In a circular released by Nigeria's capital market regulator SEC today, investment platforms providing access to foreign securities might be treading on dangerous grounds.
According to the SEC regulations that have just been brought to light, these platforms are trading foreign securities not registered in the country and have been warned to stop doing so. Capital market operators in partnership with them have also been warned to renege on providing brokerage services for foreign securities.
Over the past three years, Robinhood-esque platforms like Bamboo, Trove, Chaka and Rise have sprung forth in the Nigerian fintech space. They offer Nigerians access to stocks, bonds and other securities in both local and international markets. These platforms have grown in popularity among the middle class and provide a haven to protect earnings from naira devaluations.
That said, there's a vast difference in how they operate when compared to Robinhood. In addition to being a trading app, Robinhood offers online brokerages (introducing and clearing) and also zero commission trading. Nigerian investment platforms do not, and while any trading platform can get a brokerage license in the U.S., it can be a Herculean task to obtain one in Nigeria. This is where capital market operators (local and foreign brokerage firms in this case) come into play, forming strategic partnerships with these companies so Nigerians can access both local and foreign fractional securities.
After a series of regulatory onslaught from different government bodies on tech startups last year, the SEC followed suit in December. It singled out Chaka, one of the platforms and accused it of selling and advertising stocks. The regulator's definition of the alleged offence was that Chaka "engaged in investment activities, including providing a platform for purchasing shares in foreign companies such as Google, Amazon, and Alibaba, outside the Commission’s regulatory purview and without requisite registration."
The company's CEO, Tosin Osibodu, denied any wrongdoing, and since the turn of the year, not much has been heard from the SEC regarding this matter until the release of today's circular. Unsurprisingly, the regulator continued from where it left off, only this time, all investment platforms including brokerage firms -- not just Chaka -- are involved. SEC's subtle directive is to stop selling, issuing or offering for sale any foreign securities not listed on any exchange registered in Nigeria.
What this inherently means from now on is that investment platforms will have their work cut out and might only offer individuals access to only local stocks and securities. This affects the business models of these startups. And the core value they provide, which is to help Nigerians store monetary value and hedge against naira devaluation is at the threat of being wiped out.
However, following its scuffle with the SEC, Chaka announced last month that it has liaised with the regulator to obtain a newly created license to offer these services which may exempt the company from this new regulatory threat. It's a path other investment platforms might need to take as well to bring their activities under the SEC's purview.
Here's the information released by the regulator as seen on its website:
The attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the Commission) has been drawn to the existence of several providers of online investment and trading platforms which purportedly facilitate direct access of the investing public in the Federal Republic of Nigeria to securities of foreign companies listed on Securities Exchanges registered in other jurisdictions. These platforms also claim to be operating in partnership with Capital Market operators (CMOs) registered with the Commission.
The Commission categorically states that by the provisions of Sections 67-70 of the Investments and Securities Act (ISA), 2007 and Rules 414 & 415 of the SEC Rules and Regulations, only foreign securities listed on any Exchange registered in Nigeria may be issued, sold or offered for sale or subscription to the Nigerian public. Accordingly, CMOs who work in concert with the referenced online platforms are hereby notified of the Commission’s position and advised to desist henceforth.
The Commission enjoins the investing public to seek clarification as may be required via its established channels of communication on investment products advertised through conventional or online mediums.
This is a developing story. More to follow...