September 26th, 2018
FINTECH FRIDAY$ (EP.22-Jan 25): Reducing Regulatory Burden by 25% in Ontario – Amar Nijjar of R2 Capital & Investments
NCFA Canada | Jan 25, 2019
Ep22-Jan 25: Reducing Regulatory Burden by 25% in Ontario
About this episode: On this episode of the Fintech Friday's Podcast, our Manseeb Khan sits down with Amar Nijjar the CEO of R2 investments. They chat about how R2 is helping innovate the real estate space, the Ontario's Securities commission hitting their 25% burden reduction goal, and Canada becoming a force to be reckoned with. Enjoy!
- The complexities of Canada's regulatory burdens are preventing us from becoming a global player
- All innovative entrepreneurs in the fintech sector should be getting behind the burden reduction initiative
- Commercial real estate is a good asset class and now open to regular investors
Host: Manseeb Khan, NCFA, Fintech Fridays show host
Guest: Amar Nijjar, President & CEO, R2 Capital and Investments
Bio: Amar is the Founder of R2 Capital and Investments - Canada’s First National Online Marketplace for direct investing into commercial properties. Under his leadership, R2 has to grown to 25 employees and in 2017 transacted on $207MM of Debt & Equity capital. R2 has funded several projects diversified by property type as well as location. Amar has funded over $10 billion and underwritten over $30 billion of real estate during his career. Prior to starting Amar was Practice Leader and Executive Vice President at JLL's (Jones Lang LaSalle), Debt Capital Markets group. R2 continues to add talent to it’s fast growing operations and is looking for leaders of tommorow. Amar holds an MBA from Schulick School of Business at York University and an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering.
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Transcription of Interview
Intro: Welcome fintech Friday's a weekly podcast brought to you by the National Crowdfunding and Fintech Association of Canada and partners.Covering all things fintech block chain be AI and alternative finance.
Manseeb Khan: Hey everybody Manseeb Khan here and thank you for tuning into another episode of Fintech Fridays. Just before we get started in this episode, I just want to do a little bit of housekeeping here. I just want to announce that we're super excited here at the NCFA to be launching the 5th Annual 2019 fintech financing Conference and Expo better known as FFCON19 which is going to be happening on April 3rd to 4th in Toronto Canada. FFCON19 is an immersive two-day conference and expo featuring high growth startups, emerging technologies, regulation, game changing projects, the latest trends, deal flow and investment opportunities. This year's theme is fearless with so much global risk in the air U.S. vs. China, Canada and China, Brexit, fintech industry adoption challenges, startup funding challenges, scaling issues FFCON19 is empowering companies with everything they need to build an amazing next generation business right here in Canada taking them global to show off to the world. We're launching it this week and registration and partnership opportunity will be opening up soon so stay tuned and get involved without any further ado here's Episode 22 of the FinTech FRIDAY podcast with Amar Nijjar the CEO and founder of our R2 investments. So, Amar could you just for the audience give us a little bit more of essentially what R2 capital is since you are the CEO and the founder.
Amar Nijjar: Sure, R2 Capital is Canada's first online marketplace a technology-based platform that connects retail and institutional high net worth investors alike into private commercial real estate deals, income producing properties, shopping centers, plazas, medical office buildings, apartments, multifamily housing as well as higher yielding development projects. You see a lot of construction cranes all around Canada. But especially in GTA a lot of action in Victoria Vancouver. Montreal is picking up right now, so we are in for a real estate guy. I used to work with Jones Lang LaSalle head of their debt capital markets group and before that I worked with some of the best in corporate finance. So, BMO, RBC and CIBC. And then we saw technology really disrupting how capital formation happens within the commercial real estate industry and we saw enormous gaps and that's what we're here to bridge to connect ordinary investors for small amounts to buy into large commercial properties or development projects for smaller.
Manseeb Khan: That's incredible. I think that's something a lot of people can definitely get excited about. Real estate is something that everybody, every entrepreneur wants to get into. So, this is incredible.
Amar Nijjar: Yeah that's right it's fixed income and steady returns it's predictable you know money is a little bit illiquid but that's the nature of the industry. You got to buy and hold. It's not like stocks and bonds and ETF where you can get in and out. Certainly, those investments have opportunity in the portfolio of any investor, but commercial real estate is more like fixed income other than illiquidity I think it's a very good asset class to invest in.
