GBM's headquarters in Mexico City. Photo: GBM/Courtesy.

A 30-year-old ‘unicorn’ is born in Mexico

The GBM has been digitizing itself since 2011 and this year it became a unicorn after a $150 million round of SoftBank Latin American Fund

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In the span of a year, Mexico went from having 383,000 brokerage accounts to over a million. The largest increase in the number of accounts occurred, especially in one institution: GBM (initials of Grupo Bursatil Mexicano). The company had 116,000 accounts in March 2020; in the same month this year, it had one million, according to figures from the National Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV), the Mexican SEC.

The growth was even higher if considered 2018’s levels when the firm had 40,000 accounts under management. “The difference is that now we accept assets starting at MXN 100. We seek to democratize investments so that people begin to know that there are better ways to invest. No matter how much they start with, the important thing is to start [investing]”, Pedro de Garay, co-CEO at GBM, tells LABS.

Such fast growth is not common in a 30-year-old company. So how did the organization break its own limits? The answer can be summed up as moving from a traditional financial institution to a digital technology platform.

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For a long time, GBM dedicated itself to wealthy individuals, institutions, pension funds, sovereign funds. Retail was not really within our strategy, but we realized that through technology, we could serve medium-sized and youngsters [investors] with the same level that we served the biggest ones

Pedro de Garay, co-CEO at GBM.

The climax of GBM’s strategy came last June, when it announced an investment of US$ 150 million by the SoftBank Latin American Fund through one of its subsidiaries, reaching a US$ 1 billion valuation. With this, it acquired the “unicorn” status, only the third in Mexico, shortly after Kavak and Bitso.

But it is an atypical case of a unicorn since GBM is not a recently created startup, nor was it born from an entrepreneur. “Being ‘purist’ it is not a unicorn, but the definitions do not have to be so strict,” says Fabrice Serfati, founding partner of Ignia, a venture capital fund. GBM was founded 30 years ago, but it started its digital business (GBMhomebroker) only in 2011, and it has been listed on the stock market ever since. “Unicorns are companies that are not listed on the public market, have less than 10 years old, and are valued at at least a billion dollars,” adds the expert.

De Garay, co-CEO at GBM. Photo: GBM/Courtesy

What makes GBM a unicorn?

Essentially, GBM’s digital business is similar to that of a startup. “The term startup is no longer used only for “recently-created” companies, but to refer to companies with an important component of their operation on digital platforms,” explains Serfati.

GBM transformed its business model by going digital, allowing the opening of online accounts, and lowering investment limits. Currently, 33% of its 450 employees are in the technology area.

Its transformation began in 2011 when the institution launched GBMhomebroker, an online trading platform that could be accessed from customers’ desktops, tablets, or mobile phones. Three years later, it created Piggo, a savings app focused on investments in a fixed-income fund and a variable-income fund. Finally, last year, it decided to create GBM+ to bring together all its digital services in one place.

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With MXN 100 (US$ 5) and in a matter of minutes, customers can access GBM+, and make decisions that were previously limited to large investors, says De Garay.

GBM’s strategy allowed it to diversify its customer profile and increase its potential market dozens of times in a country where the population with some economic activity is 57 million people.

“We are growing more among people who are starting to learn about investments and who feel comfortable with downloading an application,” says De Garay. For the most part, these customers are young people between 18 and 35 years old.

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In Serfati’s opinion, GBM’s main challenge will be to make more assets accessible to this public, not only in the Mexican stock market. “They are going to have to open the option to ETFs, and eventually cryptocurrencies.”

Ultimately, GBM’s digital model made the company reach the scalability that led it to become a unicorn. “It was the opportunity to reach many more people, the growth rate that we have acquired and the one that we can have in the coming years,” summarizes De Garay.

He does not rule out continuing to double or even triple the number of accounts annually but prefers not to give an estimate. “We never thought to go from 40,000 to a million accounts, and we were surprised,” says De Garay.

Translated by Fabiane Ziolla Menezes