An interview with Iskandar Najjar, CEO of Equiti Group
Equiti provides online multi-asset trading services and support to a wide global client base. The group’s global footprint includes offices in Europe, the UK, the Middle East, the Americas, Africa, and the Asia Pacific regions.
Among many specialist areas, the group acts as a broker to underlying clients, such as retail investors and professional clients. It also works with brokers and financial institutions, including family offices and bank treasuries, distributing multi-asset liquidity across the markets.
Equiti operates globally across retail, business-to-business, digital assets and institutional spaces, and is carving out a niche in the emerging markets with an on-the-ground presence that few can match.
The European caught up with CEO Iskandar Najjar to find out more about the company’s work.
The European: Please highlight the asset classes you offer, and also discuss the regulatory side, and any other specialist areas.
Iskandar Najjar: The asset classes that we provide vary from currencies, commodities, shares, indices, precious metals, underlying shares on a global level, and even, most recently, cryptocurrencies in the capacity of CFDs (contracts for differences).
Our seven regulatory licenses include the UK, the UAE, Jordan, Kenya, Cyprus, Armenia and the Seychelles, and we are pursuing some other licenses in the near future across Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Africa as well.
Separate from the brokerage side of the business, we are also heavily involved in digital assets, assisting regulators, and drafting legislation related to that. We’re founding members of the Dubai Digital Asset Association (D2A2). The association is heavily involved in being the venue of discussion from the private sector, through to government or public sector, on anything related to business, payments, or anything that touches digital assets in any way.
Our Managing Director of Strategy is the Chairman of the Dubai Digital Asset Association, and I’m a board member alongside five others.
TE: Where is Equiti geographically focused?
IN: Depending on the business lines, from a retail perspective the bulk of our business is coming from the Middle East and Africa, we have about 15% of our business coming from Latin America and Asia-Pacific as well. And from a business-to-business perspective – which is servicing other brokers similar to ourselves, that maybe don’t have our balance sheet, technology or risk management tools – that’s equally distributed globally all the way from the Americas, to Europe and the Middle East, as well as Asia-Pacific. Our institutional business, which is a small footprint of our business, is fully focused in Europe alone.
TE: Expand more on how you help and support your clients.
IN: So let’s talk about the retail world in specific, as we’ve had significant growth on that side. What we have opted to do in the emerging markets is provide a global standard of service that is localised; that’s ensuring we get local legislation, local regulation, and local product and payment solutions as best as we can. We believe in a global offering on a local level, and ensuring that our teams are best-in-class across the globe. We’re a team of around 500 globally, and we have different business lines sitting in our centres of excellence. For example: our trading, front office team and risk management teams are all in London, where we’re closest to our liquidity providers (LPs) and most stringently regulated. In Cyprus we have a large part of our data teams and developers and have people of significant pedigree supporting that. What we do with our clients is guide them from the minute they have shown an interest in trading, to ensuring they have enough knowledge, experience, training, and access to information on the markets before they execute their first trade. And we also ensure that we have the best technology to support them in executing that trade, to make the process seamless. A lot of our investment in technology is in the user experience, ensuring it’s as seamless as possible, and to make it more accessible.
We’ve seen a transition in the last five years from retail clients in our industry moving towards investing in different and new asset classes. Investing has become a lifestyle, and crypto has helped open up people’s interests into that world. What has transpired is that companies similar to us are ensuring that clients have access to that world, in the same way they have access to their online banking, or their e-commerce platforms in any capacity.
TE: On your website you state that your “mission is to deliver financial opportunities to the world in progressive and emerging markets.” Would you be able to explain this further?
IN: A key driver for us is working alongside regulators. We were the first to be regulated in Kenya by their Capital Markets Authority. We were also the first to be regulated in Jordan by the Jordan Securities Commission, and one of the first to be regulated under new licensing laws by the UAE’s Securities and Commodities Authority. A key part of our vision is ensuring that we are working alongside the regulators. We are an e-commerce business that clients can access from any jurisdiction, but by working alongside regulators you ensure you are building strong foundations, and with a long-term view.
