An entrepreneur and financial asset manager, Bardya Ziaian is an innovator within the emerging industry of fintech. He founded BBS Securities and Virtual Brokers in 2008, changing the commission landscape in Canada by reducing commission to almost 0. He sold both companies to CI Financial in 2017.
Now, he is CEO and President of Sittu Group, where he consults with companies, designs systems, and works to invest in early-stage businesses. The think tank works to build opportunities based on economic macro environments.
Let’s start with the basics. What led you to start Virtual Brokers and BBS Securities?
Bardya Ziaian: I knew that fintech represented the future of finance. At the time, many people, even industry experts, doubted that the move away from traditional banking systems would have staying power, or that it could eventually challenge those systems.
But, it’s become clear that fintech and other new forms of banking and wealth management are here to stay. I saw an opportunity to join this new movement by giving people the ability to manage their wealth on their own terms, and now we see that movement growing every day.
I feel very lucky and I think this is an incredibly exciting time to be at the intersection of finance and technology.
How did you come up with the name of your current business, Sittu?
Bardya Ziaian: Our business name actually comes from two Chinese words: Si and Tu, or 思 and 途. As a loose translation, it means “thinking while moving forward.” We think that represents our mission, which includes working with businesses and early-stage companies to find macro-economic opportunities for fintech.
We thought the name of the company should be more than catchy. It should reflect our mission and values, like agility and diversity. It’s all about anticipating tomorrow at a time when the marketplace is constantly changing. It’s more important than ever to be thinking ahead.
Where do you see your business in the next 3-5 years?
Bardya Ziaian: I hope that we continue to create new approaches to how fintech can improve the finance industry and help this new generation of investors that have a different mindset.
The focus of fintech on transparency and quick transactions has attracted a whole new demographic of SDIs (self-directed investors). They want independence and personalized control of their money. Fintech gives them that, and I don’t think we’re going back.
The investing world has been turned upside down by fintech. It’s just everywhere all of a sudden. The leading fintech companies have seen their valuations triple or quadruple in just the last two years to tens of billions. The biggest banks in the world are trying to adapt to this new movement. Even non-financial companies are trying to get in on the action. We see that with DoorDash and Wal-Mart.
Any advice you would give to entrepreneurs and business owners?
Bardya Ziaian: Look around you. Find a problem that needs a solution. Look for the things that no one else sees. Often, the things that seem too risky for the powerful people who have more money and more influence — those are the opportunities for you to make a place for yourself.
Getting in early is key. I’m not saying you can’t get into fintech right now, for example. But the key moment is before the rest of the world catches on. It takes insight and a little bit of faith, but mostly it’s about paying attention and doing the research.
Make a daily practice of searching for your entrepreneurial dream. You’ll find it.