Can you briefly introduce CiviQuo?
CiviQuo is the world’s first residency and citizenship by investment e-marketplace. The platform brings together a large selection of programmes, licensed agents, and intermediaries from around the world, enabling each to showcase their offering in a very simple, transparent, and straightforward manner. Individuals interested in RCBI programmes do not need to browse through many different sites to find relevant information, but can use CiviQuo as a resource to find information on programmes and service providers. A key feature of CiviQuo is that service providers who feature on the website need to disclose the professional fees they will be charging. Clients can also rate the service provider they’ve used. The idea behind all this is to introduce a new transparent formula that will ease the process for our clients, and transform the way agents, and the industry at large, market themselves.
How did CiviQuo come to be and who’s behind the project?
I have spent almost five years working in the investment migration industry, and at one point, I got the idea to create something similar to what booking.com is for the hotel industry, for the investment migration industry. The investment migration industry has traditionally followed a very conservative marketing approach, with professional advisers, intermediaries, and introducers playing a key role in acquiring new clients. Thus far, performance marketing has not really been utilised in this industry, but I believe it is the future. I pitched the idea to my long-time business partner and co-founder, Ryan Darmanin, and together we developed the concept. Just as booking. com has changed the way we pick hotels, flights, and holidays to destinations worldwide, CiviQuo now aims to help clients source information and connect them with different service providers.
How exactly do you connect service providers and clients, and how do you approach the area of KYC and due diligence?
Once a client has selected a programme from the website, he or she will be able to view the different service providers and their prices. In the next stage, the applicant can then select a service provider. This stage is key, because clients are expected to input basic details which will allow service providers to undertake a good level of due diligence. We are aware that every agent will have its own customer acceptance policy, while the level of due diligence that is undertaken could also vary by jurisdiction. We have developed a standardised model for service providers to work with, and have also gone the extra mile by providing them the tools to be able to effectively undertake due diligence. Exiger’s DDIQ is a built-in feature of the website, and service providers can either use their own subscription to access it, or use it on a pay-per-use basis. Agents that usually use another company’s tools can also do so, but they need to confirm that they are assuming the responsibility for it. Once the applicant has submitted all the information, the service provider receives the details and can choose whether to accept the client or not. Basically, we are bringing the client straight through the service provider’s front door.
What pricing structure and revenue model have you adopted and who has signed up to your platform so far?
We work with two types of plans. The first package is a free listing; however, service providers can only be listed for two programmes, and that’s also where our highest commission is being applied. The other option is a subscription- based model. This means that our clients pay a monthly fee, but the revenue share will be lower. I’ll give you an example. For the Malta Individual Investor Programme, the highest commission is 35%, which can go down to as much as 17.5% for a subscription-based plan. Some of the biggest international names have already joined the platform. We only launched it a few months ago, and so far, we have a portfolio of 20 programmes and 26 agents, not to mention that a number of companies are currently finalising their documentation and will join us shortly.
High-net-worth individuals are very private people. Do you believe they would be willing to rate their service provider on an internet platform?
I am sure there are some who don’t have a problem with that but yes, you are right, others might not want to share that information. That’s also why we decided to include the option of reviewing anonymously. In fact, anonymity is preserved even on some of the most established and successful platforms, like eBay. While some say customer reviews lack credibility if they are anonymous, we can guarantee that the accounts are real. On CiviQuo, it works like this: an agent sends a request to a client, asking to rate its services; a client receives that request and makes a decision on whether he or she wants to contribute. If the answer is yes, he or she leaves a detailed feedback on the company’s CiviQuo page.
In what ways is this platform beneficial to the wider investment migration industry?
Unfortunately, the industry has been heavily criticised by the media, and getting increased attention by government bodies. When you look at how the industry is promoting and marketing itself, this is not surprising. What the industry needs right now is transparency. Service providers know this, and many of them talk about the need to be more transparent. Our platform, specifically due to its two key features - price disclosure as well as the review and rating system - adds a level of transparency to the industry. It is intended to build trust and create an industry that is open about its products and prices.
What type of client do you expect to use your system and what role does digital marketing play in winning clients today?
If you look at the traffic so far, the age ranges from 25 to 40 years. Looking to the future, in a couple of years, the majority of investor migrants will be millennials. Millennials’ behaviour differs significantly when compared to the previous generations. People born in the 1980s and 1990s are assertive and sceptical; they prefer to be self- directed in their investments and tend to turn to online research before making a decision. CiviQuo has all the right ingredients to win this age group. The platform will present them with a trusted source of information, with a diverse range of products and pricing transparency. This, we feel, is much needed to convince the-hardest- to-reach generation.
If we look at your website, we see that the fees of service providers can differ quite significantly. What do you believe is the reason for that, and is there a sensitivity to price in this particular segment?
Our research shows there is. Even though you are a high-net-worth individual, you are not willing to splash your money around without any purpose. In terms of the different prices, based on the feedback we receive from service providers, my assumption would be that intermediaries would have to have a B2B relationship with a licensed agent to be able to submit the application. An intermediary has to plan for these higher overhead costs. We also find that intermediaries might offer services that a licensed agent is not offering. For example, in Cyprus, most licensed agents are real estate developers, so they can provide the vehicle for the investment. However, an intermediary based in China, for example, might be able to provide the financing aspect that the real estate developer cannot offer. These two entities are offering the same solution, but with completely different perspectives. As a benchmark for the fees that are disclosed on our website we use the professional fees for a single applicant. We are also showing whether service providers are licensed agents or intermediaries, and what services they are offering. We only list service providers who can prove to us that they can really go the last mile and submit an application, either on their own or in partnership with another professional firm.
Download the Investment Migration Yearbook 2019/2020
Do you expect performance marketing to become a key driver for the investment migration industry in the coming years, and what are Civiquo’s plans for the future?
The investment migration industry has long recognised word-of mouth as a powerful marketing tool. Yet service providers are limited in the number of potential clients they can market when relying on personal recommendations, networking events, and so forth. Performance marketing, on the other hand, has the potential to work a lot better for the industry — it has higher chances of opening up new markets and expanding a business into new localities. It will definitely gain in importance in the years ahead. We are still very much at the beginning of our journey, although we think that the industry has an appetite for change, and is willing to try new models of client acquisition. Going forward, our plan is to grow and eventually start working with other affiliates, although we will certainly be selective with whom we will work. It is a question of transparency, openness and integrity.
Yakof Agius is the founder and CEO of CiviQuo. He is the former Chief Risk and Compliance Officer of the Malta Individual Investor Programme, and has also previously served as resource and IT specialist at HSBC Malta, and head of HR at henley & Partners.