HFC’s Stefan Nilsson checked in with Omar Taheri in Singapore to talk about his new business venture. Spark Plus provides listed companies with access to investors in the Asia-Pacific region.
You’ve honed your skills working for a couple of firms in the alternative investment industry in Singapore over a number of years. What made you recently start your own business?
I decided to start my own venture as I saw it much more rewarding from an intellectual standpoint than working for someone else. I decided to launch due to changes in regulatory environment namely MiFID2. I saw that the way corporate access is consumed was changing in Europe and was having spillover effects into Asia as well. I always had a passion for doing something on my own as I think running one’s own business is a fast-tracked MBA.
Your firm, Spark Plus, provides listed companies access to investors in the Asia-Pacific region through roadshows and events. Tell us about what you do and how you do it.
Essentially we choose small-mid cap companies that have very poor coverage and a very domestic shareholder register and bring these companies to Singapore and Hong Kong to do non-deal roadshows for them. We try and focus the investor base to family offices and funds that can take an exposure to a small cap company. The format that we generally do for a roadshow is to host a group luncheon with investors and a series of one-on-one meetings.
With regulatory changes happening globally and new restrictions impacting both brokers and their fund manager clients, you seem to have launched a very timely service. Do you think that this shift in how corporate access is done will continue to create opportunities for new entrants such as Spark Plus?
Most definitely. We are seeing other industry participants such as Smartkarma, WeConvene and other independent corporate access providers setting up. I do think that the traditional brokerage model will be broken into a variety of different pieces. Banks are starting to talk to us as well trying to understand our model. Currently, corporate access is a cost centre to a bank and what we are doing has made it into a profitable model, as we charge the corporations for taking care of all their roadshow activities. We will definitely see big buy-side firms building their own corporate access teams internally, independent corporate access/IR firms being set up and independent research firms continuing to set up. We realise that small- and mid-caps will be the ones that will get hurt the most in terms of coverage and these are the type of companies that need the most help in their investor outreach.
You seem to work with listed companies from a number of different industries and countries. What kind of firms, industries and opportunities are currently of interest to your fund managers and other investors that are part of your roadshows and events?
With our fund management community, we have had a lot of interest in certain sectors such as technology, healthcare and mining. Lately, we have received several requests to bring small- to mid-cap Japanese companies to Singapore and Hong Kong given the recent interest from activist funds. We also get constant requests for firms that have exposure to the electronic vehicle space. So, we have brought lithium, cobalt and graphene companies to our investor base. Most of the companies we roadshow are sub $500 million in market cap and are mainly from Australia. But we are starting to diversify our corporates and they are now coming from Germany, New Zealand, Japan and China.
You currently run events in Singapore and Hong Kong. Do you have plans to expand to more locations?
Yes. Currently, we conduct our non-deal roadshows in Singapore and Hong Kong. We are looking to do the same in Australia. The obvious expansion plans seem to be looking at the UK and Japan as the next few markets to look at.
If you had not worked in finance, what would you have been doing for a living?
I would most likely have taken a career in the casino industry. I had the opportunity to be a junket for a large casino chain but thought I didn’t want to disappoint my parents too much so decided to get into finance instead.