Cubs Owner Ricketts Merges Bond Broker With Fintech Startup


Tom Ricketts, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, says his bond broker Incapital LLC lost its technological edge while he spent the past decade building one of the most-successful teams in baseball.

The billionaire believes he’s found a solution: merging the business with a San Francisco-based fintech startup called 280 CapMarkets LLC. The deal creates a new company called InspereX, with Ricketts serving as the chairman and largest owner. The companies declined to give terms of the deal.

St Louis Cardinals  v Chicago Cubs

Tom Ricketts

Photographer: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Founded in 1999 to connect corporate bond issuers with individual investors, Incapital initially had what Ricketts believes was excellent technology. And that was the point; the “In” in its name is short for “Internet.” But the industry hasn’t stood still.

“We lost a little bit of our focus on technology,” Ricketts, who had been chief executive officer of Incapital until leaving to run the Cubs in 2009, said in an interview on Thursday. In 280 CapMarkets, which has roots in municipal-bond issuance, he found a partner “looking at what was next in the market.”

Incapital underwrites new debt from government-sponsored enterprises and corporations as well as mortgage-backed securities, connecting issuers with investors. It also offers structured notes linked to assets like stocks, commodities and currencies. Part of 280 CapMarkets’ appeal is BondNav, its system that aims to streamline fixed-income workflows for customers.

“The new company will become a unique fintech firm with a mission of improving fixed income distribution and trading for all market participants,” the companies said in a statement Thursday announcing the merger. They expect the transaction to close this quarter, with Incapital CEO John DesPrez having the same role at InspereX.

The firm faces major competition from bigger Wall Street players. Banks dwarf them in terms of underwriting, and, in corporate bonds, the largest dealers just launched their own new digital platform. Called DirectBooks LLC, that system for managing the issuance of new debt has backing from firms including Bank of America Corp., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

But InspereX has a niche: selling bonds to clients of financial advisers, not the major institutions banks often target.

For 280 CapMarkets, reasons to merge with Ricketts’ firm include his baseball success. He turned the Cubs, a perennial disappointment, into the 2016 World Series champs.

“Tom’s a winner,” said David Rudd, the president of 280 CapMarkets, who will keep that title at the new company.

“We’ve really seen an acceleration of the electronification and modernization of the bond market,” he added. “The large tier 1 buyside firms and largest banks, they’re all incentivized to build technology for their benefit. What we set out to do is build technology that we can deliver to our clients for their benefit.”

( Adds quote in final paragraph.)