Octavian Patrascu Alternative Investments

Why Millennials are choosing alternative investment routes

16.12.2019   |  Capital Market  |  Fintech  |  News  |  Tech

It used to be the case that one would have some money, and they would go to an advisor who would then, in turn, research different markets and make a recommendation. That person would charge their client a fee for managing the money and a success fee should the placement of funds generate a profit. While the former would vary from, generally, 0.5% to 2% (with the rule being that you pay less when you place more money), the latter could go to up to 20% of your profits. And while, in the old days, one would pay for the work the advisor does behind the scenes to research and get top-notch information in a market, the alternatives nowadays no longer justify paying such high prices to place one’s money. The advisor is slowly being replaced by a user’s own research, online investment management companies, or even Artificial Intelligence.

The price for investing your money has also gone dramatically down, with the rise of more and more digital companies using advanced software to analyse data and generate attractive portfolios. 

Stock market investments are also an attractive alternative. However, without experience in the field or a fee-hungry advisor, this can prove to be a problematic choice. The issue is two-fold: on the one side, picking the stocks to “bet” on can be extremely difficult, as it takes serious market research to identify the potential long-term champions; and then, of course, there is the approach that some companies might skyrocket when they are launching new products or tapping into a new market. However, this comes with significant risk, as overnight success is rare, and massive failures have been generating headlines since before we can remember.

One could think that actively investing one's own money is a bold move, but the old-fashioned “keep your money in the bank” option is now a money-losing option.

It’s been 12 years since the modern financial sector started to show its weaknesses, and 11 since the sequence of events that started with Lehman Brothers collapsing nearly destroyed the world economy. The new reality is one of lack of trust in the banks from the younger generation, and of negative interest rates. Yes, in many countries it actually costs you money to have banks take your placements. 

As such, it is no wonder that it actually makes sense to find alternative ways to protect and expand one’s wealth. However, there is one significant risk that one should always consider: while not being tied to big institutions such as banks is what has made these alternatives attractive to younger generations in the first place, the downside to that is that, if anything were to happen to them, they will not have an entity behind them to bail them out, which poses an increased risk to customers. As such, research and caution are highly desirable.

Over the last 2-3 years, the shared economy model, championed by the likes of Uber, has been adopted in more and more industries, including the financial one.

More and more platforms are offering the option for people to create portfolios using small amounts of money, relying on the power of the crowd to create strength when put together.

So, here are a few of the options that are out there, and a bit on how they work:

  • FinTech is always an exciting field. Have a look at players such as Robinhood and Sofi.com, which offer lending, mortgages and investment to categories of people who would not always qualify for support from a traditional bank.
  • Peer-to-peer lending (P2P) uses marketplaces or platforms to match borrowers (people) lenders (also people) - see Mintos, Grupeer, Peerberry, Lendermarket. Those interested can “buy” a share of a loan on the platforms.
  • Startups: new and exciting startups are in the news almost daily. Two of the ones that have piqued my interest are forgeglobal.com, seedrs.com. If you have a more serious amount of money to invest, getting “in on the action” at ground level can be incredibly rewarding, both in terms of supporting an entrepreneur who’s just starting out, as well as potentially getting a significant return for your investment. But, as with everything, make sure you do your due diligence and ample research in the space you are about to invest in.
  • If you want to go industry-specific, there are now marketplaces for investments in real estate. Don’t have enough money to buy and flip a piece of real estate? That’s okay. You can pair up with other investors, crowdfund and get involved that way. Crowd Estate, for example, promises 17% annual returns. 

Please note that I am an investor in some of the companies I have mentioned in this article. This article is not meant to provide investment advice, it is merely an investor’s perspective on alternative investments available. Capital at risk.

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Attracting investors: Romania versus The World

01.11.2019   |  Capital Market  |  Fintech  |  News

Over the last decade, I've built my professional life as an investor, focusing on 3 key areas: financial services, real estate and tech startups. I’ve participated in the setup and development of two major fintechs, and after those two successful exits I’m now directing my resources into building a new enterprise in this area – the Key Way group. 

I've started, participated in and developed companies in Romania, as well as Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Germany, the UK, Mexico, Dubai and South East Asia. I'm constantly looking for new segments, new markets and new opportunities, and therefore I interact regularly with the regulator institutions and official agencies in various countries and  markets. 

The most recent example is the GCC area (Gulf Cooperation Council - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia).  I  started to research opportunities in that area at the end of 2018 -  more specifically, the United Arab Emirates, which are establishing themselves as one of the most dynamic markets in the world.

The whole experience of working with the official institutions there was a great example of how to attract and encourage investors! ADGM, the Abu Dhabi Global Markets regulator, was established quite recently and I was absolutely impressed with their professionalism.

