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In 1989, Reuters — the legendary international news agency based in London — launched an ambitious and secretive project.

Bloomberg, a relatively young New York–based company, had been eating into Reuters’ market, providing analytics and data to Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe via proprietary terminals. Dubbed Decision 2000, the project’s goal was no less than the destruction of Reuters’ competitor and its terminals.

But to beat Michael Bloomberg’s brainchild, the legacy brand first needed to rival it. Reuters tasked Capital Market Decisions, a firm led by ex-Smith Barney executive J. Stephen Levkoff, with developing an investment analytics system on par with the one luring away clients. Reuters played hardball — but it also played dirty, evidence suggests: In the late 1990s, federal prosecutors obtained more than 100 communications between Reuters officials and a consulting company that investigators believed was hired to steal information from Bloomberg, according to The New York Times. But the alleged Watergate tactics failed, as would Decision 2000.

“It was the first product to be dubbed a Bloomberg killer, and that was unfortunate,” says Douglas Taylor, a former Reuters executive who worked on the project. “It wasn’t a bad product, but it wasn’t a Bloomberg killer.”

In 1993 relations between Reuters and Capital Market Decisions soured. The project collapsed; lawsuits ensued; accusations of intellectual property theft were lodged.

And Bloomberg remained.

Since then a handful of other products have taken on the mantle of Bloomberg killer. So far none has succeeded. “Up to this point, any so-called Bloomberg killer has ended up as roadkill itself,” says Taylor, who now runs his own firm, Burton-Taylor International Consulting.

Yet large-scale shifts in banking and money management — including compressed margins and, correspondingly, shrinking information-service budgets — are causing a mature Bloomberg more pain than copycats ever did. Its terminal count has barely risen over the last five years, according to Burton-Taylor. And last year, for only the second time in the company’s 35-year history, the terminal total shrank. (Bloomberg doesn’t have physical terminals anymore, but rather a software package officially named Bloomberg Terminal.) At the same time, another generation of upstart competitors, including Money.net and Symphony, has emerged.

Can anyone finally bury Bloomberg?



The basic complaint about Bloomberg is its price — always, forever, infuriatingly, the price.

Whether Ray Dalio or Ray Daytrader, everyone pays the same price: $25,000 a year for one terminal and $22,600 a year per terminal for more than one. No discounts are available.

“I’ve been a Bloomberg user for close to 25 years,” says Seth Shalov, a partner and portfolio manager at $4 billion MAI Capital Management in Cleveland. “And for 24 years, I have been frustrated with their pricing.” Bloomberg declined to comment for this story.

Banks, of course, have faced economic struggles since the financial crisis, making Bloomberg terminals an onerous expense. And many money managers are seeing less revenue amid the shift to passive investing and general pressure for lower fees, putting their budgets for information services under pressure too.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon complained in a recent letter to shareholders that his bank paid $9 billion for its technology services in 2016 — a sum about twice the gross domestic product of Fiji. For many financial services firms, information technology is the biggest expense after personnel costs.

It’s no wonder, then, that Bloomberg’s terminal volume climbed only 0.7 percent annualized over the last five years, and that it shrank 0.96 percent last year, to 324,485, according to Burton-Taylor.

But a large number of financial market participants see Bloomberg as an absolute necessity, regardless of the cost. “It’s basically a way of life for many people,” says Bloomberg user David Gilmore, a partner and currency analyst at Foreign Exchange Analytics in Connecticut.

Bloomberg provides one-stop shopping for data, analytics, news, and trading. Bruce Falbaum, who invests in high-yield bonds and leveraged loans as a senior portfolio manager and principal at $1.6 billion Cohanzick Management in Pleasantville, New York, has used Bloomberg for 20 years. He’s not looking to make a change now.

“For the things it does, I don’t find anything that really compares — though, honestly, I haven’t looked,” Falbaum says. Market makers post high-yield bond prices and send traditional communications to customers like him over Bloomberg’s messaging system. “I see the entire market going on in front of me on Bloomberg. I’m not aware of any other place where I can do that.” Cohanzick has six Bloomberg terminals and would love to trim the expense. “That’s real money for a firm like ours,” Falbaum says. But a replacement would have to include the same capabilities he and his colleagues enjoy on Bloomberg.

And just as important, the other players in his market would have to adopt the new service as well, so he could continue to communicate with them. “We have relationships with about 100 broker-dealers,” Falbaum says. “I can use a scraping function to see their quotes that are contained in messages, and then I can contact them to potentially do a trade. That’s all on Bloomberg.” It would be very difficult for a competitor to gain a critical mass of users, he says.

One complaint lodged against Bloomberg by competitors such as Money.net CEO Morgan Downey is that the terminal is difficult to use — “clunky,” as Downey puts it, citing outdated software and the lack of touchscreen capability.

But only one of the 16 Bloomberg users contacted for this story echoed Downey’s complaint. A market analyst, who requested anonymity to avoid alienating Bloomberg, says that when he is looking for an old news story about a specific event, he can often find it more quickly with a Google search than by going through Bloomberg — hardly a fatal flaw in Bloomberg’s system.

“Bloomberg’s front end is antiquated,” Taylor says. “But regardless of how cumbersome it is, you still get the best result on the street.” From Bloomberg users, almost all the complaints focus on price.

Some say they are open to switching, or at least adding a competitor to Bloomberg. One is the co-head of portfolio management at one of the country’s largest money managers, which only communicates anonymously to the media and utilizes 85 Bloomberg terminals. He has great respect for the service.

“Bloomberg is a very fantastic product,” he says. In addition to the terminal’s capabilities, Bloomberg is “extremely customer-centric,” he says. “They are focused on improving their products in any way that users find meaningful. They have earned a spot in our ecosystem.”

But his firm would love to find an alternative to the colossus. First, there’s the $1.9 million it’s paying each year for its Bloomberg terminals. The per-terminal price has climbed 25 percent over the past ten years, the executive says. “People are concerned about price, but the more inextricably linked you are to Bloomberg, the more you realize you have to pay that price,” he says. There are competitors in narrow areas with products his firm views as superior to Bloomberg. The firm pays for those services in addition to Bloomberg.

Another reason the firm would like an additional full-service solution is to avoid complete vulnerability to a Bloomberg network outage. Such a breakdown occurred for a few hours in April 2015, effectively shuttering parts of financial markets around the world. “We are actively looking for an alternative to Bloomberg, because we feel like a competitor — even if it’s just for a piece of the business — is in our best interest,” the executive says.

A friend of his who is the head trader at a global macro hedge fund recently switched to Money.net from Bloomberg for all nine of the firm’s traders. The head trader declined to identify himself or his fund. “He told me that knowing the work I do, if I spent six weeks using Money.net, I would forget about Bloomberg,” the executive says.



Money.net and fellow new entrant Symphony have been all the rage as of late — to the financial media, at least.

Money.net, built by ex-Bloomberg commodities chief Downey, charges $150 per month, or less than 10 percent of Bloomberg’s fee. Downey, 44, grew up on a farm in Ireland. After graduating from the University of Limerick, he ventured to New York City, where he found a job as a junior fixed-income derivatives trader at Citibank. He later specialized in commodities, and after working overseas for Citi and Bank of America, he joined Bloomberg in 2010 to lead its commodities division.

He had used Bloomberg since the beginning of his career in 1993. “But even then I thought it was old,” Downey says. Seeing that after the financial crisis users were increasingly concerned about Bloomberg’s pricing and sensing they were disappointed with the terminal’s technology, “I figured I could build a better system at one-tenth to one-fifteenth of Bloomberg’s cost,” Downey says. And so he went to Money.net in 2014.

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