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UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

 

Form 10-K

 

(Mark One)

ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020

TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the transition period from                      to                     

Commission File Number 001-34091

 

MARKETAXESS HOLDINGS INC.

(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)

 

 

Delaware

 

52-2230784

(State of incorporation)

 

(IRS Employer

Identification No.)

 

 

55 Hudson Yards, New York, New York

 

10001

(Address of principal executive offices)

 

(Zip Code)

(212) 813-6000

(Registrant’s telephone number, including area code)

SECURITIES REGISTERED PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OF THE ACT:

 

Title of each class

 

Trading

Symbol

 

Name of each exchange on which registered

Common Stock, $0.003 par value

 

MKTX

 

NASDAQ Global Select Market

SECURITIES REGISTERED PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(g) OF THE ACT:

None

 

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.    Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Act.    Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.    Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).    Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See definition of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.

 

Large accelerated filer

 

  

Accelerated filer

 

Non-accelerated filer

 

  

  

Smaller reporting company

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging growth company

 

If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.                                                                                                                                                                        

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).    Yes      No  

The aggregate market value of the shares of common stock held by non-affiliates of the registrant as of June 30, 2020 (the last business day of the registrant’s most recently completed second fiscal quarter) was approximately $16.3 billion computed by reference to the last reported sale price on the NASDAQ Global Select Market on that date. For purposes of this calculation, affiliates are considered to be officers, directors and holders of 10% or more of the outstanding common stock of the registrant on that date. The registrant had 37,964,515 shares of common stock, 5,492,071 of which were held by affiliates, outstanding on that date.

As of February 16, 2021, the aggregate number of shares of the registrant’s common stock outstanding was 37,995,877.

 

DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE

Portions of the registrant’s definitive proxy statement for the 2021 Annual Meeting of Stockholders are incorporated by reference into Items 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 of Part III of this Form 10-K.

 

 

 


 

 

MARKETAXESS HOLDINGS INC.

2020 FORM 10-K ANNUAL REPORT

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

 

 

  

Page

 

 

 

PART I

  

 

Item 1:

 

Business

  

3

Item 1A:

 

Risk Factors

  

22

Item 1B:

 

Unresolved Staff Comments

  

37

Item 2:

 

Properties

  

37

Item 3:

 

Legal Proceedings

  

37

Item 4:

 

Mine Safety Disclosures

  

37

 

 

 

PART II

  

 

Item 5:

 

Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

  

38

Item 6:

 

Selected Financial Data

  

40

Item 7:

 

Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

  

42

Item 7A:

 

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk

  

59

Item 8:

 

Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

  

61

Item 9:

 

Changes in and Disagreements with Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

  

94

Item 9A:

 

Controls and Procedures

  

94

Item 9B:

 

Other Information

  

94

 

 

 

PART III

  

 

Item 10:

 

Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

  

95

Item 11:

 

Executive Compensation

  

95

Item 12:

 

Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters

  

95

Item 13:

 

Certain Relationships and Related Transactions and Director Independence

  

95

Item 14:

 

Principal Accounting Fees and Services

  

95

 

 

 

PART IV

  

 

Item 15:

 

Exhibits and Financial Statement Schedules

  

96

Item 16:

 

Form 10-K Summary

 

101

 

2


 

 

PART I

Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

This report contains certain “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements may be identified by words such as “expects,” “intends,” “anticipates,” “plans,” “believes,” “seeks,” “estimates,” “will,” or words of similar meaning and include, but are not limited to, statements regarding the outlook for our future business and financial performance. Forward-looking statements are based on management’s current expectations and assumptions, which are subject to inherent uncertainties, risks and changes in circumstances that are difficult to predict. It is routine for our internal projections and expectations to change as the year or each quarter in the year progresses, and therefore it should be clearly understood that the internal projections and beliefs upon which we base our expectations may change prior to the end of each quarter or the year. Although these expectations may change, we are under no obligation to revise or update any forward-looking statements contained in this report. Actual future events or results may differ, perhaps materially, from those contained in the projections or forward-looking statements. Factors that could cause or contribute to such differences include those discussed below and elsewhere in this report, particularly in Item 1A. “Risk Factors.”

 

 

Item 1. Business.

 

Overview

MarketAxess Holdings Inc. (the “Company” or “MarketAxess”) operates leading electronic trading platforms delivering expanded liquidity opportunities, improved execution quality and significant cost savings across global fixed-income markets. Over 1,800 institutional investor and broker-dealer firms are active users of our patented trading technology, accessing global liquidity on our platforms in U.S. investment-grade bonds, U.S. high-yield bonds, U.S. Treasuries, municipal bonds, emerging market debt, Eurobonds and other fixed income securities. Through our Open Trading™ protocols, we execute bond trades between and among institutional investor and broker-dealer clients in our leading all-to-all anonymous trading environment. We also offer a number of trading-related products and services, including: Composite+™ pricing and other market data products to assist clients with trading decisions; auto-execution and other execution services for clients requiring specialized workflow solutions; connectivity solutions that facilitate straight-through processing; and technology services to optimize trading environments. In addition, we provide a range of pre- and post-trade services, including trade matching, trade publication, regulatory transaction reporting and market and reference data across a range of fixed-income and other products.

 

Our platforms’ innovative technology solutions are designed to increase the number of potential trading counterparties and create a menu of solutions to address different trade sizes and bond liquidity characteristics. Our traditional Request-For-Quote (“RFQ”) model allows our institutional investor clients to simultaneously request competing, executable bids or offers from our broker-dealer clients and execute trades with the broker-dealer of their choice from among those that choose to respond. Our anonymous trading protocols (referred to throughout as “Open Trading”) complement our RFQ model by increasing the number of potential counterparties and improving liquidity by allowing all participants to interact anonymously in an all-to-all trading environment. Clients can use our auto-execution technology with both our traditional RFQ and Open Trading protocols, thereby using rules-based execution to connect to diverse sources of liquidity while reducing trading inefficiencies and human errors. Live Markets, an order book that provides a single view of two-way, actionable prices for the most active corporate bonds, including newly issued debt, benchmark issues and news-driven securities, leverages the benefits of our Open Trading marketplace and allows participants to efficiently trade liquid names in larger size.

Our services relating to trade execution range from providing a suite of trading protocols designed to fit the trading needs of our clients to innovative new trading technologies, such as auto-execution and the use of artificial intelligence, to assist our clients’ trading decisions. Trading protocols include single and multiple-dealer inquiries; list trading, which is the ability to request bids and offers on up to 200 bonds at the same time; portfolio trading, which allows clients to competitively trade baskets of up to 1,500 securities; and swap trading, which is the ability to request an offer to purchase one bond and a bid to sell another bond. Auto-execution allows clients to set eligibility criteria for their orders that our system will use to determine whether or not to execute a trade in accordance with the pre-defined parameters. Once a trade is completed, clients will settle the trade with the assistance of our automated post-trade messaging, which facilitates the communication of trade acknowledgment and allocation information between our institutional investor and broker-dealer clients.

We are not a party to any of the disclosed trades that occur on our platforms between institutional investor clients and broker-dealer clients; rather, we serve as an intermediary between broker-dealers and institutional investors, enabling them to meet, agree on a price and then transact directly with each other. However, in connection with our Open Trading and other anonymous protocols, we execute bond transactions between and among institutional investor and broker-dealer clients on a matched principal basis by serving as counterparty to both the buyer and the seller in matching back-to-back trades. In 2020, 32.7% of all credit volume on the MarketAxess platform was executed via Open Trading protocols, up from 26.3% in 2019.

3


 

Our broker-dealer clients accounted for approximately 98.5% of the underwriting of newly-issued U.S. corporate bonds and approximately 86.4% of the underwriting of newly issued European corporate bonds in 2020. Although institutional investors, specialist market-making firms, proprietary trading firms and other non-traditional liquidity providers have increasingly provided liquidity on our platforms through Open Trading, we believe these broker-dealers still represent the principal source of secondary market liquidity in the markets in which we operate. Secondary market liquidity refers to the ability of market participants to buy or sell a security quickly and in large volume following the original issuance of the security, without substantially affecting the price of the security.

In 2020, our volume in U.S. high-grade and high yield corporate bonds represented approximately 21.6% and 14.6%, respectively, of the total estimated U.S. high-grade and high yield corporate bond volumes, as reported by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine (“TRACE”). TRACE facilitates the mandatory reporting of over-the-counter (“OTC”) secondary market transactions in eligible fixed-income securities in the U.S., including trading between institutional investors and broker-dealers, as well as inter-dealer and retail trading. All broker-dealers that are FINRA member firms have an obligation to report transactions in corporate bonds to TRACE under a set of rules approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).

We provide trade matching and regulatory reporting services for European investment firms and market and reference data across a range of fixed-income products. In response to the pre-and post-trade transparency mandates from the recast Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (“MiFID II”) in Europe, we have been authorized by each of the United Kingdom (“U.K.”) Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) and the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets (“AFM”) as an Approved Publication Arrangement (“APA”) and an Approved Reporting Mechanism (“ARM”). In addition to our APA and ARM reporting services, we have developed a comprehensive suite of value-add solutions for MiFID II, including pre-trade transparency services, systematic internaliser (“SI”) determination and monitoring, best execution reporting, commodity position reporting, data quality analysis and peer benchmarking.

In 2020, 92.1% of our revenues were derived from commissions for transactions executed on our platforms. We also derive revenues from information services, post-trade services and other income. Our revenue can be impacted by seasonal effects caused by increased levels of new bond issuance, which often occurs in the first quarter of a year, or slow-downs in trading activity, particularly during the customary holiday periods in August and December. Our expenses consist of employee compensation and benefits, depreciation and amortization, technology and communication expenses, professional and consulting fees, occupancy, marketing and advertising, clearing costs and other general and administrative expenses.

Industry Background

Fixed-income securities are issued by corporations, governments and other entities, and pay a pre-set absolute or relative rate of return. As of September 30, 2020, the most recent date available, there were approximately $50.1 trillion principal amount of fixed-income securities outstanding in the U.S. market, including $10.4 trillion principal amount of U.S. corporate bonds and $20.4 trillion principal amount of U.S. government bonds, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (“SIFMA”). The estimated average daily trading volume of U.S. corporate bonds, as measured by TRACE, was $35.8 billion in 2020. Primary dealer holdings of U.S. corporate bonds (investment-grade and high-yield) as reported by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York were $8.9 billion as of December 31, 2020. This represents less than one day of trading volume as measured by TRACE.

Traditionally, bond trading has been a manual process, with product and price discovery conducted over the telephone between two or more parties. This traditional process has a number of shortcomings resulting primarily from the lack of a central trading facility for fixed-income securities, which makes it difficult to match buyers and sellers for particular issues. Many market participants also use e-mail and instant messaging for trading these securities. While these electronic communication methods have addressed some of the limitations associated with telephonic trading, these methods are still hindered by limited liquidity, limited price transparency, significant transaction costs, compliance and regulatory challenges, and difficulty in executing numerous trades at one time. Our platforms’ functionality address many of the remaining shortcomings that result from trading bonds over the telephone, e-mail or instant message.

Demand for our trading platforms has grown as the need for greater execution efficiency and changing regulations have continued to shift trading from voice markets to electronic markets across our product areas. We and other trading platforms have responded to this demand with technological advances which have further automated many of the manual processes required by traditional methods of trading. Although our market share has increased significantly in recent years, large components of the fixed income markets in which we operate have not yet migrated to electronic trading because of the diverse and heterogeneous nature of those instruments and because participants in these markets have traditionally operated in a more relationship-driven environment.

4


 

Regulatory changes have also driven demand for the electronification of fixed-income trading processes. The policy objectives of a number of post-2008 crisis reforms, such as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Customer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”), Basel III and MiFID II, are to increase transparency and reduce systemic risk. These objectives have generally led to increased adoption of electronic trading on regulated markets where price transparency, all-to-all trading and reporting tools are essential components. The Volcker Rule, which limits proprietary trading by banks, has also had an impact on dealer inventories and the ability of dealers to act as market-makers. Our Open Trading protocols, which are designed to allow our broker-dealer and institutional investor clients to interact in an all-to-all trading environment, have helped market participants improve their liquidity and turnover in response to these trends. During 2020, over 1,200 participating client firms provided liquidity via our Open Trading solutions and we completed approximately 1.9 million Open Trading trades, an increase of 42.7% compared to 2019.

Our Competitive Strengths

We believe that we are well positioned to strengthen our market position in electronic trading in our existing products and to extend our presence into new products and services by capitalizing on our competitive strengths, including:

Significant Trading Volumes with Participation by Leading Broker-Dealers and Institutional Investors

Our electronic trading platforms provide access to the liquidity generated by the participation of over 1,800 active institutional investor and broker-dealer clients, including substantially all of the leading broker-dealers in global fixed-income trading. We believe these broker-dealers represent the principal source of secondary market liquidity for U.S. high-grade corporate bonds, emerging markets and high-yield bonds, European high-grade corporate bonds and the other markets in which we operate. Our broker-dealer clients are motivated to continue to utilize our platforms due to the presence on the platforms of our large network of institutional investor clients and their ability to use our Open Trading protocols to help manage their risk, source liquidity, and facilitate transactions on behalf of their clients.

As shown in the chart below, our total credit trading volume increased from approximately $1.4 trillion in 2016 to $2.6 trillion in 2020.

5


 

 

Our estimated share of U.S. high-grade and high-yield corporate bond volume from 2016 to 2020 is shown in the chart below:

Open Trading is a Differentiator that Expands the Liquidity Pool and Further Increases Cost-Savings for Clients

In the post-financial crisis years, liquidity has remained a persistent concern for market participants as regulators raised banks’ capital requirements and adopted other measures that prompted many dealers to reduce market-making activities even as the buy side’s bond holdings have grown rapidly. In this environment, Open Trading, our fully electronic, all-to-all trading environment, has emerged as one solution to the post-crisis liquidity problem. As a result, the liquidity options for Open Trading participants are broader and more diverse compared to the traditional model of bilateral trading with a limited set of dealer counterparties. The expanded pool of liquidity providers includes investment managers, global dealers, regional dealers and specialist market-making and proprietary trading firms. During 2020, over 1,200 unique liquidity providers participated in Open Trading, which improved the ability of both dealers and institutional investors to find natural and opportunistic matches, move orders more efficiently, and achieve significant increases in execution quality and price improvement.

We believe our Open Trading protocols enhance our institutional investor clients’ ability to obtain a competitive price by allowing all of our Open Trading participants to interact with each other, thereby increasing the potential sources of liquidity for each participant, as well as the likelihood of receiving a competitive price response. We estimate that liquidity takers saved an estimated $673.7 million in transaction costs through Open Trading during 2020, while liquidity providers saved an estimated $398.8 million during the year. These Open Trading cost savings are in addition to the potential cost savings institutional investors can achieve by simultaneously requesting bids or offers from our broker-dealer clients via our traditional RFQ protocol. Estimated liquidity taker cost savings is defined as the difference between the winning price and the best disclosed dealer cover price. Estimated liquidity provider cost savings is defined as the difference between the winning price and then current Composite+ bid or offer level (offer if the provider if buying, bid if provider is selling) at the time of the inquiry.

6


 

Growing, Comprehensive International Offering and Client Base

Our platforms provide global fixed-income market participants with trading functionality across global hard currency and local currency markets, connecting clients in over 50 countries to local and global dealers. MarketAxess has over 850 active client firms located outside the U.S. that access our platforms through our regulated venues in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Our Open Trading functionality allows international clients to access cross-border liquidity with minimal ramp-up time or regulatory hurdles.

The MarketAxess emerging markets trading platform also offers the most comprehensive offering for local currency bond trading across the Latin America, Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (“CEEMEA”), and Asia-Pacific (“APAC”) regions. Our platforms provide clients with the ability to trade local currency debt denominated in 27 local currencies with over 125 emerging market dealers.

Robust, Scalable Technology Throughout the Full Trading Cycle

We have developed proprietary technology that is highly secure, fault-tolerant and provides adequate capacity for our current operations, as well as for substantial growth. Our highly scalable systems are designed to accommodate additional volume, products and clients with relatively little modification and low incremental costs. We have consistently used our proprietary technology to find new ways for our clients to trade more effectively and efficiently. Our core software solutions span multiple components of the trading lifecycle and include pre-trade data and analytics, trade execution and post-trade data, analytics and reporting, connectivity and straight-through processing. Our systems are built to be scalable, flexible and resilient. We have also created new trading protocols and developed additional solutions for our clients that are translated and built by our highly experienced technology and business personnel. Going forward, we expect that our agile software development processes will help us continue to be a market leader in developing the technology solutions for our clients’ trading needs.