To start off, I researched the local market regulators online. The information was clear and easily available: I contacted them online, via their website and LinkedIn accounts. They responded promptly, and in only a few days, we set up a series of meetings with the financial markets regulators in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai!

The ADGM gave me full support and very clear, detailed information on what and how I need to do to obtain a trading licence in financial services in the UAE. I met with representatives from both the ADGM registration department (where all new businesses have to register before they acquire a licence for online trading) and from the FSRA (Financial Services Regulatory Authority).

They were very clear on the procedure, steps to follow and criteria we need to meet, which is a fantastic help for an investor on a new, highly regulated financial market.

In a few days I started the onboarding procedure - everything happens online, everything is digital, everything is set up for maximum ease and transparency.

They set investors up for success, but they make sure they vet them thoroughly as well! A "user friendly" approach does not mean lower standards, quite the opposite - they made sure I meet all commercial and business criteria, they assessed my financial, capital and business status and previous experience, and checked references from markets in which I operated previously. 

We went through a process of  very rigorous assessment and due diligence, and several meetings where I detailed our business plan and long term vision. Professional but friendly - you feel welcome, encouraged and supported as an investor. 

Furthermore, their “enthusiasm”, or appetite for new business, equaled mine! They’re happy to welcome new businesses, they work hard to attract them and to set them up for success. I was very impressed that they genuinely appreciate the fact that investors, however big or small, choose their market to set up a company. 

I’d love to see this same level of energy, hard work and appetite for business in my home country, Romania.

While other jurisdictions welcome investors and work hard to create the framework for development and success, I often feel that the Romanian regulators, for financial markets and not only, start from a default position of suspicion or, at best, indifference. Investors are regarded with thinly veiled (if at all veiled!) suspicion and distrust and sometimes downright hostility, you almost feel guilty or embarrassed to be successful financially. 

I hope to see this mentality change in Romania, because I, as well as most Romanian entrepreneurs I know, really want to make our country a top choice for investments,  not just in outsourcing and services. We want to make Romania known for its know how and creativity.

I think Romanian regulators  should remember that their whole purpose of existence is to enable business, not hinder it. And as investors, especially once we see best practices from other jurisdictions, we need to remind them of this reality.

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10 interesting Startups in Romania this year

23.10.2019   |  Fintech
According to a report by McKinsey, globally, over 12,000 Fintech startups are competing with banks for up to $1 trillion in profits of which up to 60% are at risk, in the following five retail businesses: consumer finance, mortgages, small-business lending, retail payments, and wealth management. As an investor, I’m focused on tech, fintech and real estate startups. These areas have seen a huge wave of disruption, transformation, and evolution, and the tide is still high. My own home country, Romania, is a hotspot for tech and fintech innovation, and I keep a close eye on what’s going on in this market. Though it’s still in an early stage compared to nearby countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic or Hungary, the Romanian fintech industry is poised to take off as demand for fintech solutions and digital banking increases. Here are a few exciting startups that caught my eye recently. Some of them are in startup accelerators, some of them have already gone through various rounds of investment, but all of them have one thing in common: they provide innovative, agile solutions for needs and issues that traditional companies have ignored for too long.
  1. Fintech OS - B2B services and TaaS enabling automation for financial services. The fact that this is a Romanian company that has achieved such rapid growth proves that (to paraphrase) geography is not destiny. Their experience is inspiring.
  2. Fagura - P2P Lending. Although Fagura is actually coming from Moldova, they are present in Romania. This is a friendly peer-to-peer platform, modelled on UK similar companies. I think it has good potential for success.
  3. Smart dreamers – a platform for recruitment marketing automation, they’re already in the UK, the US, and Singapore, with enterprise-ready software that helps companies reach and engage with potential candidates online.
  4. Medjobs – this is a platform for recruitment and jobs in the healthcare sector. I like their focus and the fact that they’ve honed in on this very specific opportunity, as it is a very dynamic niche and was generally very fragmented.
  5. Typing DNA – such an original idea! They’ve developed an app for typing biometrics authentication – recognizing people from the way they type, this is an AI-based solution for risk-based authentication and fraud prevention.
  6. Competitors.app – a very useful and comprehensive app for monitoring competitors’ marketing activity across online channels.
  7. Finqware – this was badly needed in Romania, since most companies and people have several bank accounts and they need a centralized dashboard for their finances.
  8. Keez – A user-friendly alternative to accounting, payroll, and ERP software.
  9. Teleport HQ - An AI powered platform and suite of open source tools which simplifies UI building and adds realtime optimisations by analysing user's intentions.
  10. Cyscale - a Multi-Cloud Platform, for all major providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft, which handles Cloud Native Security, Threat management and Secure Cloud Design.
Do you know of any other Romanian Startups that are worth mentioning here? Leave a comment - or, if you are an entrepreneur launching your startup, you can always contact me and let's see if there's an opportunity of working together!  
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