ANNUAL SURVEY — STABILITY AMID CHANGE
By Gordon Platt
A global investigation into trading irregularities has not hampered growth or innovation in one of the world’s largest and most volatile markets—foreign exchange.
The $5.3 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market is undergoing rapid change as a result of technology and new regulation. Trading of FX derivatives and nondeliverable forwards is migrating to exchanges. Mobile applications are increasing their penetration, and instant messaging has become a critical part of price discovery. Amid all the turmoil, the biggest global and regional foreign banks have gotten even bigger, tightening their grip on the market.
The big banks continue to invest heavily in technology to maintain and increase their market share. Electronic trading has become the main mode of trading in the foreign exchange market and now accounts for approximately 70% of all trading in FX globally, according to Aite Group, a Boston-based consultant. “Growing technical sophistication of dealing banks, and their willingness to back new FX venues, has reignited competition in a market that has not seen significant innovation in many years,” says Javier Paz, senior analyst at Aite Group. “The next phase in electronic FX competition will be characterized by increased transparency throughout the trade life cycle, low-latency trading and client-specific liquidity pools,” he says.
Foreign exchange bankers expect FX volumes to exhibit strong growth in 2014, as international trading activity prospers and global economic conditions improve. Volumes have shown exceptional growth in recent years, as measured by the triennial surveys of the Bank for International Settlements.
While the entire foreign exchange market is under a cloud because of a global investigation into potential trading irregularities, corporations operating in today’s global markets need the advice, tools and services of a trusted foreign exchange provider.
In our annual World’s Best Foreign Exchange Providers awards, Global Finance has identified the best foreign exchange banks. We chose the leading foreign exchange banks in 97 countries or regions, as well as the best online trading systems; the best firm for foreign exchange research; and winners for fundamental research, technical analysis, currency forecasts, and strategy and hedging.
With input from industry analysts, corporate executives and technology experts, Global Finance selected the winners based on objective and subjective factors. Our criteria included transaction volume, market share, global coverage, customer service, competitive pricing and technology.
|Western Europe||Deutsche Bank|
|Central and Eastern Europe||Société Générale|
|Middle East||National Bank of Kuwait|
|Algeria||Arab Banking Corporation Algeria|
|Bahrain||Ahli United Bank|
|Belgium||BNP Paribas Fortis|
|Chile||Banco Santander Chile|
|China||Bank of China|
|Colombia||Banco de Bogotá|
|Cyprus||Bank of Cyprus|
|Egypt||Commercial International Bank|
|Greece||National Bank of Greece|
|Ireland||Bank of Ireland|
|Japan||Mitsubishi UFJ Financial|
|Kenya||CfC Stanbic Bank|
|Kuwait||National Bank of Kuwait|
|Macedonia||Komercijalna Banka AD Skopje|
|Nigeria||Stanbic IBTC Bank|
|Paraguay||Banco Itaú Paraguay|
|Portugal||Banco Santander Totta|
|Qatar||Qatar National Bank|
|Romania||Raiffeisen Bank Romania|
|Saudi Arabia||Samba Financial Group|
|Sierra Leone||Standard Chartered|
|Slovenia||Nova Ljubljanska Banka|
|South Africa||Standard Bank|
|South Korea||Korea Exchange Bank|
|Syria||Bank of Syria and Overseas|
|Thailand||Siam Commercial Bank|
|United Arab Emirates||Emirates NBD|
|Honorable Mention||BNY Mellon|
|Fundamental Analysis||Brown Brothers Harriman|
|Technical Analysis||BNY Mellon|
|Bank System||BNP Paribas’ Cortex FX|
|Independent System||Thomson Reuters|
|Retail System||Forex Capital Markets (FXCM)|
Deutsche Bank’s integration of its foreign exchange business with its rates and credit business has helped it maintain its leading position in the global FX market. The bank’s centralized electronic trading and collateral-management operations have given it an edge in the new global regulatory environment. Long an industry leader with hedge funds and financial institutions, Deutsche Bank has added thousands of new corporate clients in recent years. In 2013 more than 1,000 new corporate accounts began using the bank for the first time to meet their FX needs. A new FX platform, Autobahn Corporate Treasury, enables multinationals to manage the FX operations of their worldwide subsidiaries from a single location. This helps corporate treasurers to understand their global FX exposures more quickly and to hedge FX risks more effectively. Kevin Rodgers, global head of foreign exchange at Deutsche Bank, says: “In 2013 we continued to invest a significant amount in technology across all of our FX platforms, maintained our best talent, produced great research and offered a good service to our clients across the globe.”
NORTH AMERICA: Citi
The bank has invested heavily in technology to maintain its competitive edge. CitiFX Pulse, its electronic trading platform was reintroduced as Pulse 2.0. It enables multinationals to track cash flow and balance-sheet exposure across subsidiaries and offers instantaneous hedging across multiple entities. CitiFX Wire, the bank’s fast-growing news service for clients, combines content provided by traders, strategists, technical analysts and economists. The service includes intraday commentary as well as longer-term macroeconomic research. Citi offers a wide range of derivatives products on all asset classes, including customized exotic options.