In addition to services directly related to the execution of trades, we offer our clients several other services throughout the trading cycle. In the pre-trade period, our platforms assist our participants by providing them with value-added services, such as real-time and historical trade price information, liquidity and turnover analytics, bond reference data and trade order matching alerts. Following the execution of a trade, our platforms support all of the essential tools and functionalities to enable our participants to realize the full benefits of electronic trading and demonstrate best execution, including real-time trade details, straight-through processing (“STP”), account allocations, automated audit trails, regulatory trade reporting, trade detail matching, and transaction cost analysis.

Next Generation Data and Analytical Tools Supporting the Increasing Automation of Trading Workflows

Our data and analytical tools enhance the value proposition of our trading platforms and improve the trading experience of our clients. We support our clients’ trading functions by offering value-added analytics that rely on machine-learning, automation and algorithms that are designed to improve the trading decisions and workflows of our clients. Our data and analytical tools are designed to help clients make better trading decisions, benefitting our current clients and attracting new market participants to our network. For example, our Composite+ pricing algorithm powers many of our automated trading solutions, which allows traders to automatically execute trades according to pre-determined parameters and automatically send completed or rejected order details to internal order management systems. By allowing traders to automate and execute their smaller, low touch trades more efficiently, our auto-execution solutions allow traders to focus their attention on higher value-added trades, with a goal of reducing trading inefficiencies and human errors.  

Proven Innovator with an Experienced Management Team

Since our inception, we have been an innovator in the fixed-income securities markets. The members of our management team average more than 20 years of experience in the securities industry. We have consistently sought to benefit participants in the markets we serve by attempting to replicate the essential features of fixed-income trading, including the existing relationships between broker-dealers and their institutional investor clients, while applying technology to eliminate weaknesses in traditional trading methods and improve liquidity. In recent years, MarketAxess has received industry recognition from key independent publications for its innovations and contributions to the fixed-income market. For example, in 2020, MarketAxess won the Waters Technology “Sell-Side Technology Award” for the Best Sell-Side Trading Network and the Global Capital “Bond Award” for the Best Emerging Markets Bond Trading Platform. In addition, Composite+ won the Waters Technology “Buy-Side Technology Award” for the Best Buy-Side AI Tool. Several awards have recognized our successful use of the agile software development methodology in the development of our Live Markets order book, while a number of our female employees have been honored with leadership awards across the globe.

7


 

Independent Ownership Structure

We believe our ownership structure has been an advantage relative to certain of our competitors that are owned by exchange or dealer groups as we have been free to make balanced business and trading protocol decisions with the best interests of both our institutional investor and broker-dealer clients in mind. We are also able to attract industry leaders with valuable skills and insights to our independent Board of Directors. 

Our Strategy

Our objective is to provide the leading global electronic trading platforms for fixed-income securities, connecting broker-dealers and institutional investors more easily and efficiently, while offering a broad array of information, trading and technology services to market participants across the trading cycle. The key elements of our strategy are:

Broaden Our Client Base in Our Existing Markets and Increase Penetration with Existing Clients

We intend to use our broad network of over 1,800 active institutional investor and broker-dealer participants to drive more clients to our leading electronic fixed-income trading platforms. The number of active participants on our platforms has increased by approximately 80% since 2016. We believe that the continued expansion of our client base will lead to even further increases in the liquidity available on our platforms. We expect that the increased liquidity on our platforms and our ability to innovate and efficiently add new functionality and product offerings will also help us deepen our market share with our existing clients across our product suite. The number of clients trading three or more products on our platforms has increased by 38.7% from 718 in 2016 to 996 in 2020. Last, we plan to increase our international presence by increasing the number of firms located outside the U.S. that access our platforms through our venues in Europe, Asia and Latin America, increasing the number of local currencies available for trading on our platforms; and, subject to regulatory requirements, increasing the number of countries in which we can offer our platforms.  

Enhance the Liquidity of Securities Traded on Our Platforms by Leveraging our Client Network and Open Trading Protocols

We aim to increase the secondary market liquidity on our trading platforms by deploying innovative technology solutions designed to increase the number of potential trading counterparties on our platforms and to address different trade sizes, bond liquidity characteristics and trading preferences. Our Open Trading protocols exponentially increase the potential trading counterparties by allowing broker-dealers and institutional investors to interact in an all-to-all trading environment. During 2020, our clients executed approximately 1.9 million trades using our Open Trading solutions, representing 32.7% of the total credit trading volume on our corporate bond platform. In recent years, we have also significantly increased the number of participants that provide bond prices to our corporate bond platform via an algorithm, which has helped increase the number of algorithmic price responses from 0.9 million in 2016 to 14.2 million in 2020. We intend to continue to improve the liquidity of bonds on our platforms by increasing the number of connections we have with algorithmic trading firms. We also believe that the combination of Open Trading and our vast client network provides the basis for MarketAxess to deliver meaningful cross-border liquidity or enter into new markets where liquidity is scarcer, such as municipal bonds.  

Continue to Develop Innovative Next-Generation Technologies that will Allow Our Clients to Further Automate and Improve the Performance of their Trading Desks

We believe that the increased adoption of next-generation trading technologies by both dealer and investor clients will create improved liquidity, enhanced trading efficiencies and the ability to identify trends within the bond market. In recent years, we have launched a number of innovative technologies that rely on machine-learning, automation and algorithms that are designed to improve the trading decisions and workflows of our clients, while reducing trading inefficiencies and human errors. For example, clients can use our rules-based auto-execution technology with both our traditional RFQ protocol and Open Trading to automatically execute trades meeting defined parameters with diverse sources of liquidity. Our Composite+ pricing algorithm uses machine-learning to generate near real-time prices for approximately 30,000 corporate and sovereign bonds based on a variety of data inputs, and our Like Bonds product uses a data-driven methodology to help clients find liquid, tradable alternatives to illiquid bonds. We intend to continue to invest in and develop advanced technologies such as these that will make MarketAxess an increasingly valuable part of our clients’ trading decisions and workflows.

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Expand and Strengthen our Trade-Related Service, Data and Analytical Offerings Throughout the Trading Cycle

We plan to expand and strengthen our existing service, data and analytical offerings throughout the trading cycle so that MarketAxess is more fully integrated into the workflow of our broker-dealer and institutional investor clients. In the pre-trade period, we intend to continue to enhance the value of our information and analytical offerings, including the content and capabilities of BondTicker®, Axess All® and Composite+. We plan to enhance and expand the usage of LiquidityBridge®, our execution management system (“EMS”) service for dealers that allows users to manage and facilitate complex liquidity flows across multiple trading platforms, and Axess IQTM, our order and execution workflow solution for the wealth management and private banking community. We also intend to augment our European post-trade matching and regulatory reporting services that enable our clients to comply with their heightened obligations pursuant to MiFID II. The recent acquisition of Deutsche Börse’s regulatory reporting business is expected to help us expand and improve our services across a broader European client base, predominantly in Germany, France and the Nordics regions. As the use of our pre- and post-trade services and products grow, we believe that MarketAxess will become further entrenched as a value-added resource to our clients at each stage of the trading cycle, which we believe will further increase the attractiveness and use of our trading platforms.

Pursue Select Acquisitions and Strategic Alliances

We continually evaluate opportunities to supplement our internal growth by entering into strategic alliances, or acquiring businesses or technologies, that will enable us to enter new markets, provide new products or services, or otherwise enhance the value of our platforms and existing trade-related services to our clients. In 2017, we expanded our strategic alliance with BlackRock, Inc. (“BlackRock”) to combine BlackRock’s order flow with our Open Trading solution to improve the range of trading connections available to global credit market participants. The acquisition of LiquidityEdge® LLC (“LiquidityEdge”) in 2019 provided our clients with access to one of the leading platforms for U.S. Treasury trading, and it supports the further expansion of our U.S. Treasury hedging capabilities for our corporate bond platform. In 2020, we acquired the regulatory reporting business of Deutsche Börse in order to bolster our post-trade and market data services in Europe and entered into an agreement to acquire MuniBrokers, a central electronic venue serving municipal bond inter-dealer brokers and dealers, in order to expand our existing municipal bond trading solution for global institutional investor and dealer clients.

Our Key Trading Markets and Services

U.S. High-Grade Corporate Bond Market

The U.S. corporate bond market consists of three broad categories of securities: investment-grade debt (so-called “high-grade”), which typically refers to debt rated BBB- or better by Standard & Poor’s or Baa3 or better by Moody’s Investor Service; debt rated below investment-grade (so-called “high-yield”), which typically refers to debt rated lower than BBB- by Standard & Poor’s or Baa3 by Moody’s Investor Service; and debt convertible into equity (so-called “convertible debt”). According to SIFMA, U.S. corporate bond debt outstanding has increased approximately 26% from $8.3 trillion at year-end 2015 to $10.4 trillion at September 30, 2020. We use the terms high-grade and investment-grade interchangeably in this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

The U.S. high-grade corporate bond market represents the largest subset of the U.S. corporate bond market. Over the last five years, high-grade corporate bond issuance was over $1 trillion each year. The total annual amount of U.S. high-grade corporate bond issuance as reported by SIFMA increased by 60% to $1.8 trillion in 2020 from $1.1 trillion in 2019. Notwithstanding the growth in the total amount of debt outstanding and new issuance, turnover (which is the total amount traded as a percentage of the amount outstanding for the bonds that traded) is still below pre-credit crisis levels. The average daily trading volume of U.S. high-grade corporate bonds as reported by TRACE for the year ended December 31, 2020 was approximately $25.3 billion compared to $22.2 billion and $20.7 billion for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively.

Our U.S. high-grade corporate bond business consists of U.S. dollar-denominated investment-grade debt issued by corporations for distribution in the U.S. Over 100 broker-dealers utilize our platforms to trade U.S. high-grade corporate bonds, including all of the top 20 broker-dealers as ranked by underwriting volume of newly-issued U.S. high-grade corporate bonds in 2020. Our broker-dealer clients accounted for approximately 98.5% of the underwriting of newly-issued U.S. high-grade corporate bonds in 2020. More than 1,200 active domestic and foreign institutional investor firms use our platforms to trade U.S. high-grade corporate bonds. Our 2020 trading volume in the U.S. high-grade corporate bond market was $1.4 trillion.

U.S. Crossover and High-Yield Bond Market

We define the high-yield bond market generally to include all debt rated lower than BBB- by Standard & Poor’s or Baa3 by Moody’s Investor Service. We define the crossover market to include any debt issue rated below investment-grade by one agency but investment-grade by the other. The total annual amount of high-yield corporate bond issuance as reported by SIFMA increased by 62.7% to $444.9 billion in 2020 from $273.5 billion in 2019. The average daily trading volume of high-yield bonds as measured by TRACE for the year ended December 31, 2020 was approximately $10.5 billion compared to $8.8 billion and $8.0 billion for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively.

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Over 100 of our broker-dealer clients and more than 1,000 active institutional investor firms use our platforms to trade crossover and high-yield bonds. Trading in crossover and high-yield bonds uses many of the same features available in our U.S. high-grade corporate bond offering. We also offer leveraged loan trading for our clients that trade high-yield bonds. Our 2020 trading volume in the high-yield bond market was $384.8 billion.

Emerging Markets Bond Market

We define the emerging markets bond market generally to include U.S. dollar, Euro or local currency denominated bonds issued by sovereign entities or corporations domiciled in a developing country. These issuers are typically located in Latin America, Asia, or Central and Eastern Europe. Examples of countries we classify as emerging markets include: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Turkey and Venezuela.

The institutional investor base for emerging markets bonds includes many crossover investors from the high-yield and high-grade investment areas. Institutional investors have been drawn to emerging markets bonds by their high returns and high growth potential. The average daily trading volume of emerging markets debt, as reported by the Emerging Markets Trade Association for the nine months ended September 30, 2020, the most recent date available, was $17.7 billion compared to $21.3 billion and $19.6 billion for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively.

Over 125 of our broker-dealer clients and more than 1,200 active institutional investor firms use our platforms to trade emerging markets bonds. The emerging markets countries whose bonds were most frequently traded on our platforms in 2020 were Mexico, Brazil, China and Indonesia. In 2020, our clients were able to trade corporate and sovereign debt denominated in 27 local market currencies on our platform. Our 2020 trading volume in the emerging market bond market was $561.8 billion.

European Corporate Bond Market

The European corporate bond market consists of a broad range of products, issuers and currencies. We define the European corporate bond market generally to consist of bonds intended to be distributed to European investors, primarily bonds issued by European corporations, excluding bonds that are issued by corporations domiciled in an emerging markets country and excluding most government bonds that trade in Europe. Examples include:

 

bonds issued by European corporations, denominated in any currency;

 

bonds generally denominated in Euros, U.S. dollars or British Pounds Sterling intended to be distributed to European investors, excluding bonds that are issued by corporations domiciled in an emerging market;

 

bonds issued by supra-national organizations (entities that include a number of central banks or government financial authorities, such as the World Bank), agencies and governments located in Europe, generally denominated in Euros, U.S. dollars or British Pounds Sterling, provided that such currency is not the currency of the country where the bond was issued; and

 

floating-rate notes issued by European corporations.

We believe that the European corporate bond market is impacted by many of the same factors as the U.S. high-grade corporate bond market. The total amount of Euro denominated high-grade and high-yield bonds yearly issuance as reported by the International Capital Markets Association increased 9.7% to $564.3 billion in 2020 from $514.4 billion in 2019. The estimated average daily trading volume of European corporate bonds for the year ended December 31, 2020 was approximately $10.8 billion compared to $10.5 billion and $9.2 billion for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively.

We offer secondary trading functionality in U.S. dollar- and Euro-denominated European corporate bonds to our broker-dealer and institutional investor clients. We also offer our clients the ability to trade in other European corporate bonds, including bonds issued in British Pounds Sterling, floating rate notes, European government bonds and bonds denominated in non-core currencies. We offered the first platform in Europe with a multi-dealer disclosed counterparty trading capability for corporate bonds.

In the Eurobond credit market, defined as including European high-grade, high-yield and government bonds, over 50 broker-dealers utilize our platform, including each of the top 20 broker-dealers as ranked by 2020 European corporate new-issue underwriting volume. Approximately 650 active institutional investor firms use our platforms to trade European bonds. Our 2020 trading volume in the Eurobond bond market was $299.9 billion.

U.S. Treasury Market

U.S. Treasury securities are government instruments issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The average daily trading volume of U.S. Treasuries as measured by SIFMA was $607.1 billion for the year ended December 31, 2020 compared to $593.6 billion and $547.8 billion for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively.

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We entered the U.S. Treasury market in 2019 through our acquisition of LiquidityEdge. LiquidityEdge’s custom liquidity pools, as well as direct dealer streaming capabilities, for on- and off-the-run U.S. Treasuries offer a bespoke trading ecosystem to connect a community of dealers, market-makers and institutional investors. In addition to providing MarketAxess clients with an enhanced ability to trade U.S. Treasuries, the acquisition supported the expansion of our treasury hedging services for clients desiring to hedge duration risk of certain credit trades.

Over 75 firms use our LiquidityEdge platform to trade U.S. Treasuries. The Treasury products traded on the LiquidityEdge platform include On the Runs, Off the Runs and guaranteed spreads. Our 2020 trading volume in the U.S. Treasury market was $3.9 trillion.

U.S. Municipal Bond Market

Municipal bonds are debt securities issued by states, cities, counties and other governmental entities in the U.S. to fund day-to-day obligations and to finance a wide variety of public projects, such as highways or water systems. Depending on the type of financing, payments of the principal and interest on a municipal bond may come from general revenues of the municipal issuer, specific tax receipts, revenues generated from a public project, payments from private entities or from a combination of sources. In addition to being issued for many different purposes, municipal securities are also issued in many different forms, such as fixed rate, zero coupon or variable rate bonds. The interest paid on municipal securities is typically exempt from federal income taxation and may be exempt from state income and other taxes as well. As of December 31, 2020, there were over 1.0 million different municipal bonds outstanding, in the total aggregate principal amount of more than $3.9 trillion. The average daily trading volume of municipal bonds, excluding variable rate demand notes, as measured by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (“MSRB”) was $5.7 billion for the year ended December 31, 2020 compared to $5.3 billion and $6.0 billion for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively.

Over 75 broker-dealer clients and over 300 institutional investor clients use our platforms to trade municipal bonds. We offer trading for both taxable and non-taxable municipal bonds. Our 2020 trading volume in the U.S. municipal bond market was $14.0 billion.

U.S. Agency Bond Market

We define the U.S. agency bond market to include debt issued by a U.S. government-sponsored enterprise. Some prominent issuers of agency bonds are the Federal National Mortgage Association and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation. The total amount of U.S. agency bonds outstanding was approximately $1.8 trillion as of September 30, 2020 as reported by SIFMA. The average daily trading volume of U.S. agency bonds (excluding mortgage-backed securities) as measured by TRACE was $5.4 billion for the year ended December 31, 2020 compared to $4.3 billion and $3.6 billion for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively.

