PrimaryBid is a clever bit of kit. A slick technology platform, it allows retail investors to get easy access to new shares being issued by companies at the same time, and price, as the big City institutions.
It’s digital and fuss-free, both for the investor and the company issuing the shares.
So, when the catering behemoth Compass raised £2 billion to get through Covid, it hired PrimaryBid to pitch the shares to Joe and Jane Bloggs to invest. Likewise Taylor Wimpey, Ocado, William Hill and others.
The timing of Primary Bid’s launch was impeccable, as it had just got nicely up and running before those frenzied months of Covid fundraisers.
Now, it has found investors happy to part with cash to back a fundraising of its own. £50 million, no less.
So far, so good. Until you see that one of the new owners is the London Stock Exchange itself.
That smells like a serious conflict of interests.
For, while PrimaryBid is clever and timely, it is also doing what retail brokers have been doing for years; selling stock to the public and charging the issuing company to do so. They don’t call it stockbroking, but it really is.
Can you imagine the LSE buying a stake in Numis? Every other broker would go berserk.
The folks at the LSE say there’s still nothing to stop rivals doing what PrimaryBid does.
Really? To set up a competitor, you’d need exactly the same access to the LSE’s services as PrimaryBid has negotiated, and that seems unlikely now the LSE has skin in PrimaryBid’s game.
Potential rivals will take one look at that hurdle and decide it’s not worth the effort.
PrimaryBid will have had investors queuing around the block. It didn’t need the LSE’s money. A system that worked well has just been needlessly broken.
The Financial Conduct Authority should have a quiet word and put it back as it was.