When Anand Sambasivan, then a young banker at Credit Suisse, mapped out his next move in the wake of the financial crisis in 2009, he had two options before him: London or New York.
The Wall Street banker had already enjoyed a seven year stint at two firms that straddled both Cities, but as he prepared to now set out on his own venture, the decision was quickly made for him.
“I came to London on a temporary basis, and I never looked back. I immediately fell in love with the city,” he tells City A.M. in an interview.
Looking back a decade and a half later amid a troubling period for London’s financial services sector, does he have any regrets?
“I’m getting so tired of all of the UK and City bashing that’s going on. The one point I’ll make very loud and clear is the UK is an incredible place to start a business, especially a fintech business.”
Skin in the game
Sambasivan’s seems a rare positive voice in the Square Mile these days amid a mood of existential panic, fuelled by a slew of firms seemingly snubbing London’s markets in favour of the Big Apple.
He does, of course, have skin in the game. PrimaryBid thrives on a steady stream of capital raising and IPOs in its home market, and he says the slump in IPO activity in both London and beyond has hit the firm.
“We are going to be in periods where the markets are up, and when the markets are down. We’re in the period when markets are down. And yes, it isn’t great,” he says.
“I’m a banker. So I am a deal junkie at the end of the day and I love to see deals.”
PrimaryBid’s investor base also points to how entwined it has become with the capital markets ecosystem in London. The firm added the London Stock Exchange Group to its investor roll in 2019 and has struck an equity and debt issuance deal with the bourse.
While London has been hit particularly hard by an IPO downturn – total cash raised fell by 80 per cent in the first quarter compared to last year – he points to the fact the IPO downturn is not a London phenomenon. Globally there were just 299 IPOs in the first quarter of the year raising $21.5bn – down 61 per cent compared to the same period in 2022.
And the equity markets downturn has triggered accelerated moves into new areas for PrimaryBid. Rising interest rates and the dearth of IPOs have made debt a more important pillar, and the firm is now eyeing growth with new bond issuance for firms.
He says the firm is already in talks with a number of “large, publicly listed corporates” in the London who are scoping out how to utilise its platform for debt issuance.
PrimaryBid capital markets comeback
Even with those new revenue streams, however, Sambasivan says he’s bolshy on the comeback of the firm’s core business in the UK.
Regulators and officials at the London Stock Exchange have rolled out a number of regulatory tweaks over the past three years to try and boost the amount of cash flowing into the public markets.
Reviews of the listing regime in 2020 and secondary markets last year have been ushered forward at some pace, and central to those has been increasing retail investor participation.
Planned reforms fall squarely in line with PrimaryBids’ ambitions, he says.
“Public markets are there to kind of democratise access and wealth creation… but it really wasn’t happening outside of the secondary markets,” he adds. “PrimaryBid was formed with this notion that the markets are either public or they’re not – you can’t have it both ways.”
He says crucially the appetite for greater retail investor participation in the public markets in the UK is coming from firms themselves rather than investors. While volatility on the public markets has caused firms to issue less over the past 18 months, “when they do, they want to do retail”.
That appetite for retail is also now growing internationally. PrimaryBid has integrated its technology into European exchange Euronext and in 2021 allowed retail investors to participate in the New York float of London members’ group Soho House.
As a number of big name firms including Reddit and Arm eye potential listings in New York, he says PrimaryBid could help tap into a hefty retail following in the UK.
Those comments are to be expected from a firm that is eyeing big growth plans in the US. But, he insists, it will be a “focused expansion” rather than “diluting anything we’re doing here in the UK”.
PrimaryBid, Sambasivan says, is one firm that will not be ditching its London hub in favour of New York. Even as negative headlines abound over the flood of firms away from the Capital, he says PrimaryBid is as positive as ever over London’s prospects.
“I hear the negativity, but I don’t subscribe to it. If anything, it’s gotten better,” he says.
“From where I sit, if I was to start over today, this would be the place I would do it.”