Crisis of Customer Confidence for Reuters and Bloomberg

The two largest makers and marketers of trading terminals suddenly face public accusations about their practices that could undermine the model that has made them successful for so long. Bloomberg has suffered from revelations that reporters from its news arm had access to certain customer data from terminal users. Reuters has been accused of giving some large clients key financial data before its is available to most others.

Although each case is very different, Reuters and Bloomberg are left with the hard prospect of explaining why customers who pay large amounts for their terminals should have any questions about the integrity of their business practices at all.

In the case of Reuters, some of its clients get data from sources other than the federal government split-seconds before most clients. This information includes the University of Michigan’s consumer confidence data and data from a number of trade groups. Government regulation prevents early release of data from its departments and agencies. Of course, in an era in which trades can be made in less than a blink of an eye, even a tiny edge on non-government data can be important.

In Bloomberg’s case, reporters have access to proprietary data from clients. In a summary of the problem, The Huffington Post reported:

[J]ournalists at Bloomberg News have been spying on some of the 315,000 customers that use the market-data terminals, sold by a separate unit of Bloomberg and the primary revenue source for the company. Those customers include Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, whose traders and bankers are reportedly furious with Bloomberg for what they perceive as a violation of their privacy.

Bloomberg, which was hit by a scandal before Reuters, might count itself as lucky that its rival now has a problem. Bloomberg clients who might have left for Reuters must question which breach of trust is worse. Most clients are likely to capitulate to the growing belief that they must have terminals to conduct business but that both providers have inexcusable flaws.

At the end of the day, the fact that the terminals are essential because of the data and news they offer becomes Wall Street’s real challenge. No matter how abhorrent the transgressions of Bloomberg and Reuters are, there are no alternatives.

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