3 More Execs Leave Swiss Stock Exchange’s $100M Blockchain Project

21 January 2020

Three executives have left SDX, the blockchain-based digital asset trading venue owned by Swiss stock exchange operator SIX Group, since the year began, including two founding team members.

Ivo Sauter, SDX’s head of clients and products, and Sven Roth, its chief digital officer, both left their full-time positions in January. Roth will continue as an external advisor to SDX, a SIX spokesperson said. Both joined from Falcon Private Bank in 2018. 

Alex Zinder, an architecture lead at SDX, hired a year ago and based in New York, also left this month, the SIX spokesman said.

Sauter and Roth helped lay the foundation of the SDX project with former CEO Martin Halblaub, who departed last summer

Reports at that time saying Halblaub’s resignation came down to strategic differences were further borne out by Sauter. 

“I think for me, the biggest thing was the initial vision changed,” Sauter told CoinDesk. “Primarily, this was because the mother company took more and more influence on SDX. I believe that with an innovation project like SDX there needs to be a bit of separation from the big mother.”

These comings and goings follow the delay of the go-live date from summer 2019 to late 2020 for SDX, which has been an expensive endeavor for Zurich-based SIX. A source familiar with the project said the cost of SDX has so far reached close to $100 million.

To put the figure in perspective, SIX Group made a profit of about $41 million in 2018, according to its last annual report. SDX has about 50 employees, compared to 3,000 across all of SIX Group.

“We are building something from scratch,” the SIX spokesman said, acknowledging the challenges. “This hasn’t been done before and, of course, there are up and downs. And it isn’t cheap. We’ve spent quite a few Swiss francs on it already.”

‘Not my vision’

Sauter said he left on good terms and was happy to have been given the chance to do the work he’d done, but said a growing “dis-alignment” meant he had no desire to have his contract renewed. 

“It just was not my vision,” he said. “Believing that this technology just needs to replace the old world one to one, I don’t think you need blockchain for that.”

The goals of SDX have become “much more for banks and only for banks,” Sauter said. 

The original idea, he said, was to start with banks as a stepping stone and slowly try to widen the circle. “So really using this technology to enable, for example, other startups to provide services around it.”

As well as a shift in the way the technology was to be implemented, the progression towards a more corporate culture also became onerous, Sauter said. 

“Obviously, besides the technology, if you change into more of a big-company approach, you have a much bigger overhead in terms of reporting, in terms of risk involvement, in terms of all the corporate departments that want to have an additional report,” he said.

CEO still wanted

Since Halblaub’s departure in August 2019, SDX has been overseen by interim CEO Tomas Kindler, who was expected to take the reins. 

However, Kindler has expressed a wish to take a senior position within the main exchange group, said a SIX spokesman. 

His decision revolves around the planned integration of Bolsas y Mercados Españoles (BME), the Spanish stock exchange SIX is bidding for. 

“Kindler’s decision has got nothing to do with SDX and where it is today. He is an expert on post-trade and sees that his quality is mainly there, and especially in the operation that we are doing now in Spain – or intend to do – to integrate their business into ours,” said the spokesman.

Regarding the CEO position at SDX, there is now a short list of three candidates to take over, the spokesman said. 

A decision will be made “in the coming few weeks if everything goes as it should,” he said.