Over 35 of our broker-dealer clients and more than 300 active institutional investor firms use our platforms to trade U.S. agency bonds. Trading in U.S. agency bonds uses many of the same features available in our U.S. high-grade corporate bond offering. Our 2020 trading volume in the U.S. agency bond market was $49.4 billion.

Credit Derivative Market

Credit derivatives are contracts that allow market participants to obtain credit protection or assume credit exposure associated with a broad range of issuers of fixed-income securities and other debt obligations without ownership of the underlying security. Among the most significant requirements of the derivatives section of the Dodd-Frank Act are mandatory clearing of certain derivatives transactions (“swaps”) through regulated central clearing organizations and mandatory trading of those swaps through either regulated exchanges or swap execution facilities (“SEFs”), in each case, subject to certain key exceptions. We operate a SEF pursuant to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (“CFTC”) rules and we list certain credit derivatives for trading by U.S. persons and other participants on our SEF.

We offer a range of functionality for electronic trading of CFTC-regulated credit derivative instruments on our SEF in compliance with the CFTC’s requirements. This includes an RFQ system that allows participants to send anonymous or disclosed RFQs, as well as an order book, which enables market participants to trade anonymously with all other market participants. Approximately 30 active market participants use our SEF to trade credit derivative indices. Our 2020 credit derivatives trading volume was $45.1 billion.

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Execution Benefits for Clients

In addition to our platforms’ strengths described above, we believe our platforms provide numerous additional benefits to our clients over both traditional fixed-income trading methods and competing electronic trading systems, including:

Open Trading Functionality

We offer Open Trading protocols for all of our key trading products, including corporate, municipal and emerging market bonds. Our Market List functionality provides our Open Trading participants with the ability to display requests for bids and offers anonymously to the entire MarketAxess trading community, thereby creating broad visibility of their inquiry among market participants and increasing the likelihood that the request results in a completed trade. Public Axes™ is an order book-style price discovery process that gives clients the ability to view anonymous or disclosed indications of interest from the inventory on our platform. For block-sized trades, clients may use our Private Axes® functionality, a protocol that allows participants to anonymously negotiate round lots (greater than $1.0 million) and block trades to minimize information leakage. In 2019, we launched Live Markets, an order book that creates a single view of two-way, actionable prices for the most active corporate bonds, including newly issued debt, benchmark issues and news-driven securities.

Transparent Pricing on a Broad Range of Securities

The price discovery process includes the ability to view indicative prices from our broker-dealer clients’ inventory available on our platform, access to real-time pricing information and analytical tools available on our BondTicker® service (including Composite+ predictive pricing, spread-to-Treasury data, search capabilities and independent third-party credit research), and the ability to request executable bids and offers simultaneously from all of our participating broker-dealer clients during the trading process on any debt security in our bond reference database. Institutional investors and broker-dealer clients can search bonds in inventory based on combinations of issuer, issue, rating, maturity, spread-to-Treasury, size and dealer providing the listing, in a fraction of the time it takes to do so manually. We believe that broad participation in client inquiries results in more trade matches and lower transaction costs.

Highly Automated Trading Processes that Create Greater Trading Accuracy and Cost-Efficiency

We believe that we provide improved efficiency by reducing the time and labor required to conduct broad product and price discovery. Single-security, multi-security (bid or offer lists) inquiries and portfolio trading (baskets of up to 1,500 securities) can be efficiently conducted with multiple broker-dealers or via Open Trading. Our auto-execution technology uses rules-based execution logic to reduce trading inefficiencies and human errors while allowing traders to focus on higher-value trades. In addition, our BondTicker® service eliminates the need for manually-intensive phone calls or e-mail communications to gather, sort and analyze information concerning historical transaction prices.

Our electronic trading platforms also include verification mechanisms at various stages of the execution process which result in greater accuracy in the processing, confirming and clearing of trades between institutional investor and broker-dealer clients, including real-time trade details, STP, account allocations, automated audit trails and trade detail matching. These verification mechanisms are designed to ensure that our institutional investor and broker-dealer clients are sending accurate trade messages by providing multiple opportunities to verify they are trading the correct bond, at the agreed-upon price and size. Our platforms are designed to assist our institutional investor clients in automating the transmittal of order tickets from the portfolio manager to the trader, and from the trader to back-office personnel. This automation provides more timely execution and a reduction in the likelihood of errors that can result from manual entry of information into different systems.

Efficient Risk Monitoring and Compliance

Institutional investors, broker-dealers and their regulators are increasingly focused on ensuring that best execution is achieved for fixed-income trades. Our electronic trading platforms offer both institutional investors and broker-dealers an automated audit trail for each stage in the trading cycle. This enables compliance personnel to review information relating to trades more easily and with greater reliability. Trade information, including all price responses, execution time, trade price and, if applicable, spread-to-Treasury, is stored securely and automatically on our electronic trading platform and is provided to clients as part of our automated post-trade messaging. This data represents a valuable source of information for our clients’ compliance personnel. Importantly, we believe the automated audit trail, together with the competitive pricing and transaction cost analysis that is a feature of our electronic trading platforms, gives fiduciaries the ability to demonstrate that they have achieved best execution on behalf of their clients.

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Limited Information Leakage

Our Open Trading protocols allow our institutional investor clients to maintain their anonymity from trade initiation through to settlement without limiting their number of potential trading counterparties. In addition, our Private Axes® protocol allows participants to negotiate bilaterally on an anonymous basis to minimize information leakage when transacting in larger trade sizes.

Greater Sales Efficiency and More Efficient Inventory Management

We offer our broker-dealer clients broad connectivity with our institutional investor clients. Through this connectivity, our broker-dealer clients are able to efficiently display their indications of interest to buy and sell various securities. We also enable broker-dealers to broaden their distribution by participating in transactions to which they otherwise may not have had access. In addition, the ability to post prices and electronically execute on straightforward trades enables bond sales professionals at broker-dealer firms to focus their efforts on higher value-added trades and more complex transactions.

The posting of inventory to, and the ability to respond to inquiries from, a broad pool of institutional investors, creates an increased opportunity for broker-dealers to identify demand for their inventory, particularly in less liquid securities. Broker-dealers also use Open Trading as a source of liquidity as they manage their risk exposure. As a result, we believe they can achieve enhanced bond inventory turnover by using our platforms, which may limit their credit exposure.

 

Post-Trade Reporting, Publishing and Matching Services

In the European Union (“E.U.”) and the U.K., all firms regulated as “investment firms” under MiFID II are required to submit complete and accurate details of qualifying transactions to their national regulator no later than the close of the working day following the date of the transaction. This process is known as transaction reporting. Pursuant to the associated Markets in Financial Instruments Regulation (“MiFIR”), the number of fields and the complexity of the information that must be reported to regulators was significantly enhanced. Firms may either report directly to the regulator or use an entity that is licensed as an ARM, such as our subsidiaries in the U.K. and the Netherlands, to validate and submit such reports. Our multi-asset class ARM reporting solution allows our clients to report to 15 different European regulators. We have also collaborated with Equilend on a full front-to-back Securities Financing Transactions Regulation (“SFTR”) solution to support mutual clients with their SFTR reporting requirements.

In addition, under MiFIR, all regulated investment firms in the U.K. and the E.U. are required to comply with pre- and post-trade transparency requirements pursuant to which quotes and trades must be made public subject to a system of waivers and deferrals. Firms are required to utilize an APA, such as our APAs in the U.K. and the Netherlands, to comply with the post trade transparency requirement and, although optional, many firms also utilize a third-party provider to satisfy the pre trade transparency requirement. The MarketAxess transparency and APA trade reporting solutions are available through our Insight™ platform, offering our clients a pre- and post-trade transparency solution, including APA trade reporting, quote publication, SI determination and instrument liquidity classification. We also offer a commodity position reporting service to assist firms in compliance with the commodity derivative position limit reporting requirements of MiFID II.

Trade matching enables counterparties to agree on the terms of a trade shortly after execution, reducing the risk of trade errors and fails during settlement. We provide a near real-time post-trade matching and exception management tool which covers a broad range of securities, including fixed-income and equities. By confirming all economic details within minutes of trade execution, we help our clients to mitigate their operational risk, improve STP and efficiency and address the complexities of MiFID II and the Central Securities Depositories Regulation.

MarketAxess has approximately 900 post-trade reporting and transparency clients, including broker-dealers, hedge funds and investment banks. We expect that our recent acquisition of Deutsche Börse’s regulatory reporting business will help us expand and improve our services across a broader European client base, predominantly in Germany, France and the Nordics regions.

Information and Execution Management Services

Traders are increasingly using data and machine-learning for pre-trade analytics, automated execution, transaction cost analysis and post-trade solutions. Our real-time pre-trade data and analytics are an additional value-added resource to our participants at each stage of the trading cycle, which further increases the attractiveness and use of our trading platforms. In the pre-trade period, our platforms assist our participants by providing them with real time and historical trade price information, intelligent Composite+ pricing, BondTicker®, liquidity and turnover analytics, bond reference data and trade order matching alerts. The information and analytical tools we provide to our clients help them make investment and trading decisions. Our electronic trading platforms allow institutional investors to compile, sort and use information to discover investment opportunities that might have been difficult or impossible to identify using a manual information-gathering process or other electronic services.

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Our Composite+ pricing algorithm generates near real-time prices for approximately 30,000 corporate and sovereign bonds based on a variety of data inputs, including feeds from our trading platform, our post-trade service and TRACE. Composite+ is used by clients as a pre-trade reference price to enhance trading outcomes and transaction cost analysis. Composite+ can be combined with our auto-execution service, providing clients with an alert if a response is “off market”.

Axess All®, the first intra-day trade tape for the European fixed-income market, is sourced from over 39,000 bond transactions processed daily by our post-trade services business and includes aggregated volume and pricing for the most actively traded European fixed-income instruments. We also provide market participants with access to pricing, liquidity and volume data on over 60,000 unique fixed-income securities and securities reference data for approximately 71,000 fixed-income securities.

BondTicker® provides real-time TRACE data and enhances it with MarketAxess trade data and analytical tools in order to provide professional market participants with a comprehensive set of corporate bond price information with associated analytical tools that are not otherwise available. The data includes trade time and sales information, including execution prices, as well as MarketAxess-estimated spread-to-Treasuries, for trades disseminated by the TRACE system. The data also includes actual execution prices and spread-to-Treasury levels for U.S. high-grade corporate bond trades executed on the MarketAxess platform. BondTicker® is currently the source of corporate bond trading information for The Wall Street Journal in the U.S.

BondTicker® allows institutional investors to search for and sort bonds based upon specific criteria, such as volume, time/date of transaction, spread change, issuer or security. This search function allows institutional investors to compile information relating to potential securities trades in a fraction of the time that it takes to manually compile this information from disparate sources or other electronic databases, including direct TRACE feeds and European pricing information provided by our end-of-day pricing feed.

BondTicker® is integrated directly into the MarketAxess electronic trading platform and can be seamlessly accessed, either when viewing securities inventory or when launching an inquiry. BondTicker® is also available through the internet for non-trading professional market participants, including, among others, research analysts and rating agencies, who can log in and access the information via a browser-based interface.

We provide order and execution workflow solutions designed to meet the specific needs of the customer. LiquidityBridge® is our EMS service for dealers that allows users to manage and facilitate the complex liquidity flows across multiple trading platforms, including the MarketAxess system. LiquidityBridge® brings together real-time comparison and execution of bond prices across multiple sectors, allowing users to rapidly react to trading opportunities. Axess IQ is our order and execution workflow solution designed to meet the needs of wealth management and private banking community by improving liquidity discovery, execution efficiency and alpha generation for firms with large numbers of individual client orders.

Straight-Through Processing and APIs

Straight-through processing refers to the integration of systems and processes to automate the trade process from end-to-end — trade execution, confirmation and settlement — without the need for manual intervention. We provide our broker-dealer and institutional investor clients with a range of tools that facilitate straight-through processing, including order upload, easy-to-use online allocation tools and pre- and post-trade messaging features that enable our clients to communicate electronically between their front- and back-office systems. Our straight-through processing tools can be customized to meet specific needs of our clients and allow them to integrate their order, portfolio management and accounting systems in real time. We maintained over 1,700 STP connections as of December 31, 2020. In addition, many of our clients use our Application Programming Interface (“API”) services for pre-trade, trade negotiation and post-trade services to improve efficiency and reduce errors in processing.

Sales and Marketing

We promote our products and services using a variety of direct and indirect sales and marketing strategies. Our sales force, which works closely with our product management and technology teams, is responsible for client acquisition activity and the management of ongoing client relationships to increase clients’ awareness, knowledge and usage of our trading platforms and post-trade solutions, new product launches, information and data services and pre- and post-trade services. Our sales team is also responsible for training and supporting new and existing clients on their use of our platforms and post-trade solutions, including how to optimize their trading performance and efficiency through our various trading protocols. We employ various strategies, including advertising, direct marketing, digital and social media, promotional mailings, and participation in industry conferences and media engagement, to increase awareness of our brand, our trading platforms and our other solutions. For example, we work with The Wall Street Journal to leverage BondTicker® data as the source of information for its weekly distressed debt tables.

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Competition

The global fixed-income securities industry generally, and the electronic financial services markets in which we engage in particular, are highly competitive, and we expect competition to intensify in the future. We compete with a broad range of market participants globally. Some of these market participants compete with us in a particular market, while select others compete against the entire spectrum of our platforms and solutions. We face five main areas of competition:

 

Telephone and Direct Electronic Communications — We compete with bond trading business conducted over the telephone, e-mail or instant messaging directly between broker-dealers and their institutional investor clients. Institutional investors have historically purchased fixed-income securities by telephoning or otherwise communicating via e-mail or instant messaging with bond sales professionals at one or more broker-dealers and inquiring about the price and availability of individual bonds. This remains the manner in which the majority of corporate bond volumes are still traded between institutional investors and broker-dealers.

 

Other electronic trading platforms — There are numerous other electronic trading platforms currently in existence, including several that have only commenced operations in the last few years. We compete with Tradeweb, Bloomberg, Intercontinental Exchange, Trumid and others in the credit and municipal markets; and Tradeweb, Bloomberg, Nasdaq (Nasdaq Fixed Income), CME Group (NEX Group), BGC Partners (Fenics UST) and others in the rates markets. In addition, some broker-dealers and institutional investors operate, or have invested in, proprietary electronic trading systems or information networks that enable institutional investors to trade directly with a broker-dealer, and/or with other institutional investors over an electronic medium. As we expand our business into new products, we will likely come into more direct competition with other electronic trading platforms or firms offering traditional services.

 

Exchanges — In recent years, exchanges have pursued acquisitions that have put them in competition with us. For example, London Stock Exchange Group has recently acquired a significant stake in Tradeweb and Intercontinental Exchange acquired BondPoint and TMC Bonds, retail-focused platforms, and IDC, a provider of fixed income data, in an effort to expand its portfolio of fixed income products and services. CME Group and Nasdaq also operate platforms that compete with us. Exchanges also have data and analytics businesses, which increasingly put their offerings in direct competition with us.

 

Market data and information vendors — Several large market data and information providers, such as Bloomberg, Refinitiv, Intercontinental Exchange, and IHS Markit currently have a data and analytics relationship with virtually every institutional firm. Some of these entities currently offer varying forms of electronic trading of fixed-income securities. Some of these entities have announced their intention to expand their electronic trading platforms or to develop new platforms. These entities are currently direct competitors to our information services business and already are or may in the future become direct competitors to our electronic trading platforms.

 

Other approved regulatory mechanisms — We compete with other approved regulatory mechanisms in Europe that have ARM and APA designations, such as the London Stock Exchange’s UnaVista and Tradeweb, to provide post-trade matching and regulatory transaction reporting and transparency services to European clients.

 

Competitors, including companies in which some of our clients have invested, have developed electronic trading platforms or have announced their intention to explore the development of electronic trading platforms that compete or will compete with us. Furthermore, some of our clients have made, and may in the future continue to make, investments in or enter into agreements with other businesses that directly or indirectly compete with us.

 

In general, we compete on the basis of a number of key factors, including:

 

broad network of broker-dealer and institutional investor clients using our electronic trading platforms;

 

liquidity provided by the participating broker-dealers and, to a growing extent, by other institutional investors;

 

magnitude and frequency of price improvement;

 

enhancing the quality and speed of execution;

 

compliance benefits;

 

total transaction costs;

 

technology capabilities, including the reliability, security, and ease of use of our electronic trading platforms; and

 

range of products, protocols and services offered.

We believe that our ability to grow volumes and revenues will largely depend on our performance with respect to these factors.

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Our competitive position is also enhanced by the familiarity and integration of our clients with our electronic trading platforms and other systems. We have focused on the unique aspects of the markets we serve in the development of our platforms, working closely with our clients to provide a system that is suited to their needs.

