Capital markets News

ASX CEO to retire before launch of CHESS DLT settlement system

asx australian securities exchange

Today Dominic Stevens, Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) CEO, announced plans to retire this year. The replacement DLT CHESS settlement system is scheduled to roll out in April 2023, by which time Stevens will be out of the picture.

The Australian Financial Review (AFR) published a negative article, arguing that Stevens’ departure before the launch leaves unfinished business. And with a cost of A$250 million, it raised several questions. Stevens responded that he didn’t want to commit to another five years through 2028. 

Top of the list of AFR questions is whether or not the CHESS platform is still scheduled to launch in April 2023 after several delays from an original late 2020 launch schedule. It even suggested the project might be dropped, which seems somewhat unlikely at this advanced stage. Particularly given that several other stock exchanges are moving in a similar direction.

According to the AFR, at least two market participants expect a six to twelve month delay, despite Stevens saying the project is on track. However, several market participants – particularly share registrars – have previously gone out of their way to delay the launch because it displaces part of their business. They also raised antitrust issues in the past. So without clarifying the type of ‘market participants’, one might take those comments with a pinch of salt.

We wondered whether there might be a more positive spin on Stevens’ departure. Such as the offer of another attractive new role. After all, few executives have the experience of steering such a significant stock market DLT project from (almost) start to launch. He was an ASX non-executive director before becoming CEO in August 2016. Plans for a blockchain-based CHESS system were announced in June 2016.

“My plan is to retire from executive roles after leaving ASX,” said Stevens in an announcement. But that doesn’t mean his capital markets blockchain expertise will go to waste. Last year, ASX Deputy CEO Peter Hiom who led the CHESS project, stepped down and joined investment firm Motive Partners, where former Digital Asset CEO Blythe Masters is a founding partner. Digital Asset is the key technology partner for the CHESS system and ASX is a Digital Asset investor.

One can imagine that many capital markets firms might want Stevens as an adviser as the sector moves towards a tokenized future.

The same announcement noted that under Stevens’ leadership, shareholder returns were nearly 110%, including dividends and share price growth. That’s compared to roughly 65% from the S&P/ASX 200 accumulation index.

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