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Why this brand-new stock exchange ditched an opening bell

Are bells really the right message for sustainable capitalism?

Why this brand-new stock exchange ditched an opening bell
[Photo: LTSE]
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The New York Stock Exchange, London Stock Exchange, and Tokyo Stock Exchange all open the same way: With the ringing of a bell. The sound was actually a practical way to signal to the trading floor: It’s time to buy and sell stocks.

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Today, stocks are traded digitally, and the bell is mostly a symbolic way to celebrate IPOs listing that day on the exchange. But when the Long-Term Stock Exchange (LTSE) Group was considering how to celebrate companies listing on its new exchange, its designers wondered if there was a better approach than the old bell.

The LTSE Group was founded by CEO Eric Ries, a writer and entrepreneur who posits that the problem with capitalism is born from Wall Street itself, driven by investors who prioritize immediate earnings. The LTSE, meanwhile, only lists companies that focus on sustainable, long-term growth strategies, backed by investors who opt in to take a similar long-term view.

Which brings us back to the bell. The LTSE Group wanted to find a way to celebrate the new companies being listed on its exchange. But it has no trading floor. And its investors don’t wake every morning analyzing which stocks to buy or sell—they are expected to hold onto shares for years at a time, or even a decade longer. Nothing about handing a CEO a Pavlovian “Get trading!” bell made sense with their slow approach.

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“[We wondered], Instead of an ephemeral moment to open the trading floor one day, how do we create history?” says Lindsay Liu, head of marketing at LTSE Group. “That was almost the brief we gave to ourselves.”

The team considered dozens of concepts to capture the idea of a company growing over decades, including a zen garden installed in a national park with plants that could grow alongside their corporations. But what it landed on was the idea of a letter.

[Photo: LTSE]
During any IPO, CEOs write a letter to shareholders that often goes unseen, buried in highly regulated legal documents. But as Liu points out, letters have been a touchstone across human history. Whether they contain grand arguments like Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, or intimate advice that exiting U.S. presidents leave for their successors inside the Oval Office, letters can have real power.

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So the LTSE Group will have the CEO of each company it lists write a letter in plain language—which can be aimed at shareholders, or a wider audience like the public at large—that’s something of a mission statement for the company. Then on that letter, the LTSE will stamp a special seal to mark the date. The stamp itself is customized for each company. It’s a steel and plexiglass object with quite a bit of heft. (And once its stamping duties are completed, the stamp is sent home with the CEO to be displayed like an award.)

Given that the LTSE opened during a pandemic, this entire approach is optimized to be remote if companies prefer. In the example photos you see here, the letter was actually written by Ries, marking the opening of the exchange. And the first two company stamps to be listed, Asana and Twilio, were placed onto the same letter they shared (each gets a copy). But neither company had to be present for this ceremony. These ceremonies can also be streamed, or hosted at a corporate office, or other space. The stamp and letter allows the ceremony to be flexible and not anchored to any one trading floor.

[Image: LTSE]
As for the seal itself, that’s designed to live in all sorts of promotional contexts other than the initial letter.

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[Photo: LTSE]
“We wanted this idea that this one [seal] icon or asset will capture the collaboration between us and the companies,” says Gracie Liu, the marketing designer at LTSE Group. “And something of a system that would be applicable across different companies.”

[Image: LTSE]
So instead of promoting just itself, the LTSE Group has planned ads for the companies it has listed (which currently numbers two). It lifts large pull quotes from the CEO letters in a colorful graphic design treatment (the colors are sourced from the company’s own brand, so each ad will be a little different), and the listing stamp is placed right atop the copy.

“The seal will be consistent over time. And the rest is highlighting and spotlighting the companies,” says Lindsay Liu. “It’s not about us. Our CEO was like, ‘What if we don’t even put our logo on it?’ As we do these, each company will have a role to push this [movement] forward.”

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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