 

Our broker-dealer clients have invested in building APIs with us for inventory contributions, electronic trading, government bond benchmark pricing and post-trade messaging. We believe that we have successfully built deep roots with our broker-dealer clients, increasing our level of service to them while at the same time increasing their commitment to use our services; however, the contractual obligations of such clients are non-exclusive. See the Risk Factor captioned “We are dependent on our broker-dealer clients, who are not restricted from using their own proprietary or third-party platforms to transact with our institutional investor clients.

Furthermore, a significant number of our institutional investor clients have built interfaces to enable them to communicate electronically between our platforms and their order, portfolio management and accounting systems. We believe that this increases the reliance of these institutional investor clients on our services and creates significant competitive barriers to entry.

Technology

The design and quality of our technology products are critical to our growth and our ability to execute our business strategy. Our electronic trading platforms have been designed with secure, scalable client-server architecture that makes broad use of distributed computing to achieve speed, reliability and fault tolerance. The platforms are built on industry-standard technologies and have been designed to handle many multiples of our current trading volume.

All critical server-side components, primarily our networks, application servers and databases, have backup equipment running in the event that the main equipment fails. This offers redundant system capacity designed to maximize uptime and minimize the potential for loss of transaction data in the event of an internal failure. We also seek to minimize the impact of external failures by automatically recovering connections in the event of a communications failure. The majority of our broker-dealer clients and a significant number of our institutional investor clients have redundant dedicated high-speed communication paths to our network in order to provide fast data transfer. Our security measures include industry-standard communications encryption.

We have designed our primary application with an easy-to-use, Windows-based interface. Our clients are able to access our electronic trading platforms through a secure, single sign-on. Clients are also able to execute transactions over our platforms directly from their order management systems. We provide users an automatic software update feature that does not require manual intervention.

We prioritize security throughout our platforms, operations and software development. We make architectural, design and implementation choices to structurally address security risks, such as logical and physical access controls, perimeter firewall protection and embedded security processes in our systems development lifecycle. Our cybersecurity program is based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cyber Security Framework (the “Framework”). The Framework consists of standards, guidelines and best practices to manage cybersecurity-related risks and promote the protection and resilience of critical infrastructure. Our Global Chief Information Security Officer leads a cybersecurity team in assessing, managing and reducing the relevant risks with a goal to assure critical operations and continuous delivery of service. We constantly monitor connectivity and suspect events are escalated to our global risk and management teams.

Intellectual Property

We rely upon a combination of copyright, patent, trade secret and trademark laws, written agreements and common law to protect our proprietary technology, processes and other intellectual property. Our software code, elements of our electronic trading platforms, website and other proprietary materials are protected by copyright laws. We have been issued 13 patents covering significant trading protocols and other aspects of our trading system technology.

The written agreements upon which we rely to protect our proprietary technology, processes and intellectual property include agreements designed to protect our trade secrets. Examples of these written agreements include third party nondisclosure agreements, employee nondisclosure and inventions assignment agreements, and agreements with customers, contractors and strategic partners. Other written agreements upon which we rely to protect our proprietary technology, processes and intellectual property take many forms and contain provisions related to patent, copyright, trademark and trade secret rights.

 

We have registered the MarketAxess® name and logo for trademark in the U.S., Europe and in other parts of the world. We also have a number of other registered or pending trademarks and service marks globally, including Open Trading™, BondTicker®, and Now You’re In The Market™, among others. In addition, we own, or have filed applications for, the rights to trade names, copyrights, domain names and service marks that we use in the marketing of products and services to clients.

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In addition to our efforts to register our intellectual property, we believe that factors such as the technological and creative skills of our personnel, new product and service developments, frequent enhancements and reliability with respect to our services are essential to establishing and maintaining a technology and market leadership position.

Government Regulation

The securities industry and financial markets in the U.S. and elsewhere are subject to extensive regulation. In these jurisdictions, government regulators and self-regulatory organizations oversee the conduct of our business, and have broad powers to promulgate and interpret laws, rules and regulations that may serve to restrict or limit our business. As a matter of public policy, these regulators are charged with safeguarding the integrity of the securities and other financial markets and with protecting the interests of investors participating in those markets. Our active broker-dealer and regulated venue subsidiaries fall within the scope of their regulations. Rulemaking by regulators, including resulting market structure changes, has had an impact on our business by directly affecting our method of operation and, at times, our profitability.

As registered broker-dealers, trading venues and other types of regulated entities as described below, certain of our subsidiaries are subject to laws, rules and regulations (including the rules of self-regulatory organizations) that cover all aspects of their business, including manner of operation, system integrity, anti-money laundering and financial crimes, handling of material non-public information, safeguarding data, capital requirements, reporting, record retention, market access, licensing of employees and the conduct of officers, employees and other associated persons.

Regulation can impose, and has imposed, obligations on our regulated subsidiaries, including our broker-dealer subsidiaries. These increased obligations require the implementation and maintenance of internal practices, procedures and controls, which have increased our costs. Many of our regulators, as well as other governmental authorities, are empowered to bring enforcement actions and to conduct administrative proceedings, examinations, inspections and investigations, which may result in increased compliance costs, penalties, fines, enhanced oversight, increased financial and capital requirements, additional restrictions or limitations, censure, suspension or disqualification of the entity and/or its officers, employees or other associated persons, or other sanctions, such as disgorgement, restitution or the revocation or limitation of regulatory approvals. Whether or not resulting in adverse findings, regulatory proceedings, examinations, inspections and investigations can require substantial expenditures of time and money and can have an adverse impact on a firm’s reputation, client relationships and profitability. From time to time, we and our associated persons have been and are subject to routine reviews, none of which to date have had a material adverse effect on our businesses, financial condition, results of operations or prospects. As a result of such reviews, and any future actions or reviews, we may be required to, among other things, amend certain internal structures and frameworks such as our operating procedures, systems and controls.

The regulatory environment in which we operate is subject to constant change. We are unable to predict how certain new laws and proposed rules and regulations will be implemented or in what form, or whether any changes to existing laws, rules and regulations, including the interpretation, implementation or enforcement thereof or a relaxation or amendment thereof, will occur in the future. We believe that uncertainty and potential delays around the final form of certain new rules and regulations may negatively impact our clients and trading volumes in certain markets in which we transact, although a relaxation of or the amendment of existing rules and requirements could potentially have a positive impact in certain markets. While we generally believe the net impact of the laws, rules and regulations may be positive for our business, it is possible that unintended consequences may materially adversely affect us in ways yet to be determined. See the Risk Factor captioned “Our business and the trading businesses of many of our clients are subject to increasingly extensive government and other regulation, which may affect our trading volumes and increase our cost of doing business.

U.S. Regulation

In the U.S., the SEC is the federal governmental agency primarily responsible for the administration of the federal securities laws, including adopting and enforcing rules and regulations applicable to broker-dealers. One of our broker-dealers operates an alternative trading system (“ATS”) subject to the SEC’s Regulation ATS, which includes certain specific requirements and compliance responsibilities in addition to those faced by broker-dealers generally. Another of our broker-dealers operates an exempt ATS for U.S. Treasuries. Broker-dealers are also subject to regulation by state securities administrators in those states in which they conduct business or have registered to do business. We are also subject to the various anti-fraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 as amended (the “Securities Act”), the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”), the Commodity Exchange Act, certain state securities laws and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder. We also may be subject to vicarious and controlling person liability for the activities of our subsidiaries and our officers, employees and affiliated persons.

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The CFTC is the federal agency primarily responsible for the administration of federal laws governing activities relating to futures, swaps and other derivatives, including the rules applicable to our SEF. Our SEF is subject to regulations that relate to trading and product requirements, governance and disciplinary requirements, operational capabilities, surveillance obligations and financial information and resource requirements, including the requirement that they maintain sufficient financial resources to cover operating costs for at least one year. Our SEF is subject to both scheduled and unscheduled examinations by the CFTC.

Much of the regulation of broker-dealers’ operations in the United States has been delegated to self-regulatory organizations. These self-regulatory organizations adopt rules (which are generally subject to approval by the SEC) that govern the operations of broker-dealers and conduct periodic inspections and examinations of their operations. In the case of our U.S. broker-dealer subsidiaries, the principal self-regulatory organization is FINRA. Our U.S. broker-dealer subsidiaries are subject to both scheduled and unscheduled examinations by the SEC and FINRA. In addition, our broker-dealers’ municipal securities-related activities are subject to the rules of the MSRB.

Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Act (“Title VII”) amended the Commodity Exchange Act and the Exchange Act to establish a regulatory framework for swaps, subject to regulation by the CFTC, and security-based swaps, subject to regulation by the SEC. The CFTC has implemented the majority of its regulations in this area, most of which are in effect. The SEC has also finalized many of its security-based swap regulations, although a significant number are not yet in effect. Among other things, Title VII rules require certain standardized swaps to be cleared through a central clearinghouse and/or traded on a designated contract market or SEF, subject to various exceptions. Title VII also requires the registration and regulation of certain market participants, including SEFs.

The SEC is currently conducting a review of the regulatory framework for fixed income electronic trading platforms for the purpose of evaluating the potential regulatory gaps that may exist among such platforms, including ours, with respect to access to markets, system integrity, surveillance, and transparency, among other things. It is unknown at this time to what extent new legislation will be passed into law or whether pending or new regulatory proposals will be adopted or modified, or what effect such passage, adoption or modification will have, whether positive or negative, on our industry, our clients or us.

Non-U.S. Regulation

Outside of the United States, we are currently regulated by: the FCA in the U.K., De Nederlandsche Bank (“DNB”) and the AFM in the Netherlands, the Securities & Futures Commission (the “SFC”) of Hong Kong, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (the “MAS”), the Australian Securities and Investment Commission in Australia (the “ASIC”), the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (the “IIROC”) and provincial regulators in Canada, and the Securities and Exchange Commission and Central Bank in Brazil.

The FCA’s strategic objective is to ensure that the relevant markets function well and its operational objectives are to protect consumers, to protect and enhance the integrity of the U.K. financial system and to promote effective competition in the interests of consumers. It has investigative and enforcement powers derived from the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (“FSMA”) and subsequent legislation and regulations. Subject to the FSMA, individuals or companies that seek to acquire or increase their control in a firm that the FCA regulates is required to obtain prior approval from the FCA.

The legal framework in the Netherlands for financial undertakings is predominantly included in the Dutch Financial Supervision Act (“FSA”). The AFM, like DNB, is an autonomous administrative authority with independent responsibility for fulfilling its supervisory function. Pursuant to the FSA, the AFM authorizes investment firms. The AFM is legally responsible for business supervision. DNB is responsible for prudential supervision. The purpose of prudential supervision is to ensure the solidity of financial undertakings and to contribute to the stability of the financial sector. Holders of a qualifying holding (in short, shareholdings or voting rights of 10% or more) must apply to the DNB for a declaration of no objection and satisfy the applicable requirements of the FSA.

In January 2018, the E.U. implemented enhanced rules and regulations targeted at the financial services industry, including MiFID II and MiFIR. MiFID II and MiFIR introduced significant changes to the E.U. financial markets that were designed to facilitate more efficient markets and greater transparency for participants by: (i) enhancing pre- and post-trade transparency for fixed-income instruments, (ii) increasing and enhancing post-trade reporting obligations with a requirement to submit post-trade data to ARMs, (iii) improving technology synchronization and best execution and (iv) establishing a consolidated tape for trade data. Although MiFID II and MiFIR were intended to help improve the functioning of the E.U. single market by achieving a greater consistency of regulatory standards, MiFID II and MiFIR have caused us to expend significantly more compliance, business and technology resources, to incur additional operational costs and has created additional regulatory exposure for our trading and post-trade businesses. While we generally believe the net impact of the rules and regulations have been positive for our businesses, unintended consequences of the rules and regulations may adversely affect us in ways yet to be determined. In particular, the possible divergence of the U.K. from the E.U. in relation to the future development of MIFID II and MiFIR and other rules and regulations within the financial markets (such as the Central Securities Depository Regulation) may further increase the complexity, operational costs and compliance requirements of our business in the U.K. and E.U.

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The securities industry and financial markets in the 27 member states of the E.U. is regulated by agencies in each member state. E.U. regulations provide for a cross-border “passporting regime”, which allows us to provide our services throughout the E.U. in reliance upon our authorization from any E.U. member state. Historically, we have utilized the FCA authorizations held by our U.K. regulated subsidiaries in order to provide regulated services to our European clients outside of the U.K. in reliance on this passport. However, the U.K. ceased to be a member of the E.U. on January 31, 2020, triggering a transition period in which the U.K. continued to observe applicable E.U. regulations through December 31, 2020 (commonly referred to as “Brexit”). In preparation for Brexit, we obtained AFM authorizations for our subsidiaries in the Netherlands in 2019 and we are able to provide regulated services to our clients within the E.U. in reliance on the cross-border services passport held by our Dutch subsidiaries. See the Risk Factor captioned “The U.K. exit from the European Union could materially adversely impact our business, clients, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.”

Capital Requirements

Certain of our subsidiaries are subject to jurisdictional specific regulatory capital requirements, designed to maintain the general financial integrity and liquidity of a regulated entity. In general, they require that at least a minimum amount of a regulated entity’s assets be kept in relatively liquid form. Failure to maintain required minimum capital may subject a regulated subsidiary to a fine, requirement to cease conducting business, suspension, revocation of registration or expulsion by the applicable regulatory authorities, and ultimately could require the relevant entity’s liquidation.  

In addition, as a result of our self-clearing activities, MarketAxess Corporation is required to finance certain transactions, maintain deposits with various clearing organizations and clearing broker-dealers and maintain a special reserve bank account for the benefit of customers pursuant to SEC Rule 15c3-3. These requirements can fluctuate based on trading activity, market volatility or other factors which may impact our liquidity or require us to use our capital resources.

Regulatory Status of MarketAxess Entities

Our operations span jurisdictions across the Americas, Europe and Asia, and we operate through various regulated entities. The current regulatory status of many of our business entities is described below. We also provide our platforms in other countries pursuant to exemptions from registration under the laws of such countries.

Americas

MarketAxess Corporation is a SEC registered broker-dealer, a member of FINRA, the MSRB, and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (“SIPC”). MarketAxess Corporation is registered as a clearing broker with FINRA.

LiquidityEdge is a SEC registered broker-dealer, a member of FINRA, the SIPC and is recognized as a Financial Market Supervisory Authority (“FINMA”) in Switzerland as a foreign trading venue.

MarketAxess SEF Corporation is a CFTC registered SEF.

MarketAxess Canada Company is registered as an Alternative Trading System with the Ontario Securities Commission (“OSC”), the Autorité des Marchés Financiers (“AMF”), the British Columbia Securities Commission (“BCSC”) and the Alberta Securities Commission (“ASC”) and is a member of IIROC.

MarketAxess Plataforma de Negociacao Ltda. is authorized through its parent (MarketAxess Holdings Inc.) by Comissão de Valores Mobiliários (“CVM”) and BACEN (Central Bank of Brazil) to provide a system in Brazil for the trading of fixed income securities by sophisticated institutional investors.

MarketAxess Colombia Corporation is registered with the Superintendence of Finance of Colombia (“SOFC”) as an Information System.

U.K. and Europe

MarketAxess Capital Limited is authorized and regulated by the FCA as a MiFID investment firm and acts as a matched principal counterparty for Open Trading transactions.

 

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MarketAxess Europe Limited is authorized and regulated by the FCA to operate a multilateral trading facility (“MTF”), licensed by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to have an Australian Markets License, recognized by FINMA as a foreign trading venue, licensed by BAFIN under the German Securities Trading Act, licensed by the Securities & Futures Commission of Hong Kong as an Automated Trading Service and licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore as a Recognized Market Operator. In addition, MarketAxess Europe Limited is recognized or licensed to provide its services in each of Italy, Denmark and Finland following Brexit.

MarketAxess NL B.V. is authorized and regulated by the AFM in the Netherlands as an MTF. MarketAxess NL B.V. may provide services throughout the E.U. 27 and EEA countries under the MiFID passport and is approved by FINMA to provide cross-border services into Switzerland as a foreign trading venue.

Trax NL B.V. is licensed in the Netherlands by the AFM as a Data Reporting Services Provider (“DRSP”), specifically to act as an ARM and APA. Trax NL B.V. may provide services throughout the E.U. 27 and EEA countries under the MiFID passport.

Xtrakter Limited is authorized and regulated by the FCA as a DRSP for ARM and APA services and as a service company.

Asia and Pacific

MarketAxess Singapore Pte. Limited is approved by the Monetary Authority of Singapore as a Recognized Market Operator. Additionally, MarketAxess Singapore Pte. Limited is approved by FINMA in Switzerland as a foreign trading venue, by Hong Kong as an ATS, by Germany as a foreign market operator, and holds an Australian Markets License from ASIC.

