Oil traders who do Yahoo! fret over its future
Many rely on the Messenger service to stay in touch “Everybody uses it, and you keep your Yahoo wherever you go”
Oil traders take price slumps, sanctions, and natural disasters in stride. The decline of a vintage internet company has them scrambling.
Yahoo!’s chat service, Messenger, has for almost 18 years been the default communication tool for the men and women who each day trade billions of dollars’ worth of crude and petroleum products around the planet. From Singapore to Rotterdam, deals are pitched, contracts are negotiated, and lunch dates are made on Messenger.
Now the company’s internet assets, including its chat service, are up for sale, and the future of Messenger is uncertain. Yahoo, meanwhile, is forcing new users to connect via an updated version that compliance officers at some trading houses have declared offlimits because chats can’t be recorded and logged internally—something the old version allows.
Socar Trading, a Geneva-based arm of Azerbaijan’s national oil company, has already set up a working group to find a solution for its employees. While it’s identified potential alternatives, the main issue is whether the people they want to talk to will join in. “There is not much sense in providing a product with great compliance functionality if none of the industry are using it,” says Azru Azimov, the trading group’s chief executive officer.
Other companies looking for alternatives include Trafigura and Mercuria Energy, according to executives who asked not to be identified because they aren’t permitted to speak publicly on compliance issues.
It’s a tall order. Yahoo Messenger is free and connects a huge user base within the oil world—from traders to refinery managers, pipeline operators to harbor masters. Many in the industry even have their Yahoo IDs printed on their business cards.
“Everybody uses it, and you keep your Yahoo wherever you go,” says Olivier Jakob, managing director at consultant PetroMatrix in Zug, Switzerland. A former oil products trader at Cargill, he says he’s had his Yahoo ID for “many, many years.”
While there are no official market share figures, oil traders say Messenger is by far the dominant platform and has been since the 2000s, before tools such as Snapchat and WhatsApp had taken off. Bloomberg LP, which owns Bloomberg Businessweek, includes an instantmessaging function as part of its paid Bloomberg Professional Service.
Yahoo is making clear that it wants everyone to move to the newer version, which was introduced in December. “We encourage all of our users to complete their transition to the new Yahoo Messenger as soon as possible,” says Ana Braskamp, a spokeswoman. She also says, “It’s great to hear positive feedback around Yahoo’s legacy messenger product.”
The situation could create opportunities for rival services or for someone to create a platform specific to the oil-trading sector. “The things that Yahoo chat offers are so important to traders,” says Craig Pirrong, a finance professor at the University of Houston. “The technology is not that difficult to deal with; it is just a matter of coordinating the transition.” One senior executive at Gunvor Group says he’s confident a solution will emerge. If not, he adds, traders will just have to pick up the telephone.