“There are a lot of cowboys out there,” warns Naser Taher, chairman of Hong Kong-headquartered MultiBank Group, as he explains his vision for a full-service cryptocurrency exchange that offers credibility and trust. Taher, who is launching the exchange and a broader cryptocurrency ecosystem with his son Zak Taher, thinks there is huge potential for such a platform. “No other financial institution can offer everything we offer in the same place,” he insists.
Already, MultiBank Group has launched MEX Digital, where Zak serves as chief operating officer; it’s a global digital asset exchange that offers trading in more than 20 of the world’s top cryptocurrencies. The group has also set up MEX Pay, an electronic money institution offering online banking for both individuals and businesses, enabling customers to trade and bank in traditional currency as well as cryptocurrency. The ventures are underpinned by MEXD, the group’s own native coin that the Tahers are in the process of getting off the ground – it will run on the Ethereum blockchain and serve as a utility token that ensures MultiBank’s ecyosystem is interoperable.
“We wanted to setup a fully regulated crypto exchange,” says Zak, who has been focused on the project for much of the past four years. Those plans began to take shape last year with MultiBank given permission to set up a digital monetary institution in Australia. “Our aim is to help overcome some of the stigma attached to cryptocurrency,” he says of perceptions that the industry is populated by slick sales teams pushing get-rich-quick schemes that might just as easily get you poor at speed.
Zak’s father has certainly come across some of those shady operators in his varied business career. It is fair to say that Taher has come to the cryptocurrency space via a more roundabout route than other innovators in the digital finance market. Educated in Britain, he joined his family-run business in Jordan in the late 1970s before leaving to embark on a series of entrepreneurial ventures – everything from managing the construction of a 180km highway between Jordan and Iraq to running a meat-packing business in Ireland.
His career spans spells managing logistics businesses and airlines, and he has also worked as an adviser to the Chinese government. “It’s not always been easy, but I’m a good fighter,” Taher reflects. “These days I still work six days a week; it’s fine as long as I get to swim every morning.”
Of all those businesses, however, it is MultiBank that has grown into the largest and most successful of Taher’s ventures. Founded in California in 2005, the group has evolved into one of the world’s largest online derivatives dealers; its client base has grown to 320,000 customers in 90 countries worldwide and the group’s daily trading volumes – including foreign exchange, commodities, metals, equities and contracts for difference (CFDs) – now total around $9bn.
However, the metric that Taher is particularly keen to stress is a different one. “We are regulated by 11 different regulatory authorities, with a further three to come shortly,” he says. “Our overarching strategy is all about embracing regulation and best practice.”
The company regards this as a crucial point of difference, given its strength in a marketplace that sometimes attracts those tempted to play fast and loose with the rules. The fact that so many groups active in this marketplace are based in offshore jurisdictions, particularly when it comes to CFDs, should give investors pause for thought about accountability and redress in the event of a problem, Taher argues.
That brings Taher and his son back to the credibility issue. “We have the advantage of the MultiBank brand,” says Zak of the group’s cryptocurrency plans. “The market has evolved hugely over the past four years, but credibility is still an issue.”
Against such a backdrop, the Tahers believe there will be huge demand among investors – individuals, corporates and institutions – for something akin to a one-stop-shop in cryptocurrency. MultiBank’s platform enables its customers to trade their favourite crypto assets, but also offers secure custody services. And when they want to cash in their profits, they’ll be able to spend the money, in crypto or traditional currency, straight out of their accounts.
There are plenty more services to come. MultiBank has plans for an NFT marketplace, catering for the growing interest in music and art tokens, as well as a new marketplace that puts a trading value of sports’ stars performance. It sees a big opportunity for trust accounts, enabling families to set up and fund accounts with digital assets to plan for their children’s future. It is also developing applications in real estate.
The idea is that customers who are used to doing business with MultiBank, but who now want to try their hand at cryptocurrency trading and related services should not have to go elsewhere to do so. The Tahers believe their customers want to do that business with a firm they know and trust. “If you want to get into cryptocurrency but you’re not sure how, you can come to MultiBank and still sleep at night,” says Zac.