Human Capital Resources

As of December 31, 2020, we had 606 employees, 378 of whom were based in the U.S. and 228 of whom were based outside of the U.S., principally in the U.K. During fiscal year 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic (the “Pandemic”), we increased our number of employees by 79, or 15.0%, compared to an increase of 73, or 16.1%, in 2019. We did not discontinue any compensation or benefits programs in fiscal year 2020. None of our employees are represented by a labor union. We consider our relationships with our employees to be good and have not experienced any interruptions of operations due to labor disagreements.

Health and Safety

In fiscal year 2020, the Pandemic had a significant impact on how we manage human capital. Nearly all of our workforce has worked remotely since March 2020, and we instituted safety protocols and procedures for those employees who chose to work on site on a part-time basis. Our experienced teams of employees adapted to the changes in our work environment and have managed our business successfully during this challenging time.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives of our employees are one of our biggest strengths. We strive to make our workforce more diverse, inclusive and supportive of all. We embrace a culture and vision that supports and enhances our ability to recruit, develop and retain diverse talent at every level. In 2020, based on the results of an employee survey to further our diversity and inclusion efforts, our employees participated in an educational and developmental program designed to educate our employees about the Company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives and their importance to our success. As of December 31, 2020, our U.S. workforce was approximately 72% men and 28% women, and of our U.S. employees, our workforce was approximately 59% White, 28% Asian, 6% Hispanic or Latinx, 5% Black or African American, and 2% identified with another race or ethnicity.

To broaden our candidate pools, we use diverse hiring sources, including employee referrals, recruitment vendors, postings on diversity job boards and with diversity interest groups, and we attend various recruiting events. We have been able to further diversify our workforce through our summer intern and graduate hire programs, which represent a spectrum of schools, fields of study, interests and socio-economic backgrounds. In 2020, we expanded our partnerships with universities with larger racially diverse student bodies in both New York and London, and we specifically targeted affinity groups on campus in order to diversify our applicant pool.

Talent and Development

Our talent management strategy is focused on attracting, developing and retaining top talent within the Company. In 2020, we conducted a global talent review to identify high-potential talent at all levels of seniority within the Company. This review is helping us build short- and long-term succession plans for our executive leadership team and other critical roles within the Company.  

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The Company also intends to use the talent review process to inform our increasing levels of investment in learning and development for our employees. Currently, we offer a customized management training program for new managers and an accelerated leadership program for our more seasoned leaders who we believe may assume broader or more complex roles within the Company in the future. We also offer a range of technical, markets-related, and soft-skills training courses on an ongoing basis to enable our employees to develop a broad spectrum of skills. We conduct regular engagement surveys of our employee base to better understand what is working well for our employees and identify areas that we can improve. In our latest survey focused on Diversity and Inclusion, 87% of our global employees participated.  

Company Information

MarketAxess was incorporated in Delaware in April 2000. Our internet website address is www.marketaxess.com. Through our internet website, we will make available, free of charge, the following reports as soon as reasonably practicable after electronically filing them with, or furnishing them to, the SEC: our annual report on Form 10-K; our quarterly reports on Form 10-Q; our current reports on Form 8-K; and amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. Our Proxy Statements for our Annual Meetings are also available through our internet website. Our internet website and the information contained therein or connected thereto are not intended to be incorporated into this Annual Report on Form 10-K. You may also obtain copies of our reports without charge by writing to:

MarketAxess Holdings Inc.

55 Hudson Yards

New York, NY 10001

Attn: Investor Relations

Our Board of Directors has standing Audit, Compensation and Talent, Nominating and Corporate Governance, Risk and Investment Committees. Each of these committees has a written charter approved by our Board of Directors and our Board of Directors has also adopted a set of Corporate Governance Guidelines. Copies of the committee charters and the Corporate Governance Guidelines are also posted on our website.

The SEC maintains an internet website that contains annual, quarterly and current reports, proxy and information statements and other information that issuers (including the Company) file electronically with the SEC. The SEC’s internet website is www.sec.gov.

 


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Item 1A. Risk Factors.

Risks Related to Global Economic and Market Conditions

Global economic, political and market factors beyond our control could reduce demand for our services, and our profitability and business could suffer.

The global financial services business is, by its nature, risky and volatile and is directly affected by many national and international factors that are beyond our control. Any one of these factors may cause a substantial decline in the U.S. and/or global financial services markets, resulting in reduced trading volume. These events could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. These factors include:

 

economic and political conditions in the United States, Europe and elsewhere;

 

adverse market conditions, including unforeseen market closures or other disruptions in trading;

 

broad trends in business and finance;

 

consolidation or contraction in the number of market participants;

 

actual or threatened acts of war or terrorism or other armed hostilities;

 

actual or threatened trade war, including between the United States and China, or other governmental action related to tariffs, international trade agreements or trade policies;

 

concerns over inflation and weakening consumer confidence levels;

 

the availability of cash for investment by mutual funds, exchange traded funds and other wholesale and retail investors;

 

the level and volatility of interest rates, the difference between the yields on corporate securities being traded and those on related benchmark securities and foreign currency exchange rates;

 

the effect of monetary policy adopted by the Federal Reserve Board or foreign banking authorities, increased capital requirements for banks and other financial institutions, and other regulatory requirements and political impasses;

 

credit availability and other liquidity concerns;

 

concerns over credit default or bankruptcy of one or more sovereign nations or corporate entities; and

 

legislative and regulatory changes, including changes to financial industry regulations and tax laws.

There have been significant declines in trading volumes in the financial markets generally in the past and there may be similar declines in trading volumes generally or across our platforms in particular in the future. Any one or more of the above factors may contribute to reduced trading volumes. Our revenues and profitability are likely to decline significantly during periods of stagnant economic conditions or low trading volume in the U.S. and global financial markets.

While we are expanding our businesses to new geographic areas, our business operations have historically been substantially located in the U.S. and the U.K. Due to the concentration of our operations in the U.S. and U.K. we are subject to greater regional risks than those of some of our competitors.

Our business has been, and our results of operations and financial condition may be, impacted by the outbreak of, and global response to, the Pandemic and such impact could be materially adverse.

 

The global spread of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has created significant volatility in the markets we serve and has increased uncertainty and economic disruption. The extent to which the Pandemic impacts our business, operations, and financial results is uncertain and will depend on numerous evolving factors that we may not be able to accurately predict, including: 

 

the duration and scope of the Pandemic;

 

governmental and business actions taken in response to the Pandemic, and in response to economic disruption, and the impact of those actions on global economic activity;

 

the impact of the economic and business disruptions on the trading needs of our clients and the resulting impact on their demand for our electronic trading platforms and solutions;

 

adverse market conditions, including unforeseen market closures, disruptions in trading, significant declines in market and trading volumes, credit availability and other liquidity concerns;

 

the increase in business failures, liquidations or bankruptcies among market participants that use our electronic trading platforms or to whom we are a trading counterparty; and

 

our ability to provide our electronic trading platforms and other solutions, including as a result of our employees or our clients’ employees working remotely and/or closures of offices and facilities.

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In addition, the increase in our employees working remotely has amplified certain risks related to, among other things, the increased demand on our information technology resources and systems, the increased risk of phishing and other cybersecurity attacks as cybercriminals try to exploit the uncertainty surrounding the Pandemic, and the increased number of points of possible attack, such as laptops and mobile devices (both of which are now being used in increased numbers), to be secured. Any failure to effectively manage these increased demands and risks, including to timely identify and appropriately respond to cyberattacks, may adversely affect our business.

 

As a result of the Pandemic, the global economy is currently experiencing a period of significant turmoil and we have experienced significant changes in our daily operations. See “Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Critical Factors Affecting our Industry and our Company—Economic, Political and Market Factors.” Due to the uncertainty of the duration, scope and severity of the Pandemic, the uncertainty as to what governmental measures may yet be taken in response to the Pandemic and the unpredictable effect on our business, our employees and our clients, we are not able to reasonably estimate the extent of any potential future impact of the Pandemic on our financial condition or results of operations, but the impact could be material. Even after the Pandemic has subsided, we may continue to experience impacts to our business as a result of the Pandemic’s global economic impact. Further, our operating and financial results may be affected in a manner that is not presently known to us or in a manner that we currently do not consider to present significant risks to our operations given the unprecedented and continuously evolving nature of the Pandemic.

The U.K. exit from the European Union could materially adversely impact our business, clients, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.

 

Brexit has significantly affected the fiscal, monetary and regulatory landscape in both the U.K. and E.U., and could have a material impact on their economies and the growth of various industries in the future. In particular, the ecosystem of the E.U. financial services industry in which we operate, which prior to Brexit has been heavily centered in London, has become more decentralized. The exit of the U.K. has significantly impacted the business environment in which we and our clients operate, increased the complexity and cost of conducting business in both the E.U. and the U.K., and introduces significant new barriers to cross-border trading, including uncertainties with respect to the legal and regulatory requirements to which we and our clients are subject. We historically conducted business in Europe primarily through the “passporting rights” of our U.K. subsidiaries, which have been eliminated as a result of Brexit. Following Brexit, we now have new regulatory and operational costs and challenges associated with the operation of our regulated subsidiaries in the Netherlands, which we use to provide our trading platforms and certain post-trade services to our clients in the E.U. We could also be adversely affected by having to manage a less centralized customer and employee base.

 

Brexit is expected to lead to legal uncertainty and divergence between the U.K. and E.U. financial regulations, which may impact our ability to comply with the extensive government regulation to which we are subject. In addition, the cost and complexity of operating across increasingly divergent regulatory regimes could increase following Brexit. Brexit has also required us to make changes to the technology underlying our trading platforms and regulatory reporting systems in the U.K. and E.U., which has resulted in new regulatory and operational costs and challenges. Changes to U.K. immigration policy will also occur as a result of Brexit and our access to, and our ability to compete for and hire, skilled employees in both the U.K. and the E.U. is expected to become more constrained.

 

Although it is not possible at this point in time to predict fully the effects of the exit of the U.K. from the E.U., any of the foregoing factors could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Risks Related to Operating in the Electronic Fixed-Income Trading Markets

Decreases in trading volumes in the fixed-income markets generally or on our platforms would harm our business and profitability.

We have experienced significant decreases in overall market volumes in the past and may experience similar decreases in market volumes in the future. Declines in the overall volume of fixed-income securities trading and in market liquidity generally, as well as declines in interest rate volatility, could result in lower revenues from commissions for trades executed on our electronic trading platforms and fees generated from related activities.

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Likewise, decreases in our share of the segments of the fixed-income trading markets in which we operate, or shifts in trading volume to segments of clients which we have not penetrated, could result in lower trading volume on our platforms and, consequently, lower commissions and revenue. During periods of increased volatility in credit markets, the use of electronic trading platforms by market participants may decrease dramatically as institutional investors may seek to obtain additional information during the trade process through conversations with broker-dealers. In addition, during rapidly moving markets, broker-dealers are less likely to post prices electronically. Our market share of the fixed-income trading markets is also impacted by a variety of other factors, including the amount of new issuances of corporate debt, the level of bond fund inflows or outflows, the percentage of volumes comprised of Rule 144A transactions, the percentage of volumes comprised of larger trades known as block trades, the level of credit spreads and credit volatility and whether the prevalent market environment is an “offer wanted” or “bid wanted” environment.

A decline in overall market volumes, trading volumes on our platforms or our platforms’ market share for any reason would negatively affect our commission revenue and may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

The industry in which we operate is rapidly evolving. If we are unable to adapt our business effectively to keep pace with industry changes, we may not be able to compete effectively, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

The electronic financial services industry is characterized by rapidly changing and increasingly complex technologies and systems, changing and increasingly sophisticated client demands (including access to new technologies and markets), frequent technology and service introductions, evolving industry standards, changing regulatory requirements and new business models. If we are not able to keep pace with changing market conditions or client demands and if our competitors release new functionality or technology before we do, our existing platforms, solutions and technologies may become obsolete or our competitive position may be materially harmed, each of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Operating in a rapidly evolving industry involves a high degree of risk and our future success depends in part on our ability to:

 

attract and retain market participants on our platforms on a cost-effective basis;

 

expand and enhance reliable and cost-effective product and service offerings for our clients;

 

develop and introduce new features to, and new versions of, our electronic trading platforms;

 

respond effectively to competitive pressures;

 

respond effectively to the loss of any of our significant broker-dealer or institutional investor clients, including due to merger, consolidation, bankruptcy, liquidation or other cause (including, among other things, the collection of any amounts due from such clients);

 

operate, support, expand and develop our operations, technology, website, software, communications and other systems;

 

defend our trading platforms and other systems from cybersecurity threats; and

 

respond to regulatory changes or demands.

If we are unsuccessful in addressing these risks or in executing our business strategy, our business, financial condition and results of operations may suffer.

We face substantial competition that could reduce our market share and harm our financial performance.

The fixed-income securities industry generally, and the electronic financial services markets in which we operate in particular, are highly competitive, and we expect competition to intensify in the future. Within our markets, we compete based on our ability to provide our clients with deep liquidity, a broad network of market participants, a wide range of products and protocols, and comprehensive pre-trade, trade and post-trade functionality, as well as the reliability, security and ease of use of our electronic platforms and solutions, among other factors. We primarily compete with other electronic trading platforms and trading businesses conducted directly between broker-dealers and their institutional investor clients over the telephone, email or instant messaging. Our current and prospective competitors are numerous and include:

 

other multi-party electronic trading platforms;

 

market data and information vendors;

 

securities and futures exchanges;

 

inter-dealer brokerage firms;

 

technology, software, and information services or other companies that have existing commercial relationships with broker-dealers or institutional investors; and

 

other approved regulatory reporting businesses.

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Many of our current and potential competitors are more established and substantially larger than we are and have substantially greater market presence, as well as greater financial, technical, marketing and other resources. These competitors may aggressively reduce their pricing to enter into, or otherwise compete in, market segments in which we provide services, potentially subsidizing any losses with profits from trading in other fixed-income or equity securities or other business operations. In addition, many of our competitors offer a wider range of services, have broader name recognition and have larger customer bases than we do. Some of them may be able to respond more quickly to new or evolving opportunities, technologies and client requirements than we can and may be able to undertake more extensive promotional activities.

Competition in the markets in which we operate has intensified due to consolidation, which has resulted in increasingly large and sophisticated competitors. In recent years, our competitors have made acquisitions and/or entered into joint ventures and consortia to improve the competitiveness of their electronic trading offerings. If, as a result of industry consolidation, our competitors are able to offer lower cost and/or a wider range of trading venues and solutions, obtain more favorable terms from third-party providers or otherwise take actions that could increase their market share, our competitive position and therefore our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially adversely affected.

Our operations also include the sale of pre- and post-trade services, analytics and market data. There is a high degree of competition among market data and information vendors in solutions for pre- and post-trade data, analytics and reporting, and such businesses may become more competitive in the future as new competitors emerge. Some of these companies are already in or may enter the electronic trading business. Accordingly, some of our competitors may be able to combine use of their electronic trading platforms with complementary access to market data and analytical tools and/or leverage relationships with existing clients to obtain additional business from such clients, which could preempt use of our platforms or solutions. For example, Bloomberg, Refinitiv and ICE own trading platforms that compete with ours and also have a data and analytics relationships with the vast majority of institutional, wholesale and retail market participants. If we are not able to compete successfully in this area in the future, our revenues could be adversely impacted and, as a result, our business, financial condition and results of operations would be materially adversely affected.

 

 

Risks Related to our Future Levels of Business, Profitability and Growth

Neither the sustainability of our current level of business nor any future growth can be assured. Even if we do experience growth, we cannot assure you that we will grow profitably.

The success of our business strategy depends, in part, on our ability to maintain and expand the network of market participants that use our electronic trading platforms. Our business strategy also depends on increasing the use of our platforms by these participants for a wide range of fixed-income products and trade sizes. Individuals at broker-dealers or institutional investors may have conflicting interests, which may discourage their use of our platforms. We cannot assure you that the growth of electronic means of trading securities that we have experienced in recent years will continue.

Our growth may also be dependent on our ability to diversify our revenue base. We currently derive approximately 48.7% of our revenues from secondary trading in U.S. high-grade corporate bonds. Our long-term business strategy includes expanding our service offerings and increasing our revenues from other fixed-income products and other sources. We cannot assure you that our efforts will be successful or result in increased revenues or continued profitability. We have experienced significant growth in trading volumes, revenues and profitability in recent years. We cannot assure you that our business will continue to grow at a similar rate, if at all.

We may enter into new fee plans, the impact of which may be difficult to evaluate; past trends in commissions are not necessarily indicative of future commissions.

