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Instrument discovery: making the search easier by design

Finding the correct identifier for a security has long been a complex, pricey process. ICE offers a better solution.


June 2022

Nathaniel Dahm

Content Strategy

Millions of financial instruments trade across markets, time zones and currencies each day. Yet they lack a single global identification system, a challenge which potentially creates huge cost, inefficiency, or worse, the risk of damaging mistakes.

Systems of identifiers, or ‘symbologies’, are critical to the global market, where each symbol identifies a financial instrument like a bond, stock, structured product or derivative. Given markets rely on the transaction of an ever-growing universe of different, often complex, securities, the inability to easily identify these instruments can create huge friction.

There is often more than one symbol available to trade for a given instrument, depending on factors like geography or the context in which it’s used. For example, the exchange ticker “ABC” is used for AmerisourceBergen Corporation common stock on the New York Stock Exchange, but it represents the Arab Banking Corporation on the Stock Exchange of Bahrain. At the other end of the chain, even within a global company, separate departments may use contrasting symbologies to identify the data they consume. Corporate actions which lead to symbology changes can further interfere with the ability to trace historical data on an instrument.

For traders, investors and brokers, this means grappling with disparate systems to identify the correct symbol before they can access pricing data, ownership information and other critical attributes - resulting in lost time, money and a lack of transparency. Instrument identification is particularly crucial in the interaction between different systems, presenting fresh challenges to market participants who want to merge operations, add new services or integrate data from a range of sources.

Market participants use a variety of symbologies to identify financial instruments. These include those from national or international associations such as ISIN, SEDOL, and CUSIP, exchange-specific tickers, and vendor-specific symbologies such as Refinitiv’s RICs, Bloomberg’s FIGIs and ICE’s Consolidated Feed Symbols. As a result, anyone wishing to subscribe to financial instruments on a vendor’s data feed must undertake instrument discovery, that is, they must cross reference their preferred symbology with the vendor’s symbology to find the securities they need.

To search for the required symbol, access to reference data is critical - often, participants navigating such data are charged for the search even when their request is unsuccessful, resulting in a costly trial-and-error cycle. Further complicating matters, a vendor’s reference data may be limited or incomplete, restricting the ability to pinpoint the symbol of interest.

With this context in mind, the ICE Consolidated Feed presents a rather unique proposition in allowing clients to subscribe to a financial instrument not just by the product’s primary key (ICE Consolidated Feed Source/Symbol) but by common symbologies like ISIN, SEDOL, and even the publicly available BBG FIGI. This is in sharp contrast to some vendors which require clients to subscribe to financial instruments using their own proprietary symbology. In addition, the core reference data fields are offered as part of every Consolidated Feed subscription, allowing clients to perform tasks of instrument discovery efficiently, and most importantly, free of charge. Notably, the symbol search is structured to help clients narrow their options instead of requiring them to know the exact symbol for an instrument in advance.


This example shows how a client can use the ICE Consolidated Feed to perform instrument discovery when a standard symbol reference is not enough to return a non-ambiguous result.

On the SIX Swiss exchange, funds can trade in multiple currencies. However, no matter the currency, all instances of a given fund use the same ISIN number. For clients who rely on the ISIN for identification, this can obviously present a major challenge.

Instrument Description / ANNA Global Codes
Instrument Name Segment MICTrading CurrencyISIN
21Shares Bytetree BOLD ETPXSWXCHFCH1146882308
21Shares Bytetree BOLD ETPXSWXEURCH1146882308
21Shares Bytetree BOLD ETPXSWXGBPCH1146882308

The ICE Consolidated Feed helps by returning a robust set of reference data as part of the subscription request. When a client subscribes to ISIN CH1146882308 on the SIX Swiss Exchange, they receive a set of records with key reference data fields:

ICE Identifiers
ICF Source,
Instrument Description / ANNA Global Codes
Instrument NameSegment MICTrading CurrencyISIN
21Shares Bytetree BOLD ETPXSWXCHFCH1146882308
21Shares Bytetree BOLD ETPXSWXEURCH1146882308
21Shares Bytetree BOLD ETPXSWXGBPCH1146882308
Exchange / Local Identifiers
VALORExchange TickerExchange Trade Code
BBG Identifiers

The client can then choose whether to explicitly subscribe to one or all of the instruments, based on a clear understanding of the differences. This is especially critical for trading clients as they will likely need to submit their orders using the exchange’s local trade code.


This document contain information that is confidential and proprietary property and/or trade secrets of ICE Data Connectivity & Feeds, Inc., ICE Data Pricing & Reference Data, LLC, ICE Data Derivatives, Inc., and/or their affiliates (collectively “ICE Data”), and are not to be published, reproduced, copied, disclosed, or used without the express written consent of ICE Data Services and/or its affiliates. The information contained is, to the knowledge of ICE Data, current as of the date hereof, but is subject to change, without notice. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, does not constitute representations or warranties by ICE Data, and does not alter the terms of any agreements that may from time to time exist between ICE Data and its clients or their affiliates.

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