The long-term view that we’re feeding in, is that we are focused on driving financial literacy and financial education in all of these markets that we’re participating in. We have an internal mandate to ensure that we educate two million people by 2025 with the basics of financial literacy, financial planning, organisation and financial risk management as well. We’re heavily focused on building a whole ecosystem in these emerging markets, working alongside regulators, ensuring we are working in line with local regulatory laws and licenses, and building an ecosystem that will thrive for years to come.
In each market that we have our licenses in we tend to set up a lot of opportunities as well. We have 130 employees in Jordan, over 100 in Kenya, about 150 in the UAE, which gives you an idea of how heavily invested we are in the ecosystem on a local level.
When you are locally licensed, when you are physically present, it adds a huge element of credibility that comes with time, and gives a much deeper penetration into those markets, versus those who are targeting those markets from an e-commerce perspective. Being present in emerging markets, which differs from more mature markets, we believe that physical presence is still very important – they need to have that face-to-face interaction with you. We will look to continue to acquire new licenses as part of our expansion plans in new markets, which allows us to shape that market and provide credibility alongside the regulators.
TE: Are there plans to introduce other trading platforms in the near future?
IN: Without a doubt. Fintech is at the heart of what we do, and around 30-40% of our team are developers, which is about project mapping and planning what the clients desire. We are looking to launch our proprietary mobile app in Q1 2023. This is feeding into what I earlier mentioned, if you focus on the retail market, a multi-asset platform will allow us to cross-margin your account into all asset classes, be it local equities, global equities, currencies, commodities, cryptocurrencies and on one single platform, with the key driver being the user-experience. We’ve learnt a lot from the leading financial and social networking platforms, and have built these elements into our platform to ensure the client is able to seamlessly transfer from one app to another. This creates a very intelligent way of being smoothly guided through the different functions of the platform.
TE: Please explain Equiti’s market positioning– how does your company differ from other online brokers?
IN: Our key USP is the number of regulatory licenses we have on a global level, this has been a driver for us from day one. It allows us to have significant market depth, and work alongside regulators in shaping the industry. Anything the client wants to invest in the long-term, be it from an investing, or a trading perspective, we want to be the home of trading for them – that is the vision we have, and that’s what we’re building our technology to support in the future. We probably have around 30-40% of that built in-house, and over the next 24 months, this will reach 100% and we’ll be able to offer it to our clients globally.
So, in terms of positioning, from a retail perspective, it’s local, emerging markets. From a business-to-business perspective, it’s client relationships and client access: here we are very focused on customising our liquidity based on our clients’ trading behaviour, based on our clients’ requirements.
We have become leaders in the brokerage space over the last 5-6 years. I’d say we’re probably top seven in the world in that offering. We’re constantly focused on ensuring liquidity and technology is tailor made to our clients – that our offering is based on our clients’ needs, rather than expecting the client’s needs to fit in with our offering.
From a digital assets side – since we have good relationships with the regulators, and that credibility is the next step within the digital assets space – we’re ensuring that we can provide that focus and that experience in bridging the gap between digital assets and working in a credible regulated environment at the same time. That’s a key focus that we’re constantly driving forward in the digital assets space.
TE: What type of clients is Equiti aiming to attract, and where do you see the company in 3-5 years’ time?
IN: We want to speak to anyone who wants to trade. Whether they have $50 or $50m to trade, we have the technology, the solutions and the service offerings to be the global home of trading.
We aspire to be among the top five in the world in what we do, that’s in terms of trading volumes, and number of active clients. We will have a number of new licenses and have a significant geographic expansion, and, last but not least, we’ll be heavily involved in the digital assets space outside of just offering cryptocurrency CFDs. We are looking at digital asset exchanges, working alongside different governments across Africa and the Middle East in helping drive that forward, and integrating that technology in the day to day lives of SMEs and wider businesses.