Manseeb Khan: Yeah, I can't agree with you more. So, on top of everything else that you're doing. You are actually sitting down on the regulatory burden reduction committee and helping out regulators like the Ontario Securities Commission hit their 25 percent burden reduction goal and challenge. Could you just explain that a little bit why is this goal important? What does this all mean and essentially the role of this?
Amar Nijjar: Yeah so myself along with a few other individuals’ entrepreneurs in the industry at NCFA national crowdfunding fintech association. There's been a steering committee for burden reduction formed at that end and I put my name in the hat and this selected me for that's just all a new initiative over at NCFA and so thank you for listening to this. I think it's very important for all the entrepreneurs in the industry because securities laws obviously that protect investors but entrepreneurship especially in the fintech space that a lot of gaps and small businesses, small entrepreneurs trying to have a vision to do something bold and sticking with Canada and not going to Singapore or U.S. or UK those economies have much better opportunities. And the regulatory framework is definitely a lot more flexible. We are laggards in Canada no doubt about that especially in Ontario. But what's really exciting right now is to the extent Ford government has really taken taking the bull by the horns, red tape reduction, burden reduction. This is exactly what we needed. So in twenty nineteen I think it's going to be an exciting year and then we're very excited we'll also see Ontario Securities Commission Chair Maureen Jenson come out with a circular notice to the industry internally and externally exclusively on burden reduction so we can talk a little bit about that too but it's a great time for entrepreneurs to get behind this because this may be sometimes a secondary party a for a lot of entrepreneurs. We're all busy hiding in that building our technology and building our businesses and hiring the best talent and keeping them and also renting the space and every little thing is you know. But you are only as good as a regulator would allow you to. So, there is absolutely no doubt in anybody's mind that should be that if they want to be in crypto, in online investments and online marketplaces technology-based sale of securities security tokens and block chain they need to get involved. They need to lobby, and they need to talk to the Minister of Finance. They need to talk to the securities regulator and get our collective voices heard because those entities are open to change and they're willing to listen. It's just we need to make an effort to make them understand what the gaps are.
Manseeb Khan: Yeah. Again, I can't agree with you more. It's important to me like you mentioned Canada's very laggard, Canada's traditionally very conservative when it comes to these kinds of changes and I mean its kind of makes sense why they want to make sure that what they're betting on it's actually right for investors. So, could you just talk a little bit more of before you. Before we touch back on what the minister and like what their new vision is. Could you just explain a little bit more of what the current regulatory framework looks like and what the key objectives are of said regulators.
Amar Nijjar: So, the current framework is extremely, extremely complicated. It is mind blowing a complicated you need a lot of legal advice which is extremely expensive and even then, the there is a disconnect between the legal industry and the law industry. The entrepreneurs what and how we are trying to build a business and the securities regulators expectations of the policy in the favorite set that are huge gaps are very wide right now and they need to be bridged. And where do we start. For example, let's talk about harmonization. So, in Canada like we have a dozen different countries, every province has their own mind on how to sell and regulate investments in securities Ontario Securities Commission is the most conservative and the biggest one at the same time too. Ontario has the most number of investors. B.C. has certainly got a role model in this regard and they've been consistently getting the best stores by CFIB. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business Small businesses out there. So, Ontario has been a laggard. It's good to see regulatory changes political changes coming. But there is so much more to be done harmonization for example that I'm talking about. Every province has their own mind in terms of how to regulate that. So online portals now are national and international in nature. There is no physical boundary, there's no paperwork. It's all digital. it's online. It's on the web. So, the gatekeeping of where an investor comes from and how they get into a deal, what amount they can invest in things of that nature get extremely complicated. So, it's like in Canada somebody is trying to run a national platform it's like you are trying to operate in like 12-15 different jurisdictions globally within the same country. So that is extremely painful for entrepreneurs.
Manseeb Khan: That yeah. Oh my God I can't even like you are explaining that it's very complicated. That's like for me a little bit of anxiety. Could you just. So, what do you see the biggest gaps being that you briefly touched on, but I guess to you what you see the biggest gaps being?