From time to time, we may introduce new fee plans for the market segments in which we operate. Any new fee plan may include different fee structures or provide volume incentives. We cannot assure you that any new fee plans will result in an increase in the volume of transactions executed over our platforms or that our revenues will increase as a result of the implementation of any such fee plans. It is possible that our broker-dealer or institutional investor clients could respond to a new fee plan by either reducing the amount of their business conducted on our platforms or terminating their contractual relationship with us, which could have an adverse impact on our fees and otherwise have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

In addition, under certain of our fee plans, our fees are designated in basis points in yield (and, as a result, are subject to fluctuation depending on the duration of the bond traded) or our fees vary based on trade size or maturity. We anticipate that our average fees per million may vary in the future due to changes in yield, years-to-maturity and nominal size of bonds traded on our platform. Consequently, past trends in commissions are not necessarily indicative of future commissions.

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As we enter new markets, we may not be able to successfully attract clients and adapt our technology and marketing strategy for use in those markets.

Our strategy includes leveraging our electronic trading platforms to enter new markets, including new asset classes, products and geographies, including markets where we have little or no operating experience. We may have difficulties identifying and entering into new markets due to established competitors, lack of recognition of our brand and lack of acceptance of our platforms and solutions, as has occurred with certain of our initiatives in the past.

Expansion, particularly in new geographic markets, may require substantial expenditures and take considerable time. In particular, we may need to make additional investments in management and new personnel, infrastructure and compliance systems. Furthermore, our expansion efforts may divert management’s attention or inefficiently utilize our resources. If we are not able to manage our expansion effectively, our expansion costs could increase at a faster rate than our revenues from these new markets. If we cannot successfully implement the necessary processes to support and manage our expansion, our business, financial condition and results of operations may suffer.

We cannot assure you that we will be able to successfully adapt our proprietary software and technology for use in any new markets. Even if we do adapt our products, services and technologies, we cannot assure you that we will be able to attract clients to our platforms and compete successfully in any such new markets. We cannot assure you that our marketing efforts or our pursuit of any of these opportunities will be successful. If these efforts are not successful, we may realize less than expected earnings, which in turn could result in a decrease in the market value of our common stock.

We may face increasing economic and regulatory challenges in our growing international operations that we may not be able to meet in the future.

We operate electronic trading platforms in Europe, Latin America and Asia and we may further expand our operations throughout these and other regions. We have invested significant resources in our foreign operations and the increasing globalization of our platforms and services. However, there are certain risks inherent in doing business in international markets, particularly in the financial services industry, which is heavily regulated in many jurisdictions. These risks include:

 

difficulty in obtaining the necessary regulatory approvals for planned expansion, if at all, and the possibility that any approvals that are obtained may impose restrictions on the operation of our business;

 

the inability to manage and coordinate the various regulatory requirements of multiple jurisdictions that are constantly evolving and subject to unexpected change;

 

difficulties in staffing and managing foreign operations;

 

less developed technological infrastructures and generally higher costs, which could result in lower client acceptance of our services or clients having difficulty accessing our trading platforms;

 

fluctuations in exchange rates;

 

reduced or no protection for intellectual property rights;

 

seasonal reductions in business activity; and

 

potentially adverse tax consequences.

Our international operations are also subject to the legal, economic and market risks associated with geopolitical uncertainties in other regions of the world, including but not limited to the risk of war, inter and intra national conflict, economic crises and terrorism.

In addition, we must comply with the laws, regulations and registration rules of foreign governments and regulatory bodies for each country in which we conduct business. For example, MiFID II was implemented by regulatory bodies in Europe in January 2018. We cannot predict the full extent to which any of these new regulations or future regulatory changes may impact our European business and operations, but they may cause us to expend significantly more compliance, business and technology resources, incur additional operational costs and create additional regulatory exposure.

Brexit could lead to further legal uncertainty and potentially divergent national laws and regulations as the U.K. determines which E.U. laws to replace or replicate. Our compliance with these changing laws and regulations may be costly and time-consuming and may have a material adverse effect on our clients’ trading activities on our platforms. We cannot predict what future actions the regulatory bodies that supervise our business might take, or the impact that any such actions may have on our business.

 

Further, we may face unexpected challenges in our international operations due to global competitors, established local markets, and economic and political instability. Our inability to manage these risks effectively could adversely affect our business and limit our ability to expand our international operations, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

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Risks Related to our Customer Concentration

We are dependent on our broker-dealer clients, who are not restricted from using their own proprietary or third-party platforms to transact with our institutional investor clients.

We rely on our broker-dealer clients to provide liquidity on our electronic trading platforms by posting prices for bonds in their inventory and responding to institutional investor client inquiries. The contractual obligations of our broker-dealer clients to us are minimal, non-exclusive and terminable by such clients. Our broker-dealer clients buy and sell fixed-income securities through traditional methods, including by telephone and e-mail messaging, and through other electronic trading platforms. Some of our broker-dealer clients have developed electronic trading networks that compete with us or have announced their intention to explore the development of such electronic trading networks, and many of our broker-dealer and institutional investor clients are involved in other ventures, including other electronic trading platforms or other distribution channels, as trading participants and/or as investors. These competing trading platforms may offer some features that we do not currently offer. Accordingly, there can be no assurance that such broker-dealers’ primary commitments will not be to one of our competitors.

If bank-affiliated entities reduce their trading activity and that activity is not replaced by other market participants, the level of liquidity and pricing available on our trading platform would be negatively impacted, which could adversely affect our operating results. In the U.S., the Volcker Rule section of the Dodd-Frank Act bans proprietary trading by banks and their affiliates, which could adversely affect our bank-affiliated broker-dealer clients’ ability to make markets in a variety of fixed-income securities. In addition, over the past several years, there has been significant consolidation among firms in the banking and financial services industries and several of our large broker-dealer clients have reduced their sales and trading businesses in fixed-income products. Further consolidation, instability, and layoffs in the financial services industry could result in a smaller client base and heightened competition, which may lower volumes.

Any reduction in the use of our electronic trading platforms by our broker-dealer clients could reduce the volume of trading on our platform, which could, in turn, reduce the use of our platforms by our institutional investor clients. The occurrence of any of the foregoing may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

We could lose significant sources of revenue and trading volume if we lose any of our significant institutional investor clients.

We rely on our institutional investor clients to launch inquiries over our trading platforms and, increasingly, to provide liquidity through our Open Trading protocols. A limited number of such clients can account for a significant portion of our trading volume. The obligations of our institutional investor clients to us under our standard contractual agreements are minimal, non-exclusive and terminable by such clients. Our institutional investor clients also buy and sell fixed-income securities through traditional methods, including by telephone, e-mail and instant messaging, and through other electronic trading platforms.

There can be no assurance that we will be able to retain our major institutional investor clients or that such clients will continue to use our trading platform. The loss of a major institutional investor client or any reduction in the use of our electronic trading platforms by such clients could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Credit and Operational Risks

We are exposed to risks in connection with certain transactions in which we act as a matched principal intermediary.

In connection with our anonymous trading protocols, we execute certain bond transactions between and among institutional investor and broker-dealer clients on a matched principal basis by serving as counterparty to both the buyer and the seller in trades which are then settled by us or through a third-party clearing broker. Settlement typically occurs within one to two trading days after the trade date. Cash settlement of the transaction occurs upon receipt or delivery of the underlying instrument that was traded.

We are exposed to credit and performance risks in our role as matched principal trading counterparty to the clients on our platforms, including the risk that counterparties that owe us money or securities will not perform their obligations. These parties may default on their obligations to us due to bankruptcy, lack of liquidity, operational failure or other reasons. Adverse movements in the prices of securities that are the subject of these transactions can increase our risk. In connection with Open Trading or other anonymous protocols, we expect that the number of transactions in which we act as a matched principal will increase.

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In the process of executing matched principal transactions, miscommunications and other errors by our clients or us can arise that involve substantial risks of liability. These risks include, among others, potential liability from disputes over the terms of a trade, the settlement of the trade, or claims that we resolved an error trade dispute incorrectly or that a system malfunction or delay caused monetary loss to a client. In addition, because of the ease and speed with which trades can be executed on our electronic platforms, clients can lose substantial amounts by inadvertently entering trade instructions or by entering trade orders inaccurately. A significant error trade or a large number of error trades could result in participant dissatisfaction and a decline in participant willingness to trade on our platforms. Although we maintain error trade policies designed to protect our anonymous trading participants and enable us to manage the risks attendant in acting as a matched principal counterparty, depending on the cause, number and value of the trades that are the subject of an alleged error or dispute, such trades have the potential to have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations. In addition, if we are required to hold a securities position as a result of an error, there may also be financing costs or regulatory capital charges required to be taken by us.

We have policies, procedures and automated controls in place to identify and manage our credit risk, though there can be no assurance that they will effectively mitigate our credit risk exposure. Some of our risk management procedures are reliant upon the evaluation of information regarding the fixed-income markets, our clients or other relevant matters that are publicly available or otherwise acquired from third party sources. Such information may not be accurate, complete, up-to-date or properly assessed and interpreted by us. If our risk management procedures fail, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected. Furthermore, our insurance policies are unlikely to provide coverage for such risks.

Self-clearing exposes us to significant operational, liquidity, financing and regulatory risks.

We began self-clearing substantially all of our bond transactions for our U.S. operations in the third quarter of 2020 and we may expand self-clearing to our foreign operations in the future. Self-clearing requires us to finance transactions and maintain margin deposits at clearing organizations. Self-clearing exposes our business to operational risks, including business and technology disruption; operational inefficiencies; liquidity, financing and regulatory risks; and potentially increased expenses. In connection with our conversion to self-clearing for our U.S. operations in 2020, we experienced operational inefficiencies and technology issues which, in combination with the capital and liquidity requirements that are imposed on all new self-clearing members, resulted in increased fail rates in the immediate period following the conversion. Although the initial conversion issues for our U.S. clearing operations have been resolved, in the future, we may encounter difficulties with self-clearing that lead to operating inefficiencies, technology issues, dissatisfaction amongst our client base, disruption in the infrastructure that supports the business, inadequate liquidity, increased margin requirements with clearing organizations and third-party settlement agents who provide financing with respect to transactions, reductions in available borrowing capacity and financial loss. Any such delay, disruption, expense or failure could adversely affect our ability to effect transactions and manage our exposure to risk. Moreover, any of these events could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and operating results.

 

 

Technology, IT Systems and Cybersecurity Risks

Rapid market or technological changes may render our technology obsolete or decrease the attractiveness of our products and services to our broker-dealer and institutional investor clients.

We must continue to enhance and improve our electronic trading platforms. The electronic financial services industry is characterized by significant structural changes, increasingly complex systems and infrastructures, changes in clients’ needs and preferences and new business models. If new industry standards and practices emerge and our competitors release new technology before us, our existing technology, systems and electronic trading platforms may become obsolete or our existing business may be harmed. Our future success will depend on our ability to:

 

enhance our existing products and services;

 

develop and/or license new products and technologies that address the increasingly sophisticated and varied needs of our broker-dealer and institutional investor clients and prospective clients;

 

continue to attract highly-skilled technology personnel; and

 

respond to technological advances and emerging industry standards and practices on a cost-effective and timely basis.

Developing our electronic trading platforms and other technology entails significant technical and business risks. We may use new technologies ineffectively or we may fail to adapt our electronic trading platforms, information databases and network infrastructure to broker-dealer or institutional investor client requirements or emerging industry standards. If we face material delays in introducing new services, products and enhancements, our broker-dealer and institutional investor clients may forego the use of our platforms and use those of our competitors.

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Further, the adoption of new internet, networking, cloud, telecommunications or blockchain technologies may require us to devote substantial resources to modify and adapt our services. We cannot assure you that we will be able to successfully implement new technologies or adapt our proprietary technology and transaction-processing systems to client requirements or emerging industry standards. We cannot assure you that we will be able to respond in a timely manner to changing market conditions or client requirements.

We depend on third-party suppliers for key products and services.

We rely on a number of third parties to supply elements of our trading, information and other systems, as well as computers and other equipment, and related support and maintenance. We cannot assure you that any of these providers will be willing and able to continue to provide these services in an efficient, cost-effective manner, if at all, or that they will be able to adequately expand their services to meet our needs. If we are unable to make alternative arrangements for the supply of critical products or services in the event of a malfunction of a product or an interruption in or the cessation of service by an existing service provider, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially adversely affected.

In particular, we depend on third-party vendors for our bond reference databases, the clearing and settlement of our Open Trading transactions and to provide the technology underpinning our U.S. Treasury platform. We obtain essential reference data and information services from external sources, including data received from certain competitors, clients, self-regulatory organizations and other third-party data providers. Our reference data sources and information providers could increase the price for or withdraw their data or information services for a variety of reasons. Further, as has occurred in the past, our competitors could revise the current terms on which they provide us with data or information services or could cease providing us with data or information services altogether for a variety of reasons, including competition. Disruptions in the services provided by those third-parties to us, including as a result of their inability or unwillingness to continue to license products or provide technology services that are critical to the success of our business, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

We also rely, and expect in the future to continue to rely, on third parties for various computer and communications systems, such as telephone companies, online service providers, data processors, cloud computing and software and hardware vendors. Other third parties provide, for instance, our data center, telecommunications access lines and significant computer systems and software licensing, support and maintenance services. Any interruption in these or other third-party services or deterioration in their performance could impair the quality of our service. We cannot be certain of the financial viability of all of the third parties on which we rely.

We license software from third parties, much of which is integral to our electronic trading platform and our business. We also hire contractors to assist in the development, quality assurance testing and maintenance of our electronic trading platform and other systems. Continued access to these licensors and contractors on favorable contract terms or access to alternative software and information technology contractors is important to our operations. Adverse changes in any of these relationships has in the past had, and could in the future have, a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

We attempt to negotiate favorable pricing, service, confidentiality and intellectual property ownership or licensing and other terms in our contracts with our third-party service providers. These contracts usually have multi-year terms. However, there is no guarantee that these contracts will not terminate and that we will be able to negotiate successor agreements or agreements with alternate service providers on competitive terms. Further, the existing agreements may bind us for a period of time to terms and technology that become obsolete as our industry and our competitors advance their own operations and use of technology.

Our success depends on maintaining the integrity and capacity of our electronic trading platforms, systems and infrastructure.

In order to be successful, we must provide reliable, secure, real-time access to our electronic trading platforms for our clients. If our trading platforms cannot cope, or expand to cope, with demand, or otherwise fail to perform, we could experience disruptions in service, slow delivery times and insufficient capacity. These consequences could result in our clients deciding to stop using or reduce their use of our platforms, which would have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

As our operations grow in both size and scope, we will need to continually improve and upgrade our electronic trading platforms and infrastructure to accommodate potential increases in order message volume and trading volume, the trading practices of new and existing clients, regulatory changes and the development of new and enhanced trading platform features, functionalities and ancillary products and services. The expansion of our electronic trading platforms and infrastructure has required, and will continue to require, substantial financial, operational and technical resources. These resources will typically need to be committed well in advance of any actual increase in trading volumes and order messages. We cannot assure you that our estimates of future trading volumes and order messages will be accurate or that our systems will always be able to accommodate actual trading volumes and order messages without failure or degradation of performance. Furthermore, we use new technologies to upgrade our established systems, and the development of these new technologies also entails technical, financial and business risks. We cannot assure you that we will successfully implement new technologies or adapt our existing electronic trading platforms, technology and systems to the requirements of our broker-dealer

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and institutional investor clients or to emerging industry standards. The inability of our electronic trading platforms to accommodate increasing trading volume and order messages would also constrain our ability to expand our business.

Systems failures, interruptions, delays in service, catastrophic events and resulting interruptions in the availability of our trading platforms could materially harm our business and reputation.

Our business depends on the efficient and uninterrupted operation of our trading platforms, systems, networks and infrastructure. We cannot assure you that we, or our third-party providers, will not experience systems failures or business interruptions, as has occurred in the past. Our systems, networks, infrastructure and other operations, in particular our trading platforms, are vulnerable to impact or interruption from a wide variety of causes, including: irregular or heavy use of our trading platforms during peak trading times or at times of increased market volatility; power, internet or telecommunications failures; hardware failures or software errors; human error, acts of vandalism or sabotage; catastrophic events, such as natural disasters, extreme weather events or acts of war or terrorism; malicious cyberattacks or cyber incidents, such as unauthorized access, ransomware, loss or destruction of data, computer viruses or other malicious code; and the loss or failure of systems over which we have no control, such as loss of support services from critical third-party providers. In addition, we may also face significant increases in our use of power and data storage and may experience a shortage of capacity and/or increased costs associated with such usage.

