Name: Tom Higgins
Position: Chief executive
Ambition: To play guitar on stage with Pink Floyd
“The Great Firewall of China is a problem. The government blocks so much stuff that it’s extremely difficult to operate,” says Tom Higgins, the founder of budding financial services software company Gold-i, which has just opened an office in Shanghai.
“Everything is formal but not quite as I expected. I don’t think anyone owns a suit. Company heads are in their twenties. Not much English is spoken. They have so many rules, and everything has to be done at their speed – slowly.”
The obvious question, given business is booming at Gold-i’s Surrey headquarters, is why head east for a headache in Shanghai at all? Firstly, the demand for the firm’s specialist software, which facilitates the trillion-dollar foreign exchange market, is growing fast – particularly in China. Secondly, it’s a 24-hour, five-day-a-week business that can no longer be handled by a skeleton night staff in the UK.
“We need to support trading at all times,” says Higgins, 50, who, tired of selling other clients’ products, started writing bespoke software in 2009. “That’s not just for new customers in another time zone but for existing ones trading at all hours. With 150 clients, a six-strong support team covering nights on a rotating basis isn’t sustainable.”
Gold-i provides software and services that connect financial brokers to everything else they need, Higgins explains: “We are the glue they need to function.” It’s a high-ticket solution. Software is leased
to clients for up to £4,000 a month, plus transaction fees. “If you trade $1 million we earn $2.50. That doesn’t sound like much but the FX industry is trading $6 trillion a day, with billions passing through our systems.”
It was an natural step, therefore, for Gold-i to head to the Far East. “I knew nothing, with no idea where to turn,” Higgins says. A chance meeting with someone at UKTI put him in touch with the China-Britain Business Council, and the first thing he was told was that the firm must have physical space.
Gold-i found a new £2,500-a-month home, which then had to lie dormant for a year while all the paperwork was finalised. The business finally opened this month. “We’ve already generated way more sales than we’d expected,” Higgins says.
The company turned to the Shanghai Business Network to walk it through the many steps required to become a Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise (WFOE), including obtaining the necessary permits from the government and setting up bank accounts. “There are two ways businesses can operate legally in China: either by appointed representative or as a WFOE,” Higgins explains.
There has been much discussion about the legality of appointed reps – “I didn’t want to end up in a Chinese jail,” Higgins says – which is why he has opted for the complex and lengthy process of setting up a WFOE.
Gold-i now has 35 members of staff and new 7,000sq foot offices in Guildford, Surrey. It saw 60 per cent revenue growth last year and expects a turnover of £3.5 million by year-end in September. “We’re the leader in our space,” Higgins says. “Although I always hate saying that as it’s tempting fate.”