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AIMS Financial Group's George Wang outlines BBY roadmap - The Australian Financial Review

AIMS chairman George Wang and BBY Asia Pacific Group chief executive Craig Mason. Jessica Hromas


by  Joyce Moullakis | Tony Boyd


George Wang is adamant he won't repeat the mistakes that brought down broker BBY, and promises that the re-branded group under his ownership won't take big risks in the options market, will install more robust systems and accountability and then look to expand into Asia.


Mr Wang, the AIMS Financial Group chairman, agreed to buy the remnants of BBY last week after the stockbroking and advisory firm was put in the hands of administrators and receivers on May 18. The transaction, which re-branded the company BBY Asia Pacific Group, came on the same day as a meeting of 150 BBY creditors and will likely need their approval.


Mr Wang said he will keep the BBY brand to draw on the firm's 28-year history and to serve as an important lesson for employees and those involved in salvaging the operations.


"This lesson is a very good one for our staff ... it's also good for our investors," he told The Australian Financial Review, speaking from the tennis meeting room of BBY's head office in Sydney.


Mr Wang wants to eventually open a BBY office in China and sees the purchase as part of his broader push to improve financial ties between Australia and Asia.


Rare chance
Mr Wang, an engineer in China, made his way to finance in Australia. He arrived in Sydney in 1988 after seizing the then still relatively rare chance of studying English abroad.


Among his first jobs in Australia was as an insurance salesman for AMP. His mortgage broker, AIMS, was founded in 1991 and was the 17th member of the Mortgage and Finance Association of Australia.


"At AIMS our strategy for many years, for 18 years, has been to build a bridge between Asia and Australia for capital and deal flow, and BBY is one component to deliver our strategy. Between Australia and Asia, especially China, there is a very big gap," he said referring to a raft of industries including the exporting of Australian financial services to China. 


As the firm's new leaders negotiate with the corporate regulator and Australian Securities Exchange to get its trading and other operations re-started, 120 of BBY's 170 employees are deliberating whether to stay on. In a sign that BBY is taking small steps to resuming operations, the firm's energy analyst sent out a research piece late on Wednesday under the new BBY Asia Pacific brand.


AIMS acquired BBY for between $5 million and $10 million, depending on whether employee sign-on bonuses and investment for ongoing investment in systems and technology are included, sources said. Mr Wang wouldn't comment on the sale price, but expressed confidence that it wouldn't be too long before BBY would be break even on a cash-flow basis.


Technological advances
BBY endured two straight years of losses under former executive chairman Glenn Rosewall, up until the latest accounts as at June 30, 2014. The whole stockbroking industry is grappling with pressure from technological advances, rising compliance costs and trading volumes that have improved but are not at bumper levels. The situation for BBY will also be tough as it has lost top private client sales staff and many clients have transferred their accounts.


The ASX on Wednesday said BBY clients would be able to transfer to their new broker if they had instructed them to do so. The statement said the ASX would  provide to BBY's receivers PPB Advisory and administrators KPMG a complete reconciliation of the exchange's close out of its equity and derivative exposure to BBY by the close of business June 5.


Newly installed BBY chief Craig Mason, formerly of Pershing Australia, said the re-branded BBY group would have a lower appetite for risk in the options and other markets.


"As of this week, we will have an extremely robust control framework around the accounting, around the risk profile of the business and around the business that we do, and that will not be managed by advisers or dealers. That will be managed by management and there will be segregated structures around that," he said.


But Mr Wang is no stranger to starting new businesses or turning acquired ones around. The AIMS group encompasses a raft of businesses including mortgage broking, funds management, real estate investment trusts, property development, and it owns the Asia Pacific Stock Exchange (APX).


Mr Wang said he set an eight-year target for APX to become cash-flow break even, and that his deadline is in 2016, suggesting it would be helped by a pipeline of 30 companies that may join and synergies with the re-branded BBY. APX is, however, only home to two listed companies with another scheduled to join next week.


Mr Wang first crossed paths with now Australian Securities and Investments Commission chairman Greg Medcraft  in 1999 during the company's first securitisation of mortgages, when the latter was working for Societe Generale. Apart from its business in Australia, AIMS has three offices in China, and also has operations in Hong Kong and Singapore.


Last month, AIMS and APX hosted Australia's largest grouping of financial advisers, the Association of Independently Owned Financial Professionals, at a conference in China and also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the China Beijing Equity Exchange.