Catching up on events – 40 years of the ISIN

November 23, 2021

The 1980s brought us the first space shuttle, personal computers, the Internet, and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. But that’s not all. Did anyone else feel just a hint of nostalgia when the Association of National Numbering Agencies (ANNA) announced they were celebrating a 40th anniversary this month? No? Just me then.

The ISIN or International Securities Identification Number, which uniquely identifies financial instruments, reached the grand age of 40 on 01 November.

The first version of the ISIN standard was published in 1981. It was driven by an industry need to improve cross-border trading and global interoperability. Since then, ISINs have become the global common language of processing financial instruments. Standard identifiers are now recognized as making the financial world more efficient, more stable, and safer for investors and financial markets.

The early 1980s were exciting times in information technology, and for the computer department as we used to call it. Governments had moved towards the deregulation of financial markets. It was also a decade of greater globalization, capturing new profitability and new international money. Policymakers removed limits on interest rates, and reduced taxes and brokerage commissions on financial transactions. Foreign financial firms were granted greater access to home financial markets, and there was an increase in privatization of companies and securitization of assets.

Looking back, I took a brief trip down memory lane.

I recall the days when the hard-copy Stock Exchange Daily Official List booklets arrived in the office post room. Instrument data was then typed into a system terminal. At the time, I enthusiastically questioned what each data item was and what it was used for. The Stock Exchange Daily Official List (SEDOL) is a security identifier assigned by the London Stock Exchange on request by an issuer. SEDOLs form part of a stock’s ISIN, embedded within UK codes and a part of the international identifier.

The London Stock Exchange was a founding member of ANNA, the National Numbering Agency responsible for the allocation of UK ISIN codes, which was established in 1992.

Today, there are more than 120 recognized National Numbering Agencies (NNAs) around the world, responsible for assigning ISINs in their respective countries. Most of them don’t charge fees. For those who do, albeit in line with ISIN Registration Authority obligations, it would be nice if they could let the use of ISINs remain free of charge for the industry. For example, CUSIP Global Services, who assign ISINs in the US, charge for using US ISINs (as the CUSIP is a part of the ISIN).

Announcing the anniversary, Dan Kuhnel, Chairman of ANNA, said, “We are delighted to be celebrating ISIN’s 40th anniversary. Over the past four decades, the ISIN has helped with bringing greater transparency and supervision capabilities to the global financial markets across the full suite of asset classes. Through ISIN use, organizations can leverage the efficiencies related to global interoperability and realize the benefits of harmonization across capital markets. As a result, ISIN has become the recognized global standard for unique identification for all types of financial instruments, helping to connect and protect global markets.”

As we all catch up on the birthdays, anniversaries, and celebrations we’ve missed over the past months, please join me in wishing the humble ISIN a belated happy birthday.