WESTERN EUROPE: Deutsche Bank
While most banks saw their FX revenues decline sharply in 2013, Deutsche Bank’s volume increased substantially. Owing to the size and diversity of its franchise across a wide range of markets and regions, the top German bank can offset risk faster and gain unique insights. At a time when regulatory changes are causing dealers to reduce inventory, the bank foresaw the need to price risk accurately and quickly. It combined its fixed-income and currency operations and established a platform for cross-asset flow trading. As a result, its options volume expanded rapidly. With more of its businesses using the same systems, Deutsche Bank has automated more processes, including pretrade credit checks. The bank also installed a system that enables traders to price the cost of collateral more quickly.
NORDIC COUNTRIES: SEB
SEB is the leading foreign exchange bank in the Nordic region, serving a majority of the largest multinational corporations and financial institutions. It is a global market maker in the Swedish krona, the Danish krone and the Norwegian krone and has continued to gain in FX market share in options, spot and forward contracts in the past year. Robert Celsing, global head of foreign exchange at the Stockholm-based bank, says: “SEB has a continuity in covering our clients in the Nordic region, and FX has been a core part of our franchise.” The bank offers 24-hour execution from its trading desks in Stockholm, Singapore and New York. Its market share is also growing in Eastern Europe, Asia, South America and Africa.
CENTRAL & EASTERN EUROPE: Société Générale
Société Générale is present in 18 countries in the CEE region and is a leading dealer in many regional currencies, including those of Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary. Marc Zaffran, SG managing director and head of FX EMEA sales, says: “This is the third year in a row that SG has won this award. This is an acknowledgment of each FX team member’s hard work and dedication to our clients across Central and Eastern Europe, including Russia.” The bank offers services in illiquid frontier currencies, such as the Armenian dram, the Belarussian ruble, the Moldovan leu, the Ukranian hryvnia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s convertible mark.
LATIN AMERICA: Citi
With 22 dealing rooms across Latin America, Citi increased its FX transactions in the region by 30% in 2013. The bank’s business model is to link its global and emerging markets flow business. It is expanding this model to include direct links between emerging markets regions. For example, Citi has placed a Latin American currency expert in its Asian trading hub. Citi is the top bank for FX spot and forward transactions in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a 20% market share. It has operated in many countries in the region since the early 1900s.The bank has experience with highly regulated FX markets in many countries in the region and is familiar with handling supporting documentation.
The bank is a clear leader in FX market share in Asia, with the region accounting for more than half of the London-based bank’s earnings. In announcing a 10% rise in third-quarter 2013 earnings, chief executive Stuart Gulliver said there were signs that growth in China was stabilizing. HSBC was one of the first foreign banks to incorporate in China in 2007 (it opened a Shanghai branch in 1865). It has the largest network among foreign banks on the mainland and received approval in July 2013 to invest renminbi onshore, as China gradually opens its financial markets to overseas funds.
SOUTHEAST ASIA: DBS
Singapore-based DBS is an active FX market maker, with an extensive branch network across Asia and a leading market share in Southeast Asia. It has the biggest FX team among local banks in its home market, as well as FX operations in Hong Kong, China, India, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam. DBS China was granted an official market maker license for FX spot trades, forwards and swaps in 2013. The bank has an established FX trading platform in China’s major cities. Peter Soh, managing director and head of foreign exchange at DBS, says: “Our strong risk governance culture—central to all our business undertakings—as well as our continuous drive to enhance technology have helped us maintain our pole position in Southeast Asia and Singapore for many years.”
MIDDLE EAST: National Bank of Kuwait
National Bank of Kuwait is the leading market maker for the Kuwaiti dinar, both domestically and internationally. NBK’s foreign exchange services and advisory unit deals in more than 80 currencies for the bank’s proprietary book, as well as for its clients. NBK Group CEO Ibrahim Dabdoub says NBK’s strategic expansion has become a main pillar on which the bank will build its future growth. NBK’s regional coverage extends to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. “We are focusing our efforts on the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to leverage NBK’s strong franchise there and to benefit from the strong economic outlook and the growth opportunities available,” Dabdoub says.
AFRICA: Standard Bank
South Africa’s Standard Bank is the world’s leading liquidity provider for African currencies, accounting for more than 30% of the continent’s foreign exchange volume. The bank operates in 19 African countries and is the leading market maker in South Africa and Nigeria, the two largest markets in sub-Saharan Africa. Standard Bank’s strategic partnership with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China gives it an edge in China-Africa trade and currency flows as clients can denominate their trade with China in renminbi, thereby reducing their risk. Standard Bank’s research team provides in-depth analysis, including currency forecasts, on African economies.