Amar Nijjar: So, for example in Ontario there is a so-called crowdfunding exemption which about three years ago was announced by the regulators and the government at the time to promote capital flow into small to midsize businesses the way investments get formalized and capital formation works. The accredited investors and offering memorandum and some of those exemptions without getting into too much technicality essentially has a lot of burden and cost for a small and medium sized business to raise capital from the investment community. If they were to rely on some of those exemptions so they came up with this funding exemption. It doesn't work. It's been three years at least to the best of my knowledge nobody has been able to use crowdfunding exemption. It was supposed to be if you're trying to raise small amounts a million two million dollars it was supposed to make it easy for you as a business owner to tap into investment community a.k.a. crowdfunding to bring those investors into these deals without having to spend a fortune on the lawyers and the audited financial statements and a plethora of two paperwork. Ironically not one, not one. It's like blasphemous. Nobody's been able to use that exemption because the way it has been structured its just lip service. It does not work. For example, there's a marketing restriction. So, if you are running a small business and you want to raise a million bucks and you go to our portal or some of the other portals like a friend finder or a you know lending loop and some of these others. They cannot rely on this exemption in Ontario and advertise to the broader market on the Internet that we are raising. You are raising money to us through our portal to the investment community and investors can invest. There is an advertising and marketing restriction and yet on top of that there is an audited financial statement required even though you only get half a million dollars of capital. And anybody who is doing the audited financial statements knows that they can cost anywhere from twenty-five to fifty thousand dollars. So, you can imagine you're trying to raise half a million bucks and you're spending 25 to 50 thousand dollars on audited statements alone per year right. And then whatever is left you are this cost of capital raise is portal cost as well. The regulatory filings, the legal costs. I mean the model has been put together in a way that it's completely doomed to fail from day one. And the proof is that nobody's used it. So, a lot of these things need to be rehashed and change and the industry together needs to verbalize and vocalize their pain points to make the change happen.
Manseeb Khan: How else is that impacting the industry especially to new entrepreneurs and small business in the fintech space aside from the crowdfunding.
Amar Nijjar: I mean there's a lot of excitement. People go to these conferences a lot of young people. There's tremendous amount of talent in Toronto and Ontario and Kitchener, Waterloo. I think we have a good university. We have a good work ethic. So, we have a we have a great talent pool and a lot of those millennials are interested in jumping into the entrepreneurship world. And it's very challenging. Access to capital is extremely challenging. The regulatory framework to set up your business and your company. The red tape that you have to go through is excruciatingly painful. But the worst is if you're in any business that can be perceived as in the business of selling investments or furtherance or trade you get regulated and now how you get regulated, how you get licensed and how you maintain that there's a tremendous amount of burden on smaller firms to get the answers in a timely fashion. It takes forever. There's no simplicity in the process. It's extremely complex and it can be very discouraging for a lot of small entrepreneurs. And we've seen a lot of companies either never really took off or they took off and they just failed. And there are numerous examples where in Ontario we were really pushing talent away or we are setting them up for failure because of the red tape and the burden is huge. It is hard as it is to start a business. You know the wages are very expensive the rents very expensive in Toronto and somebody is able to sustain the business organically. The regulation and the burden just to the complete killer. So, there is a huge long list of the tombstones and the graveyard of all these young entrepreneurs who wanted to start up something, but they just got caught up in all of this and that it was a failure.
Manseeb Khan: Yeah, I mean hopefully with these new regulatory changes and just hopefully the excitement in the fintech space in and of itself hopefully allow these young entrepreneurs can kind of look past that and not like you like we mentioned before kind of go abroad and start businesses elsewhere like you mentioned in Singapore when may have you. You did briefly touch on the CFIB report. Do you have any comments based on the report that just came out?
