Investing in Change
Thndr (pronounced Thunder), a name inspired by the hit song by Indie pop-band Imagine Dragons, was born when co-founders Ahmad Hammouda and Seif Amr had a “lightning” moment. That lightning moment has whipped up a storm among a growing pool of young and tech-savvy investors across the Middle East and Africa who are increasingly turning to Thndr to secure their financial freedom.
MENA’s population of 370 million amasses $500 billion in annual savings; 62 percent have smartphones, and half the population is aged between 15-45 years old. But as a relatively young population, most of them have minimal exposure to the equity markets or other investment opportunities, with less than 3 percent actively investing in financial assets.
A common reason for poor investment penetration in MENA is that opening a brokerage account can be expensive. They also frequently come with opaque fee structures that have historically driven retail investors towards real estate, pensions, and cash deposits. This is especially true when combined with particular market dynamics in the region, where many countries have high inflation and little or negative real interest rates on bank deposits, and where the average income per capita is lower, so meeting the minimum balance required is often a challenge.
Seif Amr, a digital-first millennial, experienced this first-hand when it took him one-month, multiple branch visits and extensive paperwork to set up a simple brokerage account in Cairo back in 2016. When he was eventually granted an account, he was met with clunky technology, indecipherable jargon and dense data.
And so Thndr was born.
Launched in late 2020, Thndr is a digital investment platform that is transforming the traditionally outdated, slow, and non-user-friendly process of opening and managing investment accounts across the Middle East and Africa.
The company is making it easy to invest in stocks, bonds, and funds in the region through its mobile-based and low-commission digital stock brokerage. With no minimum investment requirements, the company has so far had more than 160,000 registrations, out of which 50,000 are actively using the app on a monthly basis.
Thndr has been very deliberate in its strategy based on four pillars. The first takes into account that its users are not always very financially literate and so is based on educating them with simulators, articles, videos, webinars, podcasts and a daily newsletter, which has amassed one of the highest open rates across Egypt. Today, they have a full team working on the education piece alone, who are hard at work developing a Thndr curriculum and partnering with some of Egypt’s top universities in the process.
The second is building a relevant and intuitive app; bringing the user experience of Spotify, Amazon and Uber – many of the user experiences that resonate with a younger audience – and tailoring it for the investment world. Helpfully, the co-founders have direct experience of both finance and tech to help marry these two worlds. Prior to starting Thndr, Amr and Hammouda were investment bankers before enjoying stints at Uber; Amr as an operations manager in Uber’s office in Dubai and Hammouda as a general manager at Uber Egypt.
The third is seamless account opening, removing all the historic barriers to entry. The Thndr team is passionate about making investing easy and accessible to everyone. There are no brokers, branches, account minimums or hidden fees.
The last is the concept of an investment supermarket; having something for everyone on one platform and meeting the needs of different investors who can choose what to invest in and when.
AN AGENT OF CHANGE
Platforms like Thndr are creating a new generation of investors out of members of the population who have never invested before. In fact, nearly 90 percent of Thndr’s user base are first-time investors (an average user age of 29) and 40 percent of users come from rural areas, where there is typically zero access to investment opportunities and institutions. The surge has been transformational with Thndr accounting for 36 percent of all new registrations in the local Egyptian exchanges in 2021.
Thndr is riding a Fintech wave in Egypt. This is further driven by new laws governing the sector as part of the government's efforts to accelerate the country’s digital transformation and move towards greater accessibility and financial literacy. The team credits the progressive local Egyptian regulator in providing their brokerage license – the first issued in the country since 2008 - with their ability to scale so rapidly. Thndr’s assets under custody grew 29 times in 2021 and monthly traded values up are by similar levels.
And the co-founders are already noticing the positive effect that Thndr is having on the ground.
One of their users is a single mother living in a remote city in Egypt. She has a son who one day wants to study robotics in Germany. Conscious of the need to invest in his future, she looked into opening a traditional brokerage account but was priced out by prohibitively expensive minimum account balances. Thndr has since given her the means to invest to make her son’s dream education a reality.
Another is a high school student living in Upper Egypt who is working two jobs to support himself and his family. Every week he saves 50 Egyptian pounds. With Thndr, he can make these savings grow, offering him a promising future.
Thndr is passionate about leveling the playing field and providing equal opportunity for anyone to invest and generate wealth, regardless of where they live or who they are. As a result, Thndr is equipping a new generation of investors with the knowledge to make self-directed investment decisions, democratizing investing for everybody.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Thunder and lightning imply speed and Hammouda and Amr are certainly not standing still. The team is bracing for regional expansion into the UAE and Saudi Arabia to set Thndr as the leading regional player. Thndr also plans to introduce other foreign assets from local exchanges in the MENA region and is seeking to acquire a license with one of the GCC’s regulatory bodies.
But the company’s ambitions don’t stop there. Amr and Hammouda will not rest until the majority of Egypt’s financially underserved are afforded the same investment opportunities as everyone else. The Middle East and Africa is experiencing the greatest wave of market democratization in modern times and Thndr is leading the charge.