Any failure of, or significant interruption, delay or disruption to, or security breaches affecting, our systems, networks or infrastructure has in the past, and could in the future, result in: disruption to our operations, including disruptions in service to our clients; slower response times; distribution of untimely or inaccurate market data to clients who rely on this data for their trades; delays in trade execution; incomplete or inaccurate accounting, recording or processing of trades; significant expense to repair, replace or remediate systems, networks or infrastructure; financial losses and liabilities to clients; loss of clients; legal or regulatory claims, proceedings, penalties or fines. Any system failure or significant interruption, delay or disruption in our operations, or decreases in the responsiveness of our platforms, could materially harm our reputation and business and lead our clients to decrease or cease their use of our platforms. We internally support and maintain many of our systems and networks, including those underlying our trading platforms; however, we may not have sufficient personnel to properly respond to all systems, networks or infrastructure problems. Our failure to monitor or maintain our systems, networks and infrastructure, including those maintained or supported by our third-party providers, or to find a replacement for defective or obsolete components within our systems, networks and infrastructure in a timely and cost-effective manner when necessary, would have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. While we generally have disaster recovery and business continuity plans that utilize industry standards and best practices for much of our business, including redundant systems, networks, computer software and hardware and data centers to address interruption to our normal course of business, our systems, networks and infrastructure may not always be fully redundant and our disaster recovery and business continuity plans may not always be sufficient or effective. Similarly, although some contracts with our third-party providers, such as our hosting facility providers, require adequate disaster recovery or business continuity capabilities, we cannot be certain that these will be adequate or implemented properly. Our disaster recovery and business continuity plans are heavily reliant on the availability of the internet and mobile phone technology, so any disruption of those systems would likely affect our ability to recover promptly from a crisis situation. If we are unable to execute our disaster recovery and business continuity plans, or if our plans prove insufficient for a particular situation or take longer than expected to implement in a crisis situation, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations, and our business interruption insurance may not adequately compensate us for losses that may occur.

If we experience design defects, errors, failures or delays with our platforms, products or services, including our auto-execution technology and pricing algorithms, our business could suffer serious harm.

Our platforms, products and services, including our auto-execution technology and pricing algorithms, may and have from time to time contained design defects and errors when first introduced or when new updates or enhancements are released. In our development of new protocols, platform features and updates and enhancements to our existing platforms, products and services, including our auto-execution technology and pricing algorithms, we may make a design error that causes the platform, protocol or feature to operate incorrectly or less effectively. Many of our protocols also rely on data and services provided by third-party providers over which we have limited or no control and may be provided to us with defects, errors or failures. Our clients may also use our platforms, products or services together with their own software, data or products from other companies. As a result, when problems occur, it might be difficult to identify the source of the problem.

If design defects, errors or failures are discovered in our current or future platforms or protocols, we may not be able to correct or work around them in a cost-effective or timely manner or at all. The existence of design defects, errors, failures or delays that are significant, or are perceived to be significant, could also result in rejection or delay in market acceptance of our platforms or protocols, damage to our reputation, loss of clients and related revenues, diversion of resources, product liability claims, regulatory actions or increases in costs, any of which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition or results of operations.

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Malicious cyber-attacks and other adverse events affecting our operational systems or infrastructure, or those of third parties, could disrupt our businesses, result in the disclosure of confidential information, damage our reputation and cause losses or regulatory penalties.

The operation of our electronic trading platforms relies on the secure processing, storage and transmission of a large amount of transactional data and other confidential sensitive data (including confidential client and personal information). Our computer systems, software and networks may be vulnerable to unauthorized access, loss or destruction of data (including confidential and personal customer information), unavailability or disruption of service, computer viruses, acts of vandalism, or other malicious code, cyber-attack and other adverse events that could have an adverse security impact. Despite the defensive measures we have taken, we are, and will continue to be, subject to attacks, which may come from external factors such as governments, organized crime, hackers, and other third parties such as infrastructure-support providers and application developers, or may originate internally from an employee or service provider to whom we have granted access to our computer systems. If our security measures are breached as a result of third-party action, employee error, malfeasance or otherwise, and, as a result, someone obtains unauthorized access to trading or other confidential or personal information, our reputation could be damaged, our business would suffer and we could incur material liability. Any such breach could compromise our networks and the information stored there could be accessed, publicly disclosed, lost or stolen. Because techniques used to obtain unauthorized access or to sabotage computer systems change frequently and generally are not recognized until launched against a target, we may be unable to anticipate these techniques or to implement adequate preventive measures.

Our business also depends on the efficient and uninterrupted operation of our platforms, systems, networks and infrastructure. Any failure of, or significant interruption, delay or disruption to, our systems, networks or infrastructure due to a cyber-attack could result in: disruption to our operations, including disruptions in service to our clients; slower response times; distribution of untimely or inaccurate market data to clients who rely on this data for their trades; delays in trade execution; incomplete or inaccurate accounting, recording or processing of trades; significant expense to repair, replace or remediate systems, networks or infrastructure; financial losses and liabilities to clients; loss of clients; legal or regulatory claims, proceedings, penalties or fines. We also face the risk of operational disruption, failure or capacity constraints of any of the third-party service providers that facilitate our business activities, including clients, clearing agents and trading system software, network or data providers. Such parties could also be the source of a cyber-attack on or breach of our operational systems, data or infrastructure. Any system failure or significant interruption, delay or disruption in our operations, or decreases in the responsiveness of our platforms, could materially harm our reputation and business and lead our clients to decrease or cease their use of our trading platform.

There have been an increasing number of cyber-attacks in recent years in various industries, including ours, and cybersecurity risk management has been the subject of increasing focus by our regulators. Our regulators in recent years have increased their examination and enforcement focus on matters relating to cybersecurity threats, including the assessment of firms’ vulnerability to cyber-attacks. In particular, regulatory concerns have been raised about firms establishing effective cybersecurity governance and risk management policies, practices and procedures; protecting firm networks and information; identifying and addressing risks associated with clients, vendors, and other third parties; preventing and detecting unauthorized activities; adopting effective mitigation and business continuity plans to address the impact of cybersecurity breaches; and establishing protocols for reporting cybersecurity incidents. Any insurance that we may have that covers a specific cybersecurity incident would not protect us from the effects of adverse regulatory actions that may result from the incident or a finding that we had inadequate cybersecurity controls, including the reputational harm that could result from such regulatory actions.

Our remediation costs and lost revenues could be significant if we fall victim to a cyber-attack. If an actual, threatened or perceived breach of our security occurs, the market perception of the effectiveness of our security measures could be harmed and could cause our clients to reduce or stop their use of our electronic trading platforms. We may be required to expend significant resources to repair system damage, protect against the threat of future security breaches or to alleviate problems, including reputational harm, loss of clients and revenues and litigation, caused by any breaches. We may be found liable to our clients for any misappropriated confidential or personal information. Although we intend to continue to implement industry-standard security measures, we cannot assure you that those measures will be sufficient.

Our actual or perceived failure to comply with privacy, data protection and information security laws, regulations, and obligations could harm our business.

Data privacy is subject to frequently changing rules and regulations in countries where we do business. For example, the E.U. adopted the General Data Protection Regulations (“GDPR”), which as of May 2018 requires entities both in the European Economic Area and outside to comply with new regulations regarding the handling of personal data. Brexit has created additional uncertainty with regard to the regulation of data protection as the U.K now has its own data protection laws which are separate from the E.U. GDPR. We are also subject to certain U.S. federal and state laws governing the protection of personal data. These laws and regulations are increasing in complexity and number. In addition to the increased cost of compliance, our failure to successfully implement or comply with appropriate processes to adhere to the GDPR and other laws and regulations relating to personal data could result in substantial financial penalties for non-compliance, expose us to litigation risk and could result in significant liability, increased costs or cause our clients to lose trust in us, which could have an adverse effect on our reputation and business.

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Intellectual Property Risks

We may not be able to protect our intellectual property rights or technology effectively, which would allow competitors to duplicate or replicate our electronic trading platforms or any of our other current or future functionalities, products or services. This could adversely affect our ability to compete.

Intellectual property is critical to our success and ability to compete, and if we fail to protect our intellectual property rights adequately, our competitors might gain access to our technology. We rely primarily on a combination of patent, copyright, trademark and trade secret laws in the United States and other jurisdictions, as well as license agreements, third-party non-disclosure and other agreements and other contractual provisions and technical measures to protect our intellectual property rights. We attempt to negotiate beneficial intellectual property ownership provisions in our contracts and also require employees, consultants, advisors and collaborators to enter into confidentiality agreements in order to protect the confidentiality of our proprietary information. We have been issued 13 patents covering aspects of our technology and/or business, but can give no assurances that any such patents will protect our business and processes from competition or that any patents applied for in the future will be issued. Additionally, laws and our contractual terms may not be sufficient to protect our technology from use or theft by third parties. Furthermore, we cannot assure you that these protections will be adequate to prevent our competitors from independently developing technologies that are substantially equivalent or superior to our technology.

We may have legal or contractual rights that we could assert against illegal use of our intellectual property rights, but lawsuits claiming infringement or misappropriation are complex and expensive, and the outcome would not be certain. In addition, the laws of some countries in which we now or in the future provide our services may not protect software and intellectual property rights to the same extent as the laws of the United States. If our efforts to secure, protect and enforce our intellectual property rights are inadequate, or if any third party misappropriates, dilutes or infringes on our intellectual property, the value of our brand may be harmed, which could have a material adverse effect on our business.

Defending against intellectual property infringement or other claims could be expensive and disruptive to our business. If we are found to infringe the proprietary rights of others, we could be required to redesign our technology, pay royalties or enter into license agreements with third parties.

In the technology industry, there is frequent litigation based on allegations of infringement or other violations of intellectual property rights. As the number of participants in our market increases and the number of patents and other intellectual property registrations increases, the possibility of an intellectual property claim against us grows. Although we have never been the subject of a material intellectual property dispute, we cannot assure you that a third party will not assert in the future that our technology or the manner in which we operate our business violates its intellectual property rights. From time to time, in the ordinary course of our business, we may become subject to legal proceedings and claims relating to the intellectual property rights of others, and we expect that third parties may assert intellectual property claims against us, particularly as we expand the complexity and scope of our business, the number of electronic trading platforms increases and the functionality of these platforms further overlaps. Any claims, whether with or without merit, could be expensive and time-consuming to defend, make it more difficult to operate or prevent us from operating our business, or portions of our business, and result in significant monetary liability.

We cannot assure you that third parties will not assert infringement claims against us, as they have done in the past, with respect to our electronic trading platforms or any of our other current or future products or services or that any such assertion will not require us to cease providing such services or products, try to redesign our products or services, enter into royalty arrangements, if available, or engage in litigation that could be costly to us. Any of these events could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

 

Risks Related to Possible Transactions or Investments

If we acquire or invest in other businesses, products or technologies, and are unable to integrate them with our business, our financial performance may be impaired or we may not realize the anticipated financial and strategic goals for any such transactions or any strategic alliances, partnerships or joint ventures, which we may enter into.

From time to time, we may pursue acquisitions, which may not be completed or, if completed, may not be as beneficial to us as expected. We have made acquisitions in the past, including the purchases of LiquidityEdge in 2019 and the regulatory reporting business of Deutsche Borse in 2020. We also may consider potential divestitures of businesses from time to time. We routinely evaluate potential acquisition and divestiture candidates and engage in discussions and negotiations regarding potential acquisitions and divestitures on an ongoing basis; however, even if we execute a definitive agreement, there can be no assurance that we will consummate the transaction within the anticipated closing timeframe, or at all. Moreover, there is significant competition for acquisition and expansion opportunities in the electronic financial services industry.

32


 

If we do succeed in acquiring or investing in a business, product or technology, such acquisitions and investments may involve a number of risks, including:

 

we may find that the acquired company or assets do not further our business strategy, or that we overpaid for the company or assets, or the economic conditions underlying our acquisition decision may change;

 

we may have difficulty integrating the acquired technologies or products with our existing electronic trading platform, products and services;

 

we may have difficulty integrating the operations and personnel of the acquired business, or retaining the key personnel of the acquired business;

 

there may be client confusion if our services overlap with those of the acquired company and we may have difficulty retaining key customers, vendors and other business partners of the acquired business;

 

our ongoing business and management’s attention may be disrupted or diverted by transition or integration issues and the complexity of managing geographically or culturally diverse enterprises;

 

we may enter into markets in which we have limited experience and where competitors hold stronger market positions;

 

potential failure of the due diligence processes to identify significant problems, liabilities or other challenges of an acquired company or product; and

 

exposure to litigation or other claims in connection with, or inheritance of claims or litigation risk as a result of, an acquisition, including but not limited to, claims from terminated employees, customers, former stockholders or other third parties.

These factors could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows, particularly in the case of a larger acquisition or multiple acquisitions in a short period of time. From time to time, we may enter into negotiations for acquisitions or investments that are not ultimately consummated. Such negotiations could result in significant diversion of management time, as well as out-of-pocket costs.

The consideration paid in connection with an investment or acquisition also affects our financial results. If we were to proceed with one or more significant acquisitions in which the consideration included cash, we could be required to use a substantial portion of our available cash to consummate any acquisition. To the extent we issue shares of capital stock or other rights to purchase capital stock, including options or other rights, existing stockholders may be diluted and earnings per share may decrease. In addition, acquisitions may result in the incurrence of debt, large one-time write-offs, such as of acquired in-process research and development costs, and restructuring charges.

We may also enter into strategic alliances, partnerships or joint ventures as a means to accelerate our entry into new markets, provide new solutions or enhance our existing capabilities. Entering into strategic alliances, partnerships and joint ventures entails risks, including: (i) difficulties in developing or expanding the business of newly formed alliances, partnerships and joint ventures; (ii) exercising influence over the activities of joint ventures in which we do not have a controlling interest; (iii) potential conflicts with or among our partners; (iv) the possibility that our partners could take action without our approval or prevent us from taking action; and (v) the possibility that our partners become bankrupt or otherwise lack the financial resources to meet their obligations.

 

Risks Related to Key Personnel and Employees

We are dependent on our management team, and the loss of any key member of this team may prevent us from implementing our business plan in a timely manner.

Our success depends largely upon the continued services of our executive officers and other key personnel, particularly Richard M. McVey, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of our Board of Directors. The terms of Mr. McVey’s employment agreement with us do not require him to continue to work for us and allow him to terminate his employment at any time, subject to certain notice requirements and forfeiture of non-vested equity compensation awards. We do not maintain “key person” life insurance on any of our executive officers and other key personnel. Although we have invested in succession plans and we have short-term contingency plans in place, any loss or interruption of Mr. McVey’s services or that of one or more of our other executive officers or key personnel for any reason, as well as any negative market or industry perception arising from such loss or interruption, could result in our inability to manage our operations effectively and/or pursue our business strategy.

33


 

Because competition for our employees is intense, we may not be able to attract and retain the highly skilled employees we need to support our business.

We strive to provide high-quality services that will allow us to establish and maintain long-term relationships with our clients. Our ability to provide these services and maintain these relationships, as well as our ability to execute our business plan generally, depends in large part upon our employees. We must attract and retain highly qualified personnel. Competition for these personnel is intense, especially for software engineers with extensive experience in designing and developing software and internet-related services, product managers and senior sales executives.

The market for qualified personnel has become increasingly competitive as an increasing number of existing and new competitors focus on the electronic trading of fixed income products. Many of these competitive ventures are interested in hiring our experienced technology personnel and our qualified sales staff. Additionally, highly innovative technology firms may offer attractive employment opportunities to our technology personnel. Many of these firms have greater resources than we have and are able to offer more lucrative compensation packages. We cannot assure you that we will be successful in our efforts to recruit and retain the required personnel. The failure to attract new personnel or to retain and motivate our current personnel may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Regulatory and Legal Risks

We operate in a highly regulated industry and we may face restrictions with respect to the way we conduct certain of our operations.

Our business is subject to increasingly extensive governmental and other regulations. These regulations are designed to protect public interests generally rather than the interests of our stockholders. The SEC, FINRA, the CFTC and other agencies extensively regulate the United States financial services industry, including most of our operations in the United States. Much of our international operations are subject to similar regulations in their respective jurisdictions, including regulations overseen by the FCA in the U.K., the AFM in the Netherlands, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority in Switzerland, ASIC in Australia, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission, the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada and provincial regulators in Canada, and the Securities and Exchange Commission and Central Bank in Brazil. In addition, our regulatory reporting business is registered as an ARM and APA with the FCA and the AFM.

As a matter of public policy, these regulatory bodies are responsible for safeguarding the integrity of the securities and other financial markets and protecting the interests of investors in those markets. These regulatory bodies have broad powers to promulgate and interpret, investigate and sanction non-compliance with their laws, rules and regulations. Most aspects of our broker-dealer and other licensed subsidiaries are highly regulated, including the way we deal with our clients; our capital requirements; our financial and regulatory reporting practices; required record-keeping and record retention procedures; the licensing of our employees; and the conduct of our directors, officers, employees and affiliates.

