CEO of PrimaryBid: “Coronavirus exacerbated the problem we’re trying to fix.”

By Aisling Finn on Monday 3 August 2020

Editor's PickFeaturesSavings and Investment

Anand Sambasivan tells AltFi of his frustration at the industry and how his team has grown threefold under lockdown.

CEO of PrimaryBid: “Coronavirus exacerbated the problem we’re trying to fix.”
Image source: Anand Sambasivan/PrimaryBid.

As with its peers, investment platform PrimaryBid has experienced steady growth under lockdown as more and more people turn to investing to make a few extra bob as the economic downturn looms.

Anand Sambasivan founded PrimaryBid back in January 2016 after seeing a gap in the market for retail investors to buy discounted equity offerings of publicly listed companies.

PrimaryBid now has allowed over 500,000 retail investors to take part in more than 75 deals, with the fintech also partnering with the London Stock Exchange to expand its connection between everyday investors and public companies.

We caught up with Sambasivan (over the phone) to chat about how the PrimaryBid way of life might have changed under lockdown.

Thriving not just surviving

Just like fellow trading platforms Robinhood, Revolut and Freetrade, PrimaryBid has seen a jump in activity under lockdown.

“I don’t like talking about this having been an opportunity for us, as so many people from my team have been affected by coronavirus,” Sambasivan told AltFi.

“We’re incredibly empathetic to what’s happening around us, but the fact that we are accelerating the adoption of our business, is good for us but there is definitely a wider sense of empathy required,” he added.

Rather than dampen its efforts, “coronavirus has exacerbated the problem we’re trying to fix and really shone a light to it.”

The CEO and co-founder added that throughout the pandemic, PrimaryBid has seen the adoption of its business accelerate.

Sambasivan told AltFi: “We’re doing deals everywhere and we are breaking into the highest levels of the corporate market where, historically, we were doing deals in a much smaller space.”

Upward trend

Early on in the pandemic, like many others, PrimaryBid saw a flurry of activity, but not in the way many might expect.

Rather than retail investors dashing to sell off their shares, they were doing the opposite.

Sambasivan told AltFi: “In March this year, suddenly retail investor volumes in the FTSE was at about 20 per cent.”

“And of that 20 per cent, 80 per cent of that was for ‘buy’ orders. So, while other investors were trying to sell off as much as they could, retail investors were actively supporting companies, when the other investors didn’t.”

Sambasivan points to grocery delivery service Ocado’s £1bn raise, in which PrimaryBid helped its retail investors take part in a fundraise that they previously would have been excluded from.

Open Letter

Back in April, roughly a month after lockdown first began, Sambasivan helped to craft an open letter to the bosses of listed companies urging them to let retail investors take part in new fundraises.

“We were frustrated because we were seeing big companies raising capital quickly and going straight to institutions and institutional shareholders meaning that the smaller investors were just ignored and remained a bit of an afterthought,” he told AltFi.

“We had the exact product that would have dovetailed perfectly with the institutional offering, but we just weren’t getting recognised.”

The letter aimed to highlight the demand to involve retail investors in coronavirus-related cash raises that they once would have been excluded from.

To date, the letter has had thousands of signatures from ordinary investors and “captains of industry new and old,” such as Peter Hargreaves, founder of private investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown, and Adam Dodds, CEO of Freetrade.

“We left the signup open and people in the general public began to not just sign their names but comment too,” Sambasivan told AltFi.

“In moments when I just needed a helping hand, I would take a look at the comments and realise that we are actually doing something that genuinely matters to people and there’s a conviction behind it. Sometimes you can lose sight of the goal, but I use the letter as my North Star, and it helps.”

Strong foundations

The company has not only been growing its business but its employee numbers too.

Under lockdown PrimaryBid has tripled its staff numbers, now having 60 employees, and Sambasivan told AltFi: “I always make sure I reach out to a new joiner directly and give them a quick call to welcome them into the team.”

Despite his initial concerns, Sambasivan tells me he was “pleasantly surprised at how well the team adapted to remote working and continued to collaborate.”

“We have an agile working culture so moving to remote working wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.”

It’s this hands-on approach that the CEO credits to a lot of his company’s successes throughout the lockdown.

Looking to the future

When asked what’s next for PrimaryBid, Sambasivan says that “growing the business, keeping our companies happy and fitting into our ecosystem is what makes me excited.”

The fintech is also planning on expanding into Europe, starting with France following a partnership with Euronext, which Sambasivan says “is a similar commercial agreement to what we have with the London Stock Exchange.

Through the Euronext partnership, the investment platform will also launch in nine other countries across continental Europe.

Sambasivan also teased the launch of new products, like its recent launch of Investment Trusts, with the CEO hinting that there could be much more of this to come.

Despite the big expansion plans, Sambasivan remained stum on the prospect of an upcoming funding round.

Last month it was reported that the London Stock Exchange Group was reportedly in advanced talks with PrimaryBid to acquire an equity stake in the fintech, although the CEO declined to talk about this.

Whatever the outcome, Sambasivan and his team are not just surviving, but thriving under lockdown, poised to continue their mission of disrupting the slow-to-change world of retail investing.

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