Amid dollar woes, startup touts investment avenues in US – Business

KARACHI: In the middle of a serious dollar shortage that’s forcing the government to withhold import payments for even food and industrial raw material, one startup is rolling out a US trading and investing product for Pakistani investors.

Elphinstone Pakistan wants Pakistanis to remit dollars for investments in American stocks and treasury bills, even though the government is trying to minimise dollar outflows at all costs.

“If you have a USD (US dollar) account in a Pakistani bank, the law says you’re allowed to send that money abroad for any purpose. The only restriction is that the account can’t be used for commercial purposes if it belongs to an individual. There’s not even a limit on how much you can remit abroad,” said company CEO Farooq Tirmizi while speaking to Dawn in a recent interview.

A personal finance advisory firm registered and licensed in both the United States and Pakistan, Elphinstone aims to help “middle-class retail clients” invest for retirement and other long-term goals.

Even though the product — one of the many that Elphinstone offers — appears to facilitate capital flight from Pakistan, Mr Tirmizi insists that the opposite is true.

“Our goal is to bring money into Pakistan rather than send it abroad,” he says. Elphinstone aims to be the first Pakistani financial institution to “own the full relationship” that people have with investments, including those in foreign assets, he says.

For example, it’s hard to invest in Pakistani stocks if you’re a Pakistani but maintain an investment account at a big-name American firm. International financial institutions catering to retail investors have little exposure to Pakistani stocks.

Pakistan boasts of more than 500 listed companies. There’re well-managed mutual funds here that Pakistanis with dollar holdings should be investing in, he says. Yet the dollar-denominated investments by Pakistanis abroad seldom flow back into Pakistan, except for consumption.

“We’re the only player with the ability to have the funds redirected towards Pakistan for the purpose of investment. We’re the only company that can tell people with mainly US investments to have some of their fixed-income investments directed to Pakistan because the yields are great even after adjusting for depreciation… that they’re able to move their money back and forth while remaining with a single investment company,” he says.

The product, therefore, facilitates capital movement, not capital flight, Mr Tirmizi insists.

“We don’t want to be seen as a company that you turn to for getting your money out of Pakistan. We want people to think about their money in global terms. We want them to be connected to a financial institution that’ll give them the Pakistan option,” he says.

An MBA from the University of Notre Dame, the Mr Tirmizi worked as a journalist for many years in Karachi.

His startup had raised $1.2 million in pre-seed and seed rounds by October 2022.

“The core premise of our company is that Pakistan is a great place to invest and build wealth for yourself. It’s a very difficult place to live for most people. But if you build a level of financial security, staying here is better than immigrating to another country,” he says.

Published in Dawn, january 8th, 2023


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