RESEARCH: BNY Mellon
BNY Mellon is one of the leading foreign exchange dealers in the United States. The bank’s 10 trading desks around the world execute more than 14,000 FX transactions daily. Simon Derrick, chief currency strategist, says: “Our aim remains a simple one: To provide timely and pertinent insights for our clients on the driving forces within the currency markets. We continue to approach this in two distinct ways. The first is our focus on key macroeconomic issues, such as the ‘currency wars’ that have characterized much of the past decade. The second is continuing to study investor flows and to analyze the driving forces behind them. With significant monetary and currency policy shifts likely, I suspect we will have plenty to study in 2014 and 2015.”
FUNDAMENTAL ANALYSIS: Brown Brothers Harriman
Brown Brothers Harriman is a leading FX provider to global investment managers. Its currency strategy and research products combine fundamental, geopolitical and technical analysis. “The key drivers behind the growth of the FX market have arguably been [fiscal and monetary] policies more than the macroeconomic fundamentals,” says Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at BBH. “A multidisciplinary approach seems best in the current environment.” Academic research suggests that currency variability can account for as much as two-thirds of the return of a global bond fund, but only one-third of the return of an international equity fund, Chandler says. “However, over the past year, more equity fund managers began hedging currency risk,” he says. “This was particularly evident with the foreign interest in Japanese equities, but eschewing yen exposure.”
TECHNICAL ANALYSIS: BNY Mellon
BNY Mellon’s multi-asset capital flow product, iFlow, enables clients to research data and insights into cross-border investment activity. The iFlow product tracks aggregate daily investor activity across currencies, equities and bonds in developed and emerging markets. Historical charts with trend lines, trading signals and data on simulated portfolio performance are available to help clients develop trading strategies.
STRATEGY/HEDGING: Deutsche Bank
Deutsche Bank created a system that alerts clients when to exercise or restructure derivatives most profitably. The bank was a leading provider of hedges when Japanese yen options volumes soared in the biggest FX trading opportunity of the year in 2013. In China, the fastest-growing emerging FX derivatives market last year, Deutsche Bank was the leading provider of exotic hedges to local banks and one of the leading dealers in swaps.
FORECASTS: BNY Mellon
The bank’s ForeSight website offers advice and ideas on investment strategy across a wide range of asset classes and geographies. BNY Mellon’s monthly forecasts on 70 currency pairs are based on economic and capital-flow fundamentals and incorporate a value-based process to identify over- or under-valued currencies.The bank’s strategists offer short- and long-term analyses of economies around the world, as well as fixed-income, equity and currency markets.
BANK SYSTEM: BNP Paribas’s Cortex FX
Cortex FX, BNP Paribas’s multiproduct FX execution platform, was built to mirror the bank’s diverse client workflows. Clients—from hedge funds to banks and corporations—can set up their own pretrade dashboard, unique trade execution features and posttrade functions. Luke Waddington, global co-head of electronic markets, fixed income, at BNP Paribas, says: “Cortex FX offers flexibility combined with a range of front-to-back functionality. The client remains in complete control, whether looking to develop innovative trading strategies, execute options or algorithmic strategies, or follow up on any of their trades.” The bank’s GlobalMarkets intelligence hub is fully integrated with the platform, providing research, trading ideas and charting tools, accessible by desktop, iPad and iPhone. Trading modules for more than 150 currency pairs enable users to configure multiple trading pages by product type, order monitoring or currency amount. Options capabilities include pricing and trading for vanillas, exotics and multileg structures.
INDEPENDENT SYSTEM: Thomson Reuters
The electronic trading venues of Thomson Reuters account for approximately 27% of the overall trading volume in the global FX market, nearly double the market share of its closest competitor. A wide range of trading methods are offered, which are enhanced by FXall’s transaction, workflow and posttrade capabilities. More than 18,000 traders at more than 5,000 organizations in 120 countries use Thomson Reuters’s FX platforms. The average daily trading volume on Thomson Reuters’s platforms was $127 billion in September 2013. FXall, a multibank FX trading platform, that Thomson Reuters acquired, has access to a deep pool of liquidity from more than 80 leading banks and liquidity providers for more than 500 currency pairs. Thomson Reuters introduced a swap execution facility in October 2013, in response to new regulations to bring more transparency to derivatives markets, including FX options and nondeliverable forwards. Also in October, it joined forces with Markit and a group of leading financial institutions to create the largest financial markets instant-messaging community.
RETAIL SYSTEM: Forex Capital Markets (FXCM)
Forex Capital Markets, better known as FXCM, serves clients in 180 countries and offers trading in about 56 currency pairs. The New York–based company also owns the FX trading news and research website DailyFX. Founded in 1999, FXCM was the first FX broker to list on the New York Stock Exchange. Under FXCM’s “no dealing desk” system, FX trades are executed back-to-back with major banks and financial institutions. Multiple liquidity providers compete to provide FXCM with tight spreads. FXCM also offers FX services through third-party platforms, such as MetaTrader 4. FXCM’s Mirror Trader software enables retail traders to follow and copy the strategies of professional FX traders with an automated trading system that can be turned on and off at any time. Traders have access to mobile trading, one-click order execution and direct trading from real-time charts.