Amar Nijjar: Yeah. So, I mean the people can Google that and read more about that. There was a financial Post article on that, but I think one of the most encouraging things are that we were consistently getting a C, C minus D rating for last several years I think over a decade. And finally, we jumped from C minus I believe last year to A minus. If my stats are right something like that. So, we made a significant jump but at least a direct result of the Ford government and you know Fideli's office trying to push down at the grassroots level to cut the red tape and reduce the burden. So, Ontario opened for business team. It's certainly going around. And what was personally very encouraging for me was that on January 14th only 10 days ago or so Ontario Securities Commission came out and they have set up an agenda, a task force to reduce the burden on smaller entrepreneurs like us by 25 percent. And this is directly the result of the governments that the government of Ontario is open for business action plan. So, I think we definitely need to give kudos to the government to helping us out. It does flow to the grassroots level now. It's too early to see how the results are and how it all pans out. But I think the first step. Ontario Securities Commission is asking the questions. Anybody interested in this they can just google burden reduction. Ontario Securities Commission staff noticed, and they should be able to see summary of that. But the regulator is starting to ask some of the key questions. For example, are there operational or procedural changes which would make our day to day life easier or less costly. Are there ways to get greater certainty regarding the regulatory requirements. Because we have oftentimes waited for over a year to get approval on something simple lasting bureaucracy. So, when we see this it's very encouraging. There are questions around their forms and filings that we and other market participants need to submit. That can be lessened. Are there other items that are unduly burdensome. So, all of this is very encouraging, and I really hope that our community will participate. They're asking for feedback, I think. Craig Asano at NCFA is doing a phenomenal job putting it all together. So, people should reach out to him and write to him and also make the comments available to Ontario Securities Commission Act. Comments@OSC.ON.CA. It's very for the industry lobby just together.
Manseeb Khan: Yeah. Hey, I got a shout out Craig. I mean that guy cannot get champion enough. He's doing absolutely incredible things in the industry and I mean having amazing people like you and having people like Craig and just having so many incredible people in the industry advocating for change I think I really think it's just a matter of time because every single person in the fintech industry has a very great personal brand behind them and they have amazing audiences behind them so it's like hey where you guys are just shedding light on issues and topics and concerns. So, I think again I think it is a matter of time. Everything we happen.
Amar Nijjar: I think one of the things and what you're doing is also extremely helpful. You are part of this change. You are going to make this incrementally better for each of us and maybe exponentially better. And what you are doing is extremely important to get our voices heard. And you know in the Internet age of the blogs and podcasts I think the message goes fast and people appreciate that. But you know what. One of the guys that I think you should interview on your next one should be Grant Vingoe. He is vice chair OSC, Ontario securities commission. I've an opportunity to meet with them. Very, very nice individual and very professional. He understands the pain point and he has expressed enormous willingness to help the industry. So, I think they need to be on the podcast. There is another individual Naizam Kanji . He's director of the M&A and he is the special advisor to the chair on regulatory burden reduction. You should get Naizam Kanji on your show as well. And these things are extremely important to do.
Manseeb Khan: I just wrote that while you're giving me the names, I was writing them down to lock them in for the next couple episodes, so we'll have like a little burden reduction regulatory a theme there. We mentioned the minister a little bit. Could you just be looping back? Could you explain what the guidance kind of looks like. What are you excited about? Would you not accept about? I mean there's definitely a lot of excitement behind this but there's probably a lot of concerns, could you voice a little bit more on that?
Amar Nijjar: Yeah, I mean look this is all positive. It is definitely extremely positive. So what Fideli's office, what Ford government's messaging open for business burden reduction all these good things that they're saying. What's encouraging is that it would appear that it's just not lip service that it's actually getting pushed down to the grassroots level through the government and associated bodies whether that's ministry of labor, Ontario Securities Commission, financial services commission of Ontario and many other layers of regulatory bodies out there. So, it's very encouraging step. And they've made a blanket statement 25 percent burden reduction. And I think that's extremely important to set. That's kind of a milestone because other than that it's just a bunch of words and it doesn't mean anything. So that feedback down to the different government bodies to take action is a bubbling through the industry. So, it's very encouraging to see that.
Manseeb Khan: Is there anything else that you're currently excited about. I mean being in the real estate space, being in the fintech space now , 2019 is a new year. I mean everybody has their one thing that they're excited about. Could you just for a second give us a little bit more insight of what you're really excited to see in 2019.
