Jeffrey C. Sprecher was a power plant developer who spotted a need for a seamless market in natural gas used to power generators. In the late 1990s, Sprecher acquired Continental Power Exchange, Inc. with the objective of developing an Internet-based platform to provide a more transparent and efficient market structure for OTC energy commodity trading.(Popper 2013)
In May 2000, ICE was founded by Sprecher and backed by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, BP, Total, Shell, Deutsche Bank and Société Générale who represent some of the world's largest energy traders.
The new exchange offered the trading community better price transparency, more efficiency, greater liquidity and lower costs than manual trading. While the company's original focus was energy products (crude and refined oil, natural gas, power, and emissions), acquisitions have expanded its activity into soft commodities (sugar, cotton and coffee), foreign exchange and equity index futures.
In a response to US financial crisis in 2008, Sprecher formed ICE US Trust based in New York, now called ICE Clear Credit LLC, to serve as a limited-purpose bank, a clearing house for credit default swaps. Sprecher worked closely with the Federal Reserve to serve as its over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives clearing house. "US regulators were keen on the kind of clearing house for opaque over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives as a risk management device. In the absence of a central counterparty - which would guarantee pay-outs should a trading party be unable to do so - there was a high risk of massive market disruption".
The principal backers for ICE US Trust were the same financial institutions most affected by the crisis, the top ten of the world's largest banks (Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS). Sprecher's clearing house cleared their global credit default swaps (CDS) in exchange for sharing profits with these banks. By 30 September 2008 the Financial Post warned that the "$54000bn credit derivatives market faced its biggest test in October 2008 as billions of dollars worth of contracts on now-defaulted derivatives would be auctioned by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association . In his article in the Financial Post, he described ICE as a "US-based electronic futures exchange" which raised the stakes on October 30, 2008 in its effort to expand in the $54000 bn credit derivatives market.(Weitzman 2008)
By 2010, Intercontinental Exchange had cleared more than $10 trillion in credit default swaps (CDS) through its subsidiaries, ICE Trust CDS (now ICE Clear Credit).(Terhune 2010)
By 2017 Intercontinental Exchange had been named to the Fortune Future 50 determining the top 50 companies that are best positioned to adapt and deliver growth in a complex environment. ICE was also named to the Fortune 500 in June 2017 and is the only exchange operator included in the ranking.