Traditionally, when traders at AXA Investment Managers, the London-based arm of the big French insurance company, wanted to buy or sell currencies, they picked up the phone and called the firm’s bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Then in 2007, AXA’s traders began using an electronic currency-­trading platform, FXall, for many of their transactions. But with new technology multiplying the number of potential trading venues, AXA is now undergoing another shift. It is in the process of moving most of its currency business to a new platform, called TradingScreen, a step it hopes will enhance and simplify its trading activities, says Lee Sanders, the firm’s London head of FX and money market operations.

“We want one screen with all the capabilities,” says Sanders, whose firm trades about $300 million a year in currencies. Among other bells and whistles, TradingScreen attracted AXA with its extensive range of algorithmic trading, flexibility in enabling users to set their own risk parameters and transaction cost analysis tools to help AXA ensure it is getting the best currency deals. TradingScreen “is bringing more ingenuity and enhancements to the market than FXall,” Sanders says. “We want to stay ahead of the curve.”

A platform war is intensifying in the global foreign exchange market, with more than half a dozen entrants jumping into the space in the past few months. It’s still too early to know which platforms will emerge as winners, but the proliferation of venues is already sparking declines in already-low trading costs, with banks earning less on each trade, in a situation similar to what’s happened in equity markets over the past decade. One banker estimates that revenue per trade has dropped by about 9 percent over the past year through a narrowing of bid-offer spreads.

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