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Building Future Growth Around a Foundational Data Core: SIX’s Marion Leslie

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There’s a neat symmetry in speaking to Marion Leslie, head of financial information at SIX after one of the busiest six months in the company’s recent history.

SIX, a global data aggregator and operator of exchanges in its native Switzerland, as well as in Spain, has released a flurry of new data products since January, including a suite of ESG tools and two global equities index families that herald a plan to become a one-stop-shop for ETFs.

According to Leslie, the frenetic pace of partnerships, product releases and enhancements this year is just the tip of the iceberg. The Zurich-based, bank-owned organisation has more to come, all built around a trove of data and data capabilities it has built up over more than 90 years of operations.

At heart, it remains a global pricing reference data provider – that’s the “base data” that SIX “is built on”, says Leslie. But the company is putting in place ambitious plans to leverage that core data competency to meet the increasingly complex demands and use cases of financial institutions.

“I believe that the fundamental data set – having really good-quality reference data and pricing data – allows us to create new value-added services and insights to our clients, and that remains the same whether we’re talking about GenAI or good old fashioned master reference,” Leslie tells Data Management Insight from SIX’s offices in London. “Unless you’ve got those basics you can’t really make sensible decisions, let alone produce reliable analytics.”

Expansion Plans

Leslie says SIX sees its USP as the ability to leverage that core data product to create applications for a multiplicity of use cases. Already it is using its fundamental datasets as the backbone of regulatory, corporate actions, tax, sanctions and ESG products for its banking clients.

A slew of recent acquisitions, investments and partnerships have been similarly guided by SIX’s programme of creating services that can tap into its core offering. The purchase of ULTUMUS in 2021 and the deepening of a long-standing association with BITA earlier this year were part of a plan to forge the company’s ETF-servicing business, each deal enhancing SIX’s indexing capabilities.

In ESG too, it has been aggressively striking deals to help burnish a slate of new sustainability offerings. Products unveiled in the past year by ESG product strategy and management head Martina MacPherson all benefit from supply deals struck with vendors including Sustainalytics, MSCI, Inrate and the CDP, as well as new partnerships with companies including Greenomy. Among the ESG products launched recently is an SME assessment tool, which MacPherson said will bring thousands of smaller companies into the ESG data ecosystem, into which banks and investors might otherwise have had no visibility.

Working Data

SIX’s ESG provisions illustrate what Leslie describes as the company’s dedication to making data work for companies.

“Organisations need to figure out how they’re going to incorporate data and how they’re going to make it relevant,” she says. “Well, the only way you can make it relevant is if it’s got something to hook on to, and that’s where you get back to those fundamental data sets.”

Leslie explains that one of the driving forces behind the company’s vigorous expansion plans is the changing demands for data among banks. No longer can any part of the industry rely on end-of-day pricing data, or monthly and quarterly reports. Ditto for risk managers and compliance teams.

The consequence has been a shift in the workloads of the front-, middle- and back-offices. No longer is research the premise of middle-office teams, Leslie offers as an example; the front office needs those insights quicker and so it has made sense for banks to embed data access and functionality within asset managers own analytical workflows.

“Asset managers see that the speed of data is increasing all the time and so the buy side, which was perhaps in the past much more built around end-of-day or less immediate requirements, is moving much more into real-time and intraday needs,” she says. “That requires, therefore, real-time market data, and that is expected by regulators, it’s expected by customers, and its therefore expected by market participants.”

AI Challenge

Jokingly, Leslie likens data operations to raising a child: it needs constant attention and feeding to grow and thrive. The simile is just as true for banks’ data management needs too; they are constantly changing and growing, influenced by internal needs and external innovations. That’s exemplified by the race to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into processes and workflows.

Recent SIX research found that more than nine out of 10 asset managers expect to be using AI within the next three years and that half already do. Driven by its own clients’ need to understand what AI will mean to them, SIX has begun looking at how it can enhance its products with the various forms of AI available.

It has taken a structured approach to the programme and is looking at where AI can help clients improve efficiency and productivity; examining how it can improve customer experience and support; and, testing how it can be incorporated into products. For the latter, SIX is experimenting with off-the-shelf GenAI technology to identify aberrations in trading patterns within a market abuse solution.

On this subject, too, Leslie stresses that SIX can only think about such an evolution because it is confident that it has a solid foundational data offering.

“Our role is to make sure that we’re providing data that is fit for purpose and enables our clients to do business in a competitive way,” she says. “So that will include, as it always has, providing trusted, reliable data that the client knows is fit for purpose and on which they can make decisions. And that’s as true if it’s going to an AI model as if it’s going into a client digital wealth platform or portfolio reporting or risk solution.”

Values Align

Leslie took up her latest role at SIX in 2020 and also is a member of the board for the SIX-owned Grupo BME, Spain’s stock exchange, previously holding roles at LSEG and Thomson Reuters.

She is proud to be part of an organisation whose stakeholders are banks – about 120 of them – and not shareholders “trying to race to hit a quarter result”. She feels a very strong alignment with its values, too.

“It’s an organisation whose purpose is to enable the smooth functioning of the economy and has consistency and trust at the very core,” she says. “When half the world is voting this year, this stuff’s important, and when we’re talking about AI, or we’re talking about market failures then the thing that brings trust and progress is the data that sits behind it. To be a trusted provider in this day-and-age is a critical service.”

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