Amar Nijjar: Right. So, look you know perhaps I can talk about platforms like ours and I'm sure there are many others that in different industries the value that they're creating. So, what is R2 fundamentally do that's different than the public markets and other opportunities out there the public market the reach stock somebody can invest in a real can or some of these other equities out there it's public market risk. You get 4-5 percent distribution and then the real estate could be fine if the stock market takes a tumble. Your stock does too. The large real estate is in the hands of billions of dollars of pension fund managers, investment managers, institutional money managers, large family offices to them basically high net worth guys and girls. But the masses they're like an estate look around real estate is all around you. But how do you participate in that. How do you take a little investment off your holding into real estate? It was impossible because all of that is private. You can buy it you know if somebody has as rich dad, they can certainly put together to few million bucks and buy a property worth 8 million take a mortgage for five or six and put the 2 million is cash and have a nice 15 percent return over per year for the next three to four years right. But fundamentally the value we are creating groups like ours are creating in the industry that we are allowing investors to invest into those kinds of deals for small amounts. Ten thousand dollars, twenty-five thousand dollars and sometimes even smaller. So what we are doing is we're opening up a source of capital for property owners and developers who need that capital formation to be able to do more product yes to charge a fee but they're happy to share in the profits and the rental income and development profits and at the same time we are opening up investment opportunities for small investors to invest into property direct. So how are the regulators and the government allow us to work is going to fundamentally change lives of many people and that investment in wealth holdings right. The Wealth simples. You know what they have done allows small investors to go online in a fun exciting manner. But those groups like ours we are only as good as the regulator would allow us to. And the bandwidth is small. Right. Like our runway is small so if we either we get over the hump and we survive, or the burden takes over and it kills the business and then the innovation moves to other jurisdictions then we as Canadians we cannot afford to leave talent from Canada elsewhere.
Manseeb Khan: Yes, I can't agree with you more. I mean just talking to like CEOs that are building companies in Canada, build companies in Toronto. The talent pool in Canada is actually incredible something that a lot that a lot of Canadians if not maybe the world may overlook and just letting that die and letting about to just kind of go to waste that just would be such a shame. But I mean on the positive end are seeing a lot more last year especially this year a lot of international investments coming into Canada actually seeing hey wow Canada actually has some really talented people, very interesting very, smart people and they're building some very incredible. Let's be part of this. Let's try to grab a piece of this or let's try to build this to become the next Singapore or what may have you right?
Amar Nijjar: Hundred percent. Hundred percent. We are attracting talent from other jurisdictions. I think there's a lot more to be done there. We are certainly you know with just tons of talent here that we need to retain better. You know I think diversity is our strength. I think with all the backgrounds we have that that's driving entrepreneurship that comes along with a lot of immigrants. They come with the dream. And I think all of that makes Canada a unique place. So, our regulators and the government need to help us to bring some of the success stories outside of Canada and make a global success story. Canada's a small market and economies of scale are incredibly difficult to attain in Canada. But on top of that we have all this burden. So, unless we innovate and be flexible, we cannot create delays. Look at how many Canadian success stories are out there especially in the technology space compared to the stories coming out of China or India or USA obviously. Right. We are far behind, but we can do so much better.
Manseeb Khan: Yes. I can't agree with you more taking stories like yours taking stories like some of the past guess that we've had or just Canadian success stories and kind of projecting it into the global marketplace. I think that's just going to help us even more and let outside eyes kind of understand like what's kind of going on and hopefully help because Canada like you said is a very small market and it has such a potential to be such a power player. But as of yet like we're making steps but we're not there yet. Right.
Amar Nijjar: So, thank you for your time. I do have to run for a meeting unless there's any last.
Manseeb Khan: No, the last one would be what's the best way to contact you. Do we email we Snapchat you? For people to want to get into or to R2 investments or just to talk to you directly and to understand a little
Amar Nijjar: My personal contact is best on LinkedIn which is Amar Nijjar and R2 without the D so if somebody linked in me that I am I'm more than happy to accept the invitation to engage with them. Our Web site to learn more about how we are innovating in the spaces r2-re.com and re as in real estate.
Manseeb Khan: Awesome. So, Amar thank you so much for sitting down me today and yeah, I wish you all the best and we'd have you on our show again.
Amar Nijjar: Thank you.
Manseeb Khan: And yep that's it. That's the on the show on the behalf of Canada's leading national fintech crowdfunding association. I wish you an amazing FinTech Friday and weekend.
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End of Podcast
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