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Goldman-Backed FX Platform Clinches HSBC, Citigroup Funding

Ruth Carson and Chanyaporn Chanjaroen

(Bloomberg) -- A Singapore foreign-exchange platform has won financial backing from HSBC Holdings Plc and Citigroup Inc. just as its trading volume more than doubled on coronavirus-driven volatility.

HSBC and Citi join Goldman Sachs Group Inc. as investors in Spark Systems after participating in series B funding that’s raised $16.5 million over two rounds, according to Chief Executive Officer Wong Joo Seng. Citi and HSBC representatives confirmed their companies have invested in Spark. OSK Ventures International Bhd., a Kuala Lumpur-based investment firm, also joined the current round, which brought the firm’s valuation to $70.5 million, Wong said.

Wong said the amount raised will be sufficient for the next three and a half years, though more investors will participate in the current round later this year.

The timing for the fund-raising has been propitious. Currency trading skyrocketed across the globe earlier this year when panic selling in the coronavirus-induced market meltdown triggered a stampede for dollars and fueled demand for lightning-fast pricing.

“Trading started to surge into late February just as the contagion spread,” said Wong.

Singapore, already Asia’s biggest currency-trading hub, is wooing the world’s top banks to set up electronic-pricing engines in the city state to win a bigger slice of the $6.6 trillion-a-day foreign-exchange market. The island nation posted an average daily trading volume of $640 billion in April 2019, and ranked third globally behind the U.K. and U.S, data from the Bank for International Settlements show.

Spark currently provides clients with prices from banks such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and UBS Group AG that have pricing systems set up in Singapore, according to Wong.

“We are executing in Singapore on a one to two millisecond time basis,” he said, noting that executions in London or New York could take on the order of 380 milliseconds, so the time savings from the regional operation is substantial.

Spark’s platform helps boost Singapore’s position as a low latency financial hub, said Alaa Saeed, global head of electronic platforms and distribution of CitiFX and Gavin Powell, HSBC Singapore’s head of global markets.

The start-up, which is backed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, recorded an average $5.5 billion-a-day trading volume during the first quarter, up from $2.5 billion during the same period in 2019. But the slowing global economy is now starting to dampen activity in the second quarter, Wong said, with average trading volume sliding to $4.5 billion to $5 billion a day.

“If you have GDP shrinking, if you have numerous companies that are badly affected, it will affect the level of economic activity and the amount of forex being traded,” he said.

The vast majority of the firm’s trades currently involve Group-of-Ten assets, but Wong sees opportunities for the firm to boost its capabilities in emerging-market currencies such as the Korean won, Chinese yuan, Malaysian ringgit and Indonesian rupiah.

“We see Singapore as a very natural hub for corporate treasury and for emerging market currencies price discovery,” he said. “We’d like to be the center where that is being traded.”

(Adds BIS data in sixth paragraph)

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