With Facebook announcing its ballsy stock price of $38 yesterday and all eyes now on what will happen with the social network when it finally goes public today, a new trading platform in Hong Kong, 8 Securities, is seizing the moment to boost its own profile by offering customers US$200 of Facebook shares if they sign up to trade on 8 Securities’ trading platform in the next month.
The offer indirectly serves a couple of other purposes, too: it gives non-U.S. citizens a relatively easy crack at a bit of stock in the most valuable tech IPO ever, and it raises Facebook’s Asia profile even further as people continue to wonder how Facebook might finally address one of the biggest markets in the world, China.
Mikaal Abdulla, the CEO of 8 Securities (a TC Disrupt Beijing Finalist in October 2011), says it will work like this: An individual opens an investing account for 8 Securities’ trading platform, for a minimum of HK$10,000 ($1,290). His company will then purchase Facebook stock on the open market and deposit directly into that customer’s account. “Once a customer’s account is opened, we will purchase the stock on a rolling and daily basis. The customer need not worry as we will always purchase at least $200 USD of stock and round up for them.”
Making U.S. stocks more accessible to non-U.S. investors, specifically in Asia, is what 8 Securities is about: ”Until now, access to the US stock market has not been widely accessible to individual investors across Asia,” Abdulla said in the release announcing the offer. “Old technology, high pricing and poor local customer service has made US trading difficult for investors.” The company offers 15,000 U.S.- and Hong Kong-listed stocks from a single account and charges a US$8.88 flat fee per U.S. trade with no other fees.
Abdulla tells me that the most active stocks so far on its platform have been Apple, Google and Sina. “I am certain Facebook will take the top spot today,” he says. The company will be running the Facebook promotion for the next month, starting today.
8 Securities, founded by ex-E*TRADE employees, has only been live for the last three weeks, so this will be a profile-raising exercise for the company, which otherwise says it promotes itself exclusively via social and online in Asia. Before launch, 8 Securities had raised $8 million from VCs Velocity Capital in the Netherlands and Full Global in Hong Kong. On the back of “very strong” early results — Abdulla notes that Alexa data puts 8 Securities already as the most-visited brokerage in Hong Kong (there are over 150 there) — the pair of VCs have just invested an additional round of $1.5 million in the company, Abdulla tells me. He says the top geographies for account opening is Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Singapore.
The funding will be used to expand the company’s operations further in Asia, specifically Mainland China and Japan, he says. Not a precursor, necessarily, to Facebook itself expanding in these markets, but definitely one way its profile will rise.
In its latest S-1, Facebook noted that it had 230 million monthly active users in Asia. It notes that in countries like Japan and South Korea it has less than 15 percent of the market.
Perhaps more significantly, it has no official market share in the biggest market of all, China, where it is banned from official use — although there have been workarounds created using private networks. Some speculate that when Facebook finally does something in China it might be via an acquisition rather than an organic operation. Among the local social networks, RenRen currently has a market valuation of $2.4 billion and Tencent has one of $54.3 billion, and some believe that could make RenRen a target.