When Robinhood raised its $3 million seed round in 2013, it was a couple of months old, with huge ambitions of democratizing securities access to the underserved and unserved. Robinhood has since taken the world by storm and grown to serve more than 30 million users with its zero-commission trading.
In the past, we've seen such growth trickle down to other regions across the world, inspiring similar businesses. Robinhood is no exception. Several platforms have sprung forth to bring stock trading opportunities in their respective markets. In Nigeria, at least four platforms offer both local and foreign stocks to individuals. Chaka is one such platform. Today, it is announcing the close of its $1.5 million pre-seed round to power digital investments for individuals and businesses.
The pre-seed round was led by Breyer Capital, while 4DX Ventures, Golden Palm Investments, Future Africa, Seedstars, and Musha Ventures participated. It's the second joint deal for 4DX Ventures and Breyer Capital in the space of two weeks; the first was in Egyptian social e-commerce platform Taager.
It is a well-known fact that even before Robinhood, the average American actively participated in stock trading. According to a survey by Gallup, about 60% of Americans owned some form of stock in 2000; that number was down to 55% in 2020. This was partly due to the global financial crisis that occurred in 2008.
The crash also affected the Nigerian capital market and because Nigerians lost a lot of money during that period, stock trading is mostly frowned upon by most of the public. Yet for the average Nigerian interested, participating in trading local stocks is hard -- and practically impossible for foreign ones.
Tosin Osibodu, while in the U.S., recognised this problem and returned to Nigeria to start Chaka, officially launching the company in 2019. According to Osibodu, Chaka wanted to create opportunities for Nigerians to invest in dollar assets and at the same time allow foreigners to invest in Nigerian assets.
"If there's more demand in the market, over time, we expect there'll be more supply. If you fast-forward over a long period of time, we expect that our local capital markets will continue to grow," he said to TechCrunch in an interview. "We will provide borderless digital access to multiple solutions, and so it's not just about Nigerians investing in the market, it's about making the markets accessible for people locally and globally."
For the most part, Chaka has executed on one front. The platform gives Nigerians access to more than 10,000 stocks and ETFs trading on local and foreign capital markets. The CEO maintains that the platform has levelled entry barriers for borderless investments in Nigeria by providing customers with compliant access to the capital market.
"The thing about markets is that they have demand and supply with barriers to entry. We're committed to lowering those barriers in local markets and by lowering barriers to investing for retail, more people will come to the market. In fact, more people came into the Nigerian stock market through us last year than any other broker. It's like a demand-supply flywheel," the CEO added.
Chaka's local assets are registered with the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), Central Securities Clearing System (CSCS) and regulated by the Securities Exchange Commission of Nigeria (SEC). Dollar assets, on the other hand, are regulated by the U.S. FINRA and the U.S. SEC.
In April this year, digital investment platforms were caught in the crosshairs with Nigeria's SEC. The regulator declared their activities illegal and warned capital market operators working with them to renege on providing brokerage services for foreign securities. Unlike Robinhood, which offers online brokerages, Nigerian investment platforms do not. Chaka, for instance, partners with Citi Investment Capital in Nigeria and DriveWealth LLC in the U.S. to issue stocks and securities.
According to Nigeria's SEC, the bottom line was to bring the activities of these platforms under its purview as part of its efforts to safeguard the investing public. Although Osibodu claims Chaka had always engaged the SEC since the company was formed in 2019, it did not seem that way last December when the regulator singled out the two-year-old company for "selling and advertising stocks."
The event set the precedence for the regulator's all-out attack on other digital investment platforms, giving Chaka enough time to engage and conclude talks in about half a year. And last month, Chaka acquired the first fintech license issued by the SEC, making it the only investment platform operating as a digital sub-broker.
"When we launched, we kept SEC in the loop. But now, over the last six months, we've engaged with them, showed them our business models, the benefits, the markets. Now we're proud to have SEC's first fintech license. We believe that the most important thing is that the market has clarity and understands the regulations required to be registered. And we're thrilled to have broken new ground and cleared up what it takes to be able to offer services in the market," Osibodu said.
With the new license, the company can swiftly focus on what lies ahead. Osibodu says the license expands the scope of what Chaka can achieve. He asserts that Chaka can power multiple brokers and provide access to different digital investment offerings in addition to being a digital sub-broker.
Image Credits: Chaka
Asides from Chaka's traditional stock trading app for retail investors, it also offers Chaka SDK, which allows asset managers and financial institutions to offer digital investments and Chaka for Business for direct business onboarding and trading tools for institutional investors.
Jim Breyer of Breyer Capital, commenting on the investment said, "We are proud to combine efforts with a company that is levelling the investment playing field for Nigerians [and Africans at large]. We're confident in the value Chaka provides through its digital tools, and we look forward to playing our part in supporting Chaka’s team on their mission to drive borderless investments in Africa."
Osibodu says the company will use its pre-seed investment to expand footprints to Ghana and other West African markets. Improving its technology and services and securing partnerships with major financial institutions, including apex ones, is also a priority.
"As we advance, I think something that we're just very focused on is how do we continually reduce access barriers, and we are proud of the initiatives that we've brought and are to come. Watch this space for more partnerships, even with apex institutions in our markets as well."