Secondary Market Trading Services Gain Steam

Trading shares in private companies remains far from efficient and cheap today. New services looking to improve the process are lining up.

ClearList Holdings, majority-owned by electronic trading firm GTS, is one of the contenders. It has recently launched a cap-table management service. It’s also in the process of obtaining licenses with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra, and the Securities and Exchange Commission to set up a secondary market for private shares, said Chief Executive Bill White.

ClearList’s goal is to bring the cost of selling shares of private companies “almost down to zero,” Mr. White said.

ClearList’s efforts are concurrent with those by venture-backed Carta, which has talked up its forthcoming secondary-market platform CartaX for a while.

Carta is making progress with regulators. It is now registered to operate as a broker-dealer in four states, most recently in Pennsylvania as of Monday, according to its regulator, Finra. Carta also has an alternative trading system license from the SEC, as of the end of September, according to that regulator.

Even as these companies are setting up to launch, their market is quickly changing. Going public fell out of favor for a while among tech entrepreneurs, making liquidity provided through secondary sales more needed. But that’s changing now with the IPO window wide open, and dozens of blank-check companies looking for acquisition targets.

There’s “great activity in capital markets,” Mr. White said. At the same time, demand for secondary trading continues, he said. Secondary trades conducted close to public listings could help companies get a better understanding of their current valuations, he said. That could help them better negotiate with special-purpose acquisition companies or establish a reference price in direct listings.

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