“Mind The Gap!” – The life and times of a man on the move Episode 58

AFX once again shows its true colors, and by contrast, I head to Inverness, Scotland, one of the most magnificent places I have ever been, and guess what? FinTech is coming!

In this weekly series, I look back on what stood out, what was bemusing, amusing and interesting during my weekly travels, interesting findings within the FX industry and interaction with an ever-shrinking big wide world. This is purely observational and for your enjoyment.

Monday: There is no smoke without fire!

This week began with a torrent of email and several messages signalling what may well be the end of the road as we know it for AFX Group, with some last minute intelligence relating to the company’s strife coming to light.

Whilst this will certainly be of great interest to a number of executives across the retail FX brokerage business, especially those who were led to believe that AFX Group was a genuine liquidity provider and B2B partner, subsequently discovering that it is a B book brokerage that was profit sharing to the extent of being instrumental in the demise of Gallant Capital Markets, with inability to withdraw client capital ensuing.

AFX Group has recently moved to this office in Limassol Cyprus. I expect that is likely to carry on, but without its license, onboarding clients offshore.

Yes, FinanceFeeds had initially reported the entirety of the firm’s duplicity, and had gained a huge amount of support from respected industry executives for doing so, however our investigations were met with some distinct resistance, and this week’s resistance verged on desperation.

One of the firm’s marketing personnel launched into a tirade of unprofessional abuse, in writing, including several threats, some of which would be illegal if carried out, whilst during the same day, many ex-employees and customers relayed their experiences.

I have already made my opinion very clear as to what is likely to happen, however it is absolutely clear to me that what is about to unfold is far larger than it had first appeared, the black hole being gigantic, thus we are witnessing the largest and most serious example of duplicity since the demise of Fortress Prime a few years ago.

On one hand, this is very unfortunate and I have a great deal of sympathy for brokerages which entrusted AFX Group with their client money, however on the other hand, the cleaning up of the FX industry’s retail sector relies on putting an end to practice such as this.

Yes, they may well go offshore and carry on, but at least the proper, regulated FX world in good quality jurisdictions, led by proper executives who work extremely hard to further the cause of our industry, will be rid of a millstone around their necks.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: The incredible north

Until this week, I had never been to Scotland before. It was always quite apparent from having met several people during my career and travels who either hail from Scotland or have spent time there, that Britain’s northernmost nation has faced tremendous challenges both economically and socially, with statistics involving lack of employment, poverty, low life expectancy and serious long term social problems.

Norse-influenced architecture houses ultra-modern mindset and refined society

That may well be the case within Scotland’s most populous centers of Glasgow and surrounding areas and southern towns such as Dumfries or Dundee, however by continuing northward, past the majority of Scotland’s urban centers, things are quite considerably different to the point where no similarity can be drawn.

I spent a few days this week in Inverness, which is one of the most magnificent places I have ever been to in my whole life – and I do over 450,000KM per year having had the privilege of getting to know some of the world’s wonders very well indeed.

By absolute contrast to the statistical and stereotypical images of Scotland’s society and structure, Inverness, a small, affluent and highly cultured city on the north eastern edge of Scotland’s Highlands, is an immaculate, classy, beautiful city with some of the highest quality of living in Western Europe.

Having more in common with Scandinavia than with its compatriot cities a long way south, Inverness has a tremendously healthy lifestyle, clear water everywhere you look, the legendary Loch Ness just less than 12 miles away, fresh food – again resembling Scandinavian cuisine with fresh local salmon, haddock, fruits and berries, and venison – and a highly educated and sophisticated population.

That particular region of Scotland is very close to the South West coast of Norway, and it shows. It may well be remote in terms of geography, but it is seriously modern, very urbane, and the infrastructure is the best that I have seen outside of Central London.

Monster economy: Inverness had second greatest economic growth in the United Kingdom, with an increase of 86% in 10 years

Immaculate homes and gardens, fine restaurants, high levels of cultural sophistication and a massive local economy fueled (pardon the pun) by a well established North Sea oil industry and a high end tourist business is notable and quite a differentiating factor.

So what about technology? Well, believe it or not, Inverness is becoming a city of interest for FinTech entrepreneurs.

This year will attract a large international delegation with FinTech Scotland working closely with Scottish Development International and the Department for International Trade as Scotland’s efforts to pave the way toward a modern economy focus on Inverness as the jewel in its crown.

Last week, FinTech Scotland confirmed that many European fintech hubs will be in attendance at one of the country’s largest and most important financial technology delegations yet, and that senior executives from the US and Asia will also be supporting the initiative.

Graham Hatton, Team Leader for Inward Investment at Scottish Development International said: “International interest in Scotland’s Fintech community has never been higher. In the 12 months following last year’s Fintech festival, firms from London, Hong Kong and California have established operations in Scotland to support their growth, attracted largely by a domestic workforce with a deep understanding of Financial Services and expertise in areas including Data and Artificial Intelligence.”

So who would live in Inverness? Well, quite simply, pretty much anyone with an interest in high quality living. It is just one and a half hours flight from London – yes, it is over 1,000km as it is in the far north, but an efficient airport and regular connections make it a very easy access point from the South of England – and even those with the most discerning tastes would likely find Inverness to be quite an exquisite place to operate.

One of the most spectacular towns in the world. Let’s see FinTech grow here, the potential is exponential.

Rather uniquely, something very important stood out, which marked it out as a place of outstanding quality, that being the attention to detail and high level of humility within the local populace.

I suppose given an incredible landscape, clear lakes, a beautiful, wealthy city, great food, and a high level of intellectual capital, people are going to be pretty nice to each other, however in and around Inverness, politeness, courtesy and kindness stood out.

On a trip from Cromarty on the Black Isle back into Inverness, a Ford Transit minibus approached me, and asked if I needed a shuttle service. The service was provided by a private company, however this was sponsored by the local authorities and the driver was allocated to specific tourist routes.

I was given a short tour of the Black Isle’s coast, which is home to over 200 dolphins and several sea lions, before being courteously delivered to destination. The cost of this. Absolutely nothing.

I tried to pay a tip, and the driver would not accept. This is absolutely how we should be operating in the FX industry. It is perhaps something that can be looked upon as a ‘loss leader’ in that for the small charge which may have been applied to that journey, I would have perhaps forgotten the name of the tour company. However, I will remember the name of the company and the driver himself, because of this apparent act of assistance without want.

It’s a haggis, Jim, but not as we know it!

The human touch is probably the best type of marketing anyone can offer. It affords a sense of genuine persona to one’s day, and let’s face it, we all need that – especially when traders are often alone with their platform and have to have a remote relationship with their IB or broker, so perhaps it is time to give one or two small services away, in order to keep a customer for life, and best of all, to put a smile on their face just as was on mine when I stepped out of that minibus onto the green and pleasant grass of northern Scotland.

I’ll be back for sure. What a place!

Wishing you all a super week ahead!




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