Swiss entrepreneur Alex Pusco was "always passionate about technical analysis", the use of charts to understand financial markets. As a teenager he would lap up new theories and when personal computers became more common in the 1980s he started testing them for himself.
"Computers changed everything. They made it possible to run complex calculations and automate a lot of the hard work." By the time he was studying computing and business at the International University of Monaco, Pusco's flair for technical analysis was starting to attract attention. It was only a matter of time before he would start making money from it.
"I was always speaking about technical analysis to friends and family and they became interested in how it could help their investments." Soon Pusco was juggling his studies with a burgeoning business as an agent or introducing broker. "I would help high net-worth individuals use technical analysis and introduce them to brokers who could execute their trades."
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Between 1990 and 2001, he worked as an agent, networking to attract new clients. But there was a limit to the number of clients he could serve. "High-net-worth clients need a lot of attention, I could only work with about ten at a time." Worse, if clients decided to pause their trading, he was left with no work. During the 1990s, "I used to dream of expanding my client base to thousands of customers". In 2000, reliable internet coverage in Europe would make that dream a reality.
Pusco wanted to become an introducing agent on a much bigger scale. "In 2001, I managed to persuade American brokers none of the Europeans were online to deal with me." Now all he had to do was persuade Europeans to trade with these brokers and he could take a cut. With just CHF100,000 of starting capital, which was the minimum requirement to start a company, he built the website for his new firm, ActivTrades, himself.
He also carried out the translations (into English, French, German and Italian) for local versions of the site. That freed up cash to spend on internet marketing to attract customers to the site. "The Italians and the Germans were the first market to take to it the French took a bit longer to get comfortable with online trading."
By 2004, with the business growing strongly, he decided it was time to move to Europe's financial capital, London. He also invested more in infrastructure, personnel and the website. "Hiring professionals to take care of my search engine optimisation made a huge difference."
With sales at around the £1m mark, Pusco decided more drastic measures were needed to grow the business. Between 2006 and 2008 he set about acquiring the licences and buying the software that would allow ActivTrades to act as an online forex and CFD broker. "This allowed us to boost margins. But it also enabled us to offer more to customers."
Pusco began offering free trading seminars too. He also invested in software add-ons to help users. For example, ActivTrades developed a feature that allows clients to close out all open positions within a second "in a market crash, you don't want to wait too long". Another extra was that he offered free insurance on clients' funds of up to £500,000 per person. These moves helped the firm make £14m on more than £250bn of trades last year.
Now 48, Pusco plans to move out of his western European comfort zone. "South America and eastern Europe are very interesting to us.
James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.
After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the Forbes.com London bureau.
James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report.
He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.
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