10.15.2021
By Shanny Basar

Neptune Networks to Add Municipal Bond Axes

John “Coach” Robinson, the new chief executive of Neptune Networks, said axes for US municipal bonds will be added to the industry-owned platform which allows institutional investors to access real-time bond pricing from banks in a standard format.

Banks previously sent bond inventory information in multiple formats to investors while Neptune uses a standard open source format. Robinson told Markets Media that a couple of dealers are now putting municipal bonds into Neptune and the firm is in discussions with one of the very top dealers who has agreed in principle to send muni axes onto the platform.

John Robinson, Neptune Networks

“Neptune is perfectly suited for the muni market which is very fragmented and ripe for being digitized,” he said.

In addition to municipal bonds, Neptune is also working on data for securitized products, rates, European government bonds, covered bonds and SSAs (Sovereign, Supranational and Agency bonds), as well as US Treasuries, TIPS (Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities) and hard currency bonds in emerging markets.

Robinson officially started as chief executive on 9 September after working with Neptune as a senior consultant since November last year. He had previously worked at Morgan Stanley for almost 35 years before leaving the bank in 2019.

Neptune had previously been under the leadership of interim chief executive, Byron Cooper-Fogarty since January 2020. Cooper-Fogarty is remaining with Neptune and will form part of the management team as chief operating officer.

In the summer of last year Robinson received a call  from Neptune about the vacant CEO role and then spent time speaking to board members, shareholders, heads of trading and his client network in Europe and the US.

“I was attracted to Neptune because they are dealer-owned and already supported by the sell side while I have client contacts on the buy side in Europe, US and emerging markets,” he added. “I felt this suits me and checks all the boxes of really using my experience.”

Dwayne Middleton, global head of fixed income trading at T. Rowe Price, said in a statement that the fragmentation in fixed income markets requires innovation to solve the pre-trade analytics liquidity puzzle.

“Neptune has been at the forefront of organising and aggregating large data sets to improve the speed and efficiency for the buy-side fixed income investor,” added Middleton. “Adding a high calibre talent such as John, who has a unique understanding of both buy-side and sell-side workflows, will enhance the collaborative partnership Neptune has with their clients.”

In The DESK’s Trading Intentions Survey 2021 Neptune was the most commonly used standalone pre-trade data source (i.e. being unconnected to a trading venue) and its overall user base increased by 7%.

Expansion

Neptune was set up as a non-profit organization in 2016 to standardize the data for real actionable axes that the sell side owns and controls. Robinson continued that Neptune in not like other venues where banks send their data and then have to buy it back in the form of a composite.

“We have all this data and we are probably a third of the way down the road building a composite, and we are developing a comprehensive data strategy,” he added. “We recently hired a chief technology officer who is already making a huge impact.”

Although Neptune launched in Europe, Robinson is based in the US.

“We have already made an impact in expanding our client base in the US,” he said. “When I first started our clients in the US had between $25 to $30 trillion in assets under management and now that is over $40 trillion.”

There are 30 banks in the network and Robinson’s goal is to increase that up to 35 by the end of 2022.

In its existing form Neptune provides pre-trade data and the firm is having in-depth conversations with a number of partners who will be able to offer some type of execution.

“We are not going to become an execution platform,” said Robinson. “We are a data company but will be facilitating the banks and helping streamline the workflow for the buy side.”

He identified portfolio trading as another area which has seen explosive growth in credit in the last couple of years.

“Several of the big dealers in this space are sending their axes into Neptune and we are working on getting more ETF specialized firms  on board in the next three to six months,” said Robinson.

In 12 months time Robinson would like to have expanded Neptune’s buy-side universe, diversified into Asia, to have the portfolio trading houses live and have partnerships for an execution capability in both US and Europe.

“I would love to have the composite and become a must-have in the marketplace ecosystem,” said Robinson.

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