Alasdair Haynes still gets calls from time to time saying, ‘I saw you on TV.’ Nearly 40 years ago, he was dancing in the background of Top of the Pops when Frankie Goes to Hollywood performed Relax, one of the most controversial pop songs in history. It seems like an unconventional route into Haynes’ current work.
Today, at 63, and having survived Covid and cancer, he leads Aquis Exchange. Aquis operates a junior stock market with the aim of challenging the power of the 300-year-old London Stock Exchange, or more specifically, its Alternative Investment Market (AIM) for smaller companies.
It may be less rock’n’roll than Top of the Pops, but Haynes is trying to make the stock ‘sexy’. He wants some of the millions of people prepared to invest their money in the cryptocurrency craze to consider investing in stocks and shares, with an attractive platform to do so.
Haynes was in his early twenties and already working his way up as a money changer at Morgan Grenfell when he appeared on Top of the Pops in 1984. He had a relative who was a floor manager on the BBC television show Essential Viewing for millions of pop fans.
“I got to dance in quite a few shows,” recalls Haynes. “But Relax was played live and then banned, so that video clip became an iconic moment in 1980s music. Unfortunately the clip plays regularly and from time to time I keep getting calls saying I saw you on TV.
Mystery man: Alasdair Haynes says he’s ‘the man you’ve never heard of’
In those days, the city was a very different place. Drinking and smoking were ubiquitous and the Square Mile was shamelessly dominated by men. There was also a class division. Haynes, who was starting work directly from Wellington College, had a harrowing job interview in which he had to overcome doubts about his suitability because he was a public school alumnus.
He was desperate to work in the currency division of Morgan Grenfell, but most of the traders came from much more humble backgrounds. The stats-crazed teen explained that he wanted the job because of his interest in gambling. There was another hurdle to overcome with his interviewer. Haynes recalls: ‘He asked ‘do you drink?’ Haynes, who comes from a family with ties to the Deuchars brewing empire, said: ‘Yes. I’ve been known to do that.
“They took me to the Jampot, which is a well-known drinking establishment in the city, and said that we would give you an interview there.
‘My interview was drinking a bottle of white port which I have never had since, I can’t stand since. I managed to survive and fight my way back to the office and they gave me the job.’
He added: ‘Today we are looking at whether you have a PhD in nuclear physics to be a trader. It’s the luckiest break I’ve ever had. I never looked back.
Now he is fighting to make himself known to ministers and officials. “Usually I start conversations with ‘I’m the man you’ve never heard of, I run a company you’ve never heard of, but one in 20 trades of all stocks across Europe is in this British success story called Aquis. ‘.
‘We make more than two billion [euros] one day. We are the seventh largest exchange group in Europe.
Haynes is referring to the markets business of Aquis, a subscription-based platform for trading large- and mid-cap stocks across Europe.
It also operates a business that provides exchange technology around the world. And in London it runs its own stock exchange to trade stocks and debt securities.
English winemaker Chapel Down and brewery Adnams are among the listed companies, inherited from the previous operators of the licence.
But the focus for the future is to help grow the next generation of tech ‘unicorns’: start-ups that are valued at over a billion dollars.
Haynes argues that markets, which today commonly settle deals two days after the trade date, require a major reorganization to make them future-proof.
A government task force is due to report by the end of next year on the move from two days to one, but Haynes believes that ten years from now, instant deals will be the norm.
“We are not going to have the systems we have today,” he insists. ‘We don’t do it in the blockchain environment and the world of cryptocurrencies.
Haynes expresses his frustration that almost five million people in Britain owned crypto assets last year, but there is comparatively little interest in shares. His children and his friends, he says, trade crypto assets on apps. His goal is to do the same with the stock market.
He notes: ‘If five million people can open accounts and trade cryptocurrencies, then this country is prepared to take risks.
‘Make actions sexy. They should be an attractive asset class.
Haynes says he is concerned that members of the baby boomer generation, who came of age in the 1980s, have had a chance to accumulate wealth, but it will be much more difficult for young people in the modern world.
“They’re going to have to invest in assets that work,” he says. ‘For God’s sake, don’t tell me that the future is that they have to buy Bitcoin.
“The future is that they have to invest appropriately, wisely.” Haynes says there needs to be a focus on modernizing markets not only for trading in the largest companies but also for SMEs – small and medium-sized enterprises, the “real heart” of the economy.
He says the Aquis exchange, which had 22 floats last year and has raised more than £320m since it launched just over two years ago, is “raising significant capital to scale up businesses”.
Companies, he says, should be able to float earlier in their growth trajectory and be able to use the stock market as a way to raise capital.
He backs broader efforts in the City and Whitehall to boost UK stock markets, but expresses frustration that he has focused too much on the disappointment of losing Arm, the Cambridge-based chip designer who chose to list in New York. He argues that not enough attention is being paid to small businesses.
And he has a problem with the expressed ambition of the city minister, Andrew Griffith, to revive the ‘tell Sid so’ share-buying frenzy of the Thatcher years, which was fueled by cut-price privatizations of companies like British Gas and British Telecom.
“We don’t really want Sid,” he says. ‘That was a market in the eighties where people were given an asset that was undervalued and you knew you were going to make money.
It’s not exactly the same. Sid used an abacus and probably record boards with a slide rule.
Haynes’s ambition has not been constrained by recent health problems, including a severe covid outbreak at the start of the pandemic. “I ended up in the hospital,” she says. “I was taken in an ambulance and I couldn’t breathe, so it wasn’t fun in the early stages. My wife was not allowed to join me. They kept her out of it.
‘I had cancer, which I beat earlier this year. Happy to be very fit and healthy.
During his last illness, while recuperating and watching television during the day, Haynes remembers thinking, “I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.”
‘The board when I came back said ‘Are you thinking of retiring?’
‘I said absolutely no way. I will stay here forever.
“I’ve seen what the other side is like and there are only so many episodes of Eggheads you can watch. You’re going to have to fire me to get rid of me.
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