We cannot assure you that we and/or our directors, officers and employees will be able to fully comply with these laws, rules and regulations. If we fail to comply with any of these laws, rules or regulations, we may be subject to censure, fines, cease-and-desist orders, suspension of our business, suspensions of personnel or other sanctions, including revocation of our membership in FINRA and registration as a broker-dealer.

Certain of our regulated subsidiaries, including our registered broker-dealers and MTF, are subject to U.S. or foreign regulations which prohibit repayment of borrowings from us or our affiliates, paying cash dividends, making loans to us or our affiliates or otherwise entering into transactions that result in a significant reduction in regulatory net capital or financial resources, without prior notification to or approval from such subsidiary’s principal regulator. MarketAxess SEF Corporation is registered with the CFTC as a SEF and is required, among other things, to maintain sufficient financial resources to cover operating costs for at least one year.

Our ability to operate our platforms in a jurisdiction is dependent on continued registration or authorization in that jurisdiction or the maintenance of a proper exemption from such registration or authorization. Our ability to comply with all applicable laws and rules is largely dependent on our compliance, credit approval, audit and reporting systems and procedures, as well as our ability to attract and retain qualified compliance, credit approval, audit and risk management personnel. Our systems and procedures may not be sufficiently effective to prevent a violation of all applicable rules and regulations. In addition, the growth and expansion of our business may create additional strain on our compliance systems, procedures and personnel and has resulted, and we expect will continue to result, in increased costs to maintain and improve these systems.

In addition, because our industry is heavily regulated, regulatory approval may be required in order to continue or expand our business activities and we may not be able to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals on a timely or cost-effective basis, or at all. Even if approvals are obtained, they may impose restrictions on our business or we may not be able to continue to comply with the terms of

34


 

the approvals or applicable regulations. The implementation of unfavorable regulations or unfavorable interpretations of existing regulations by courts or regulatory bodies could require us to incur significant compliance costs or cause the development or continuation of business activities in affected markets to become impractical. For a further description of the regulations which may limit our activities, see “Item 1. Business—Government Regulation.”

Some of our subsidiaries are subject to regulations regarding changes in control of their ownership. These regulations generally provide that regulatory approval must be obtained in connection with any transaction resulting in a change in control of the subsidiary, which may include changes in control of MarketAxess. As a result of these regulations, our future efforts to sell shares or raise additional capital may be delayed or prohibited in circumstances in which such a transaction would give rise to a change in control as defined by the applicable regulatory body.

Our business and the trading businesses of many of our clients are subject to increasingly extensive government and other regulation, which may affect our trading volumes and increase our cost of doing business.

Our business, and the business of many of our clients, is subject to extensive regulation. Governmental and regulatory authorities periodically review legislative and regulatory initiatives, and may promulgate new or revised, or adopt changes in the interpretation and enforcement of existing, rules and regulations at any time. The new administration elected in the 2020 U.S. presidential election may enact regulatory changes that may affect our business. Any such changes in laws, rules or regulations or in governmental policies could create additional regulatory exposure for our business, cause us to incur significant additional costs, require us to change or cease aspects of our business or restrict or limit our ability to grow our business, any of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations. There have been in the past, and could be in the future, significant technological, operational and compliance costs associated with the obligations that derive from compliance with evolving laws, rules and regulations.

We cannot predict whether additional changes to the laws, rules and regulations that govern our business and operations, including changes to their interpretation, implementation or enforcement, will occur in the future or the extent to which any such changes will impact our business and operations. For example, the divergence of the U.K. from the E.U. in relation to the future development of MiFID II and other rules and regulations governing the financial markets (such as the Central Securities Depository Regulation) may adversely affect us in ways yet to be determined. In addition, we cannot predict how current proposals that have not yet been finalized and/or that remain subject to ongoing debate will be implemented or in what form. We believe that uncertainty and potential delays around the final form of such new laws, rules and regulations may negatively impact our clients and trading volumes in certain markets in which we transact. Additionally, unintended consequences of such new laws, rules and regulations may adversely affect our industry, our clients and us in ways yet to be determined. Any such legal and regulatory changes could affect us in substantial and unpredictable ways, and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

The extensive regulation of our business means we have ongoing exposure to potentially significant costs and penalties.  

Our businesses are subject to regulation by governmental and self-regulatory organizations in the jurisdictions in which we operate around the world. Many of these regulators, including U.S. and non-U.S. government agencies and self-regulatory organizations, as well as state securities commissions in the U.S., are empowered to bring enforcement actions and to conduct administrative proceedings and examinations, inspections, and investigations, which may result in costs, penalties, fines, enhanced oversight, additional requirements, restrictions, or limitations, and censure, suspension, or expulsion. Self-regulatory organizations such as FINRA and the National Futures Association (“NFA”), along with statutory bodies such as the SEC, the CFTC, and the FCA, and other international regulators, require strict compliance with their rules and regulations.

Firms in the financial services industry have experienced increased scrutiny in recent years, and penalties, fines and other sanctions sought by regulatory authorities, including the SEC, the CFTC, FINRA, the NFA, state securities commissions and state attorney generals in the U.S., and the FCA in the U.K. and other international regulators, have increased accordingly. Accordingly, we face the risk of regulatory intervention, investigations and proceedings, any of which could involve extensive scrutiny of our activities and result in significant fines and liability. Any of these developments would require significant time and financial resources and could adversely affect our reputation, financial condition and operating results.

We are subject to the risks of litigation and securities laws liability.

Many aspects of our business, and the businesses of our clients, involve substantial risks of liability. Dissatisfied clients have in the past, and may in the future, make claims against us regarding quality of trade execution, improperly settled trades, resolution of trade error claims, system failures, failure to protect their confidential or personal information, mismanagement or even fraud. We may become subject to these claims as the result of delays, failures or malfunctions of our electronic trading platform and the services provided by us. We could incur significant legal expenses defending claims, even those without merit. An adverse resolution of any lawsuits or claims against us could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

35


 

Liquidity and Funding Risks

We cannot predict our future capital needs or our ability to obtain additional financing if we need it.

Our business is dependent upon the availability of adequate funding and regulatory capital under applicable regulatory requirements. The growth of our Open Trading protocols, in particular, is dependent on the willingness of our customers and counterparties to engage in transactions with us and any perceived issues with our capital levels or access to funding could have a material adverse effect on business. As a result of our self-clearing activities, we are also required to finance certain transactions, maintain deposits with various clearing organizations and clearing broker-dealers and maintain a special reserve bank account for the benefit of customers pursuant to SEC Rule 15c3-3. Although we believe that our available cash resources and borrowing capacity under our credit agreements are sufficient to meet our presently anticipated liquidity needs and capital expenditure requirements for at least the next 12 months, we may in the future need to raise additional funds to, among other things:

 

support more rapid growth of our business;

 

finance transactions and maintain margin deposits at clearing organizations;

 

acquire complementary companies or technologies;

 

increase the regulatory net capital necessary to support our operations; or

 

respond to unanticipated or changing capital requirements.

In addition, our liquidity could be impaired due to circumstances that we may be unable to control, such as a general market disruption or an operational problem that affects our trading customers or counterparties, other third parties or us.

All or part of any debt financing could be pursuant to the terms of our credit agreements with third party lenders, which include restrictive covenants with respect to dividends, issuances of additional capital and other financial and operational matters related to our business.

In the future, we may not be able to obtain additional financing, if needed, in amounts or on terms acceptable to us, if at all. If sufficient funds are not available or are not available on terms acceptable to us, our ability to fund our expansion, finance transactions and maintain margin deposits at clearing organizations, take advantage of acquisition opportunities, develop or enhance our services or products, or otherwise respond to competitive pressures would be significantly limited. These limitations could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Our credit agreement contains restrictive and financial covenants that could limit our operating flexibility, and we may incur additional debt in the future that may include similar or additional restrictions.

We are party to a credit agreement that provides for revolving loans and letters of credit up to an aggregate of $500.0 million. Subject to the satisfaction of certain specified conditions, we are permitted to upsize the borrowing capacity of the credit agreement by an additional $250.0 million. Our credit agreement contains certain covenants that, among other things, may restrict our ability to take certain actions, even if we believe them to be in our best interests. These covenants may restrict or prohibit, among other things, our ability to:

 

incur or guarantee additional debt;

 

create or incur liens;

 

change our line of business;

 

sell or transfer assets;

 

make certain investments or acquisitions;

 

pay dividends or distributions, redeem or repurchase our equity or make certain other restricted payments;

 

consummate a merger or consolidation;

 

enter into certain swap, derivative or similar transactions;

 

enter into certain transactions with affiliates; and

 

incur restrictions on our ability to grant liens or, in the case of subsidiaries, pay dividends or other distributions.

We are also required by our credit agreement to maintain a maximum consolidated total net leverage ratio, a minimum regulatory net capital balance for certain subsidiaries and a minimum consolidated adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (“EBITDA”) level. We cannot assure you that we will be able to meet these requirements or satisfy these covenants in the future. A breach of any of these covenants or the inability to comply with the required financial covenants could result in an event of default under the credit agreement. If any such event of default occurs, the lenders under the credit agreement could elect to declare all amounts outstanding and accrued and unpaid interest under the credit agreement to be immediately due and payable, and could foreclose on the assets securing the credit agreement. The lenders would also have the right in these circumstances to terminate any commitments they have to provide further credit extensions. We may incur other indebtedness in the future that may contain financial or other covenants more restrictive than those applicable to the credit agreement.


36


 

Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments.

None.

 

 

Item 2. Properties.

Our corporate headquarters and principal U.S. office is located at 55 Hudson Yards in New York, New York, where we lease approximately 83,000 square feet under a lease expiring in August 2034. We also collectively lease approximately 39,000 square feet for our other office locations in the U.S., United Kingdom, Brazil, the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Singapore under various leases expiring between January 2021 and January 2027.

 

 

In the normal course of business, we and our subsidiaries included in the consolidated financial statements may be involved in various lawsuits, proceedings and regulatory examinations. We assess liabilities and contingencies in connection with outstanding legal proceedings, if any, utilizing the latest information available. Based on currently available information, the outcome of our outstanding matters is not expected to have a material adverse impact on our financial position. It is not presently possible to determine our ultimate exposure to these matters and there is no assurance that the resolution of the outstanding matters will not significantly exceed any reserves accrued by us. See Note 15 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for a discussion of our commitments and contingencies.

 

 

Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures.

Not applicable.

 

 

37


 

 

PART II

 

Item 5. Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities.

Our common stock trades on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol “MKTX”.

 

On February 16, 2021, the last reported closing price of our common stock on the NASDAQ Global Select Market was $537.52.

Holders

There were 15 holders of record of our common stock as of February 16, 2021.

Recent Sales of Unregistered Securities

None.

Securities Authorized for Issuance Under Equity Compensation Plans

Please see the section entitled “Equity Compensation Plan Information” in Item 12.

Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

During the three months ended December 31, 2020, we repurchased the following shares of common stock:

 

Period

 

Total Number of Shares Purchased

 

 

Average Price Paid per Share

 

 

Total Number of Shares Purchased as Part of Publicly Announced Plans or Programs

 

 

Approximate Dollar Value of Shares That May Yet Be Purchased Under the Plans and Programs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(In thousands)

 

October 1, 2020 - October 31, 2020

 

 

2,289

 

 

$

485.60

 

 

 

1,400

 

 

$

71,794

 

November 1, 2020 - November 30, 2020

 

 

204

 

 

 

538.85

 

 

 

 

 

 

71,794

 

December 1, 2020 - December 31, 2020

 

 

14,182

 

 

 

555.52

 

 

 

 

 

 

71,794

 

 

 

 

16,675

 

 

$

545.71

 

 

 

1,400

 

 

 

 

 

During the three months ended December 31, 2020, we repurchased 16,675 shares of common stock. The repurchases included 1,400 shares repurchased in connection with our share repurchase program and 15,275 shares surrendered by employees to us to satisfy the withholding tax obligations upon the exercise of stock options and vesting of restricted shares or stock units.

In January 2019, our Board of Directors authorized a new two-year share repurchase program for up to $100.0 million of our common stock that commenced in April 2019 and expires in March 2021. In January 2021, our Board of Directors authorized a new share repurchase program for up to $100.0 million. We expect repurchases under the new program to commence in April 2021 following the expiration of the current plan. Shares repurchased under each program will be held in treasury for future use.


38


 

 

STOCK PERFORMANCE GRAPH

The following graph shows a comparison of the cumulative total return for (i) our common stock, (ii) the NASDAQ Composite Index and (iii) the S&P 500 Index for the past five years. The performance graph and related information shall not be deemed “soliciting material” or to be “filed” with the SEC, nor shall such information be incorporated by reference into any future filing under the Securities Act or the Exchange Act, except to the extent that we specifically incorporate it by reference into such filing.

The figures in this graph assume an initial investment of $100 in our common stock and in each index on December 31, 2015, and that all dividends were reinvested. The returns illustrated below are based on historical results during the period indicated and should not be considered indicative of future stockholder returns.

 

 

 

39


 

 

Item 6. Selected Financial Data.

 

The selected statements of operations data for each of the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018 and the selected balance sheet data as of December 31, 2020 and 2019 have been derived from our audited financial statements included elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. The selected statements of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016, and the balance sheet data as of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016 have been derived from our audited financial statements not included in this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

 

Year Ended December 31,

 

 

2020

 

 

2019

 

 

2018

 

 

2017

 

 

2016

 

 

(In thousands, except per share amounts)

 

Statements of Operations Data:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revenues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commissions (1)

$

634,445

 

 

$

463,856

 

 

$

390,834

 

 

$

355,282

 

 

$

332,307

 

Information services (2)

 

34,341

 

 

 

30,730

 

 

 

28,227

 

 

 

25,806

 

 

 

23,269

 

Post-trade services (3)

 

19,460

 

 

 

15,763

 

 

 

15,346

 

 

 

11,090

 

 

 

10,812

 

Other (4)

 

879

 

 

 

1,003

 

 

 

1,158

 

 

 

1,244

 

 

 

1,342

 

Total revenues

 

689,125

 

 

 

511,352

 

 

 

435,565

 

 

 

393,422

 

 

 

367,730

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expenses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Employee compensation and benefits

 

156,885

 

 

 

131,079

 

 

 

109,117

 

 

 

102,313

 

 

 

96,625

 

Depreciation and amortization

 

35,996

 

 

 

26,857

 

 

 

23,080

 

 

 

19,274

 

 

 

17,838

 

Technology and communications

 

34,092

 

 

 

26,792

 

 

 

23,866

 

 

 

20,048

 

 

 

17,275

 

Professional and consulting fees

 

32,304

 

 

 

25,534

 

 

 

21,521

 

 

 

19,367

 

 

 

17,175

 

Occupancy

 

13,425

 

 

 

11,639

 

 

 

14,176

 

 

 

6,125

 

 

 

4,681

 

Marketing and advertising

 

7,940

 

 

 

11,559

 

 

 

12,114

 

 

 

9,762

 

 

 

8,934

 

Clearing costs

 

21,058

 

 

 

11,314

 

 

 

7,754

 

 

 

5,797

 

 

 

6,060

 

General and administrative

 

12,697

 

 

 

15,696

 

 

 

11,353

 

 

 

11,121

 

 

 

9,157

 

Total expenses

 

314,397

 

 

 

260,470

 

 

 

222,981

 

 

 

193,807

 

 

 

177,745

 

Operating income

 

374,728

 

 

 

250,882

 

 

 

212,584

 

 

 

199,615

 

 

 

189,985

 

Other income (expense)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Investment income

 

2,446

 

 

 

8,063

 

 

 

6,112

 

 

 

3,619

 

 

 

2,137

 

Interest expense

 

(1,142

)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other, net

 

(1,673

)

 

 

(1,521

)

 

 

(610

)

 

 

(1,466

)

 

 

(520

)

Total other income (expense)

 

(369

)

 

 

6,542

 

 

 

5,502

 

 

 

2,153

 

 

 

1,617

 

Income before income taxes

 

374,359

 

 

 

257,424

 

 

 

218,086

 

 

 

201,768

 

 

 

191,602

 

Provision for income taxes

 

74,982

 

 

 

52,522

 

 

 

45,234

 

 

 

53,679

 

 

 

65,430

 

Net income

$

299,377

 

 

$

204,902

 

 

$

172,852

 

 

$

148,089

 

 

$

126,172

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Net income per common share

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basic

$

8.01

 

 

$

5.53

 

 

$

4.68

 

 

$

4.02

 

 

$

3.42

 

Diluted

$

7.85

 

 

$

5.40

 

 

$

4.57

 

 

$

3.89

 

 

$

3.34

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cash dividends declared per common share

$

2.40

 

 

$

2.04

 

 

$

1.68

 

 

$

1.32

 

 

$

1.04

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weighted average number of shares of common stock outstanding: