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LSE Veteran Tony Weeresinghe Harnesses Trading to Fight Inequality
The entrepreneur left the London Stock Exchange to launch Ustocktrade, a retail platform whose profits will fund schools in emerging markets.
Tony Weeresinghe often told his friends and colleagues that when he turned 50 he would leave the corporate world behind and become a philanthropist. Some may have laughed, but the serial financial technology entrepreneur wasnt joking. In 2014, after overhauling the trading platform at the London Stock Exchange, Weeresinghe resigned from his post and was cryptic about his next move. In January he reemerged to launch Ustocktrade, billed as the first retail equityfocused alternative trading system, with a dual mission: to democratize trading and wealth creation and to raise money to build schools in developing countries.
Weeresinghe, 53, grew up in Sri Lanka, where he attended the prestigious S. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia. He helped U.S. tech giant Oracle Corp. enter his homeland as country manager in the 1990s and served as CEO of IT products and services firm Open Systems Technologies there before founding MillenniumIT, a trading and billing automation services provider based in the outskirts of Colombo, in 1996.
The LSE bought MillenniumIT in 2009 for $30 million and enlisted Weeresinghe to transform its own trading platform structure. In the span of a year, he and his team brought the exchanges trading time down from 6 milliseconds to 100 microseconds and cut the number of machines from some 600 to about 45. Those changes reduced costs by roughly 75 percent and boosted performance dramatically. As he went about his work, Weeresinghe decided that he had to start giving back.
During my time going around the world and automating capital markets, I saw the disparity between the haves and have-nots and thought, Its not fair when people dont have enough to eat, but we in the capital markets make so much money, he tells Institutional Investor. The best way to tackle this unfairness, in Weeresinghes view, is to educate those in poor areas so they can contribute to the economy and reap its benefits. Im a firm believer in capitalism I think thats the best way to get poverty out, he says.
To that end, Newton, Massachusettsbased Ustocktrade is creating a cheap, transparent space where U.S. retail investors can trade, and using profits from that operation to build schools in developing countries through the Cainan Foundation, a nonprofit established by Weeresinghe and his wife, Cindy.
For $1 per month and $1 per trade, Ustocktrade users have access to a platform that shows the national best bid and offer at the time of execution and settles trades on the same day they are made. Shortening the settlement period from the typical three days reduces market volatility risks for retail investors, Weeresinghe says.
When he was building the platform, Weeresinghe fielded several offers of venture capital but turned them all down. I said, I would be happy to take the money, but I cant give it back because everything is going to build schools and sustain them, he recalls.
The Cainan Foundation is awaiting government approval for its first school, a prekindergarten facility in Sri Lanka. The goal is to construct 100 boarding schools in Sri Lanka, India, Africa and other emerging markets and educate students with curricula that reflect international standards as well as the requirements of each country. To supplement in-house instruction, Cainan has struck a deal with online course provider edX and is in talks with video-based nonprofit educational group Khan Academy. Students who win acceptance to universities will have their tuition paid by the foundation.
Weeresinghe expects to announce official plans for the first school this spring. Were trying to create systemic change, he says.
Follow Kaitlin Ugolik on Twitter at @kaitlinugolik.
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