Below is our recent interview with Bardya Ziaian, CEO & President of Sittu Group, Inc., a think-tank based in Toronto, Canada.
Q: Tell us a little bit about Sittu Group. How would you describe the company to someone who’s never heard of it?
Bardya Ziaian: The word Sittu comes from the Chinese words Si and Tu, or 思 and 途. It loosely translates to “thinking while moving forward,” which is exactly the aim of this company. We consult with businesses, design systems and invest in early-stage companies to create opportunities within current economic macro environments.
We named the company Sittu because we believe that forward thinking can bring you endless possibilities for innovation. We wanted the name of the company to reflect our work, our philosophy and our values, which are diversification and an agile mindset. We want to be able to anticipate changes within an increasingly dynamic marketplace. You have to always be thinking ahead now, more than ever.
Q: Your company is aimed at the intersection of technology and finance, a relatively new arena called fintech. Why has this directed your business?
Bardya Ziaian: We think fintech is a gamechanger. SDIs (self-directed investors) are only going to rely more on fintech in coming years. This new approach to financial management allows for greater transparency and faster transaction times.
But, I think it’s also important to recognize that fintech is in part a reaction to the desires of this new generation of self-directed investors. There’s a large demographic out there that wants the control and personalization that fintech can provide. So fintech companies are competing to provide the best platforms, the best experiences, the best features for their customers.
We’re seeing rapid development of the user experience and tools available on these new platforms for investing. And once these platforms have integrated the best AI available, it’s going to transform fintech and the financial industry.
Q: How do you see fintech affecting this new wave of DIY investors that has surged since the pandemic began?
Bardya Ziaian: Well, DIY investors are clearly not going anywhere. There’s lots of talk right now about whether these new, younger investors really know what they’re doing and what their impact is going to be on the marketplace long-term. I think it’s a change that’s here to stay.
Fintech has of course been a big driver of this movement. And ultimately I think empowering more people, especially young people, to start engaging with the marketplace in a more meaningful way — that’s a good thing.
All the research shows that Millennials have an increasing interest in managing their own money. There’s many ways that Millennials are going to change our economy and our culture, and this is one of the most important.
Q: So you founded Canadian broker BBS Securities and the subsidiary discount broker Virtual Brokers, then sold both to CI Financial in 2017. Tell us a little about that.
Bardya Ziaian: BBS grew really fast. It quickly became one of the most efficient brokerage platforms in Canada. Virtual Brokers was the highest-ranked firm multiple times in Globe and Mail’s ranking of online brokers.
I knew that BBS and Virtual Brokers would both benefit from CI Financial’s strength and stability. It has helped us support our investments in product development and new technologies. And CI Financial is like us: oriented around independence and entrepreneurship.
It’s only helped us to stay at the front of this movement toward SDI and fintech. What we provide to our customers has only improved since 2017.
Q: There’s a lot of questioning right now about how fintech will impact traditional approaches to wealth management. What do you think about that?
Bardya Ziaian: They’re going to work together. I don’t think this new generation of SDIs, especially Millennials interested in wealth management, are going to completely disregard the value of experienced professionals in finance.
The emergence of fintech complicates the financial industry, but in a way that allows for more people to gain access to it. And they’re going to need help as they move forward. Investing is not just a hobby. It’s a profession. Just because fintech is enabling self-directed investors to do this work independently doesn’t mean that financial advisors are going to be out of work.