After that, Ironlight will start the SEC registration process for an ATS, which is necessary to operate a digital marketplace, he added.

    "We felt that making this work under U.S. regulations would be important to be seen as completely regulatory compliant no matter which venue or regulation we would be under," Celebuski explained.

    A regulated ATS could make a positive impact on liquidity for tokenized assets, especially if it manages to attract sufficient subscribers, Doug Schwenk, CEO of Digital Asset Research, told CoinDesk in an email.

    Edited by Nick Baker.


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    Krisztian  Sandor

    Krisztian Sandor is a reporter on the U.S. markets team focusing on stablecoins and institutional investment. He holds BTC and ETH.