Now Spotify Is Daring To Disrupt The Investment Banking Industry

When a privately owned company decides to list its shares on a public exchange. it is expected to follow the rules.

What rules? Well, for starters, the company is expected to hire an investment bank to guide it through the legal process. The bank also organizes promotional presentations for company representatives to “pitch” to potential investors. And perhaps most importantly, the bank underwrites the transaction by placing a value on the stock and then guaranteeing that the firm will receive that value during the sale.

The underwriting guarantee can be a risky proposition for banks. But by charging lucrative fees, the financial institutions can afford the risk of a massive financial obligation if the investors pay far less than expected.

Spotify, the streaming music provider that has disrupted the entertainment industry, is about to disrupt the investment banking industry by refusing to follow these rules. What does it intend to do? And why is it so daring?

The firm is not hiring an investment bank to provide any IPO services. Instead, by using an obscure “direct listing” process that has never been attempted by an organization of its size, Spotify simply intends to notify the New York Stock Exchange that it wishes to begin trading its shares.

No bank will organize any promotional presentations. None will provide any legal guidance, and none will be paid any fees. Perhaps most notably, none will provide Spotify with an underwriting guarantee.

For Spotify, this “direct listing” gambit is a reflection of its daring management style. Namely, it seeks to disrupt entire industries by eliminating the middlemen and by contracting with stakeholders directly.

In the music industry, for instance, the firm has dared to contract with the public while eliminating CD, DVD, and vinyl retailers. And now, on Wall Street, it is daring to attempt to reach investors while eliminating investment banks.

If Spotify succeeds, two different industry sectors will be disrupted by its daring strategy. Considering the buoyancy of today’s financial markets, it may prove foolish to bet against them.

Our Globalizing Perspectives

Do you recall the great Dubai Ports World controversy of 2006? A global maritime organization, owned by the federal government of a major Arab ally of the United States, applied for permission to manage seaport operations in Baltimore, Miami, New Orleans, New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

The American people, still recovering from the trauma of 9/11, exploded into a spirited debate. President Bush vigorously defended the deal, claiming that “it would send a terrible signal to friends and allies not to let this transaction go through.” But others, fearful of entrusting seaport security operations to any Arab organization, argued against the transaction.

The management contract was never granted to Dubai, and the entire episode left bitter feelings about America’s refusal to differentiate between Arab friends and Arab foes. Now that a decade has passed since the days of 2006, are such feelings still relevant?

We now know the answer to that question. Two weeks ago, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia arranged to assume sole ownership of the largest oil refinery in the United States. And guess what? There wasn’t even a peep of protest.

The deal is occurring in the wake of a number of innovative announcements by representatives of Saudi Aramco. For instance, its executives have acknowledged that they are considering the possible launch of the world’s largest-ever Initial Public Offering, possibly on multiple equity exchanges across the globe. New York and London, naturally, have been named as possible joint hosts for such an Offering.

The global energy sector, and the financial institutions that provide it with capital, will be buzzing about these ground-breaking transactions during the upcoming year. Nevertheless, as we look forward to learning more about these present and future stories, it might be helpful to pause for a moment, and to reflect on how far our perspectives have evolved during the past decade.

Indeed, would the Saudis have even considered a public offering on the New York and London exchanges ten years ago? And would Americans have dreamed of permitting the Saudis to operate the largest oil refinery on U.S. soil at that time?

During the days of the DP World debate, such proposals would have likely been rejected by all of these parties as dangerous to their national interests. But in an era of progressive globalization, the very perspectives that frightened us in 2006 now excite us in 2016.