Evolving with the times
LONDON-listed trading platform IG Group started in Singapore 10 years ago with just a handful of staff and a single office in Chevron House. Today, the contracts for difference (CFD) and forex trading provider has over 30 employees and two offices - one at Straits Trading Building and another at Marina Bay Financial Centre.
"We are growing steadily and continue to innovate new products to serve client needs," says Nabil Mattar, director of premium client services at IG Asia. To compete, IG focuses on retaining quality clients, he adds.
For example, salespeople continually engage clients on their requirements and these discussions can result in new products that help traders capitalise on prevailing market trends.
IG also conducts numerous seminars to educate clients on the risk management tools available. Guest speakers and market specialists give talks at IG's Straits Trading hub - 63 per cent of those attending are active clients.
"We focus a lot on our clients and try to pre-empt what they want," says Mr Mattar. We want to keep them happy, profitable, and trading with us."
Contracts for difference
While IG has an extensive forex platform that offers competitive rates to clients, it is also known for its CFD offering, where IG leads globally as the world's largest CFD provider by revenue in 2015.
CFDs allow traders to take a leveraged position on various assets from stocks and commodities to indices such as China A50 and Singapore blue chips.
Crucially, they allow investors to take "short" positions on the expectation that prices will decrease.
Mr Mattar says: "CFDs can act as a hedge for your cash portfolio. If you trade stocks and can't short, CFDs come in useful. You can either short a specific stock or an index."
IG makes CFDs accessible for retail investors by offering bite-sized versions of popular contracts like the S&P 500 index or gold.
It also offers Singapore-denominated CFDs on foreign market contracts so investors do not have to worry about exchange rate exposure, he says.
A popular mobile platform
Looking ahead, he says that more and more people in Singapore will trade on their smartphones.
IG's mobile trading platform is popular with clients, with 95 per cent of them using its platform, according to the "2015 Singapore CFD & FX" report by market research firm Investment Trends.
In the report, IG also received the highest client satisfaction ratings for its mobile platform. The firm continues to stay relevant to changing needs, he says. "A lot of competitors are launching mobile apps. We make sure ours is very relevant by constantly updating them and being at the forefront of innovation."
On top of apps on Android and Apple devices, IG is also the only mobile trading platform provider that offers the platform on the Apple Watch, he notes.
It also offers SMS alert services, such as price and indicator alerts, or economic calendar alerts.
Guaranteed stops, extended hours, binaries
To retain clients and attract new ones, IG continues to innovate.
IG is the first trading provider in Singapore to introduce guaranteed stop losses for its clients around five years ago, so "black swan" events will have a limited impact. This means that you can attach a guaranteed stop to your position to eliminate the risk of slippage or gaps in the event of extreme market volatility.
IG also offers extended trading hours for 30 key US stocks. The US stock market opens from 9.30 pm to 4am Singapore time, but IG clients will be able to trade from 4pm to 8am in the next morning instead.
Mr Mattar says: "Clients who like to capitalise on pre and post-market moves can leverage this offering."
IG is also the only provider that offers round-the-clock trading for exposure to indices such as Germany's DAX, America's S&P and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index, he says. Another recent offering is binaries, which provide a potential return or loss before you place the trade. These allow clients to take a view on the direction of the market across various asset classes within a certain time frame. "For example, if you are bullish and think that a market will end up above a certain level by the end of the day, you can buy a binary and potentially make money if your prediction is right."
Learning algo trading
Over the years, IG has seen rising interest in machine-aided algorithmic trading, or algo trading in short, among retail traders.
"Algo trading promises to take the psychology out of trading and retail traders can use this to automate their strategies," Mr Mattar says.
IG not only offers its own platform but also third-party software for programming trades, such as MetaTrader and ProReal Time.
In these software, indicators can be customised and trades will be placed once certain triggers are hit. "We have specific classes on how to programme your own system. Bring your laptop down and our trainer will help you with programming. It is getting popular, as a lot of people find it difficult to trade and have a full-time job."
Attracting premium clients
One distinguishing factor that IG has over its competitors is its premium client segment, set up in 2013 for big-volume clients. The firm now has four managers servicing the segment, including Mr Mattar.
These clients enjoy cost savings across various asset classes, as well as lower overnight funding rates and lower commissions, he says.
Other benefits include higher value awarded to them for their referrals, Gold Class movie events, access to concerts or sporting events, free limousine rides and even a surprise for them on their birthdays.
For IG's 10th anniversary celebrations this year, selected premium clients who have been with the company for 10 years will even get to bring their family for a 45-minute helicopter ride around Singapore.
"We have one of the bigger premium client teams around, and offer bespoke services suited to the clients' lifestyles."
Adapting to volatile markets
Ultimately, amid volatile markets, clients have to be flexible and overcome psychological barriers to be successful, Mr Mattar says.
Successful traders know when to cut losses, he said. The value investing mindset of buying low and selling high does not work when it comes to trading, he notes.
IG will continue to equip clients with knowledge needed to thrive, and will continue to innovate to meet client needs as markets change, he adds.
"The reluctance to cut losses is dangerous as you're using leverage. For cash equities, you can hold as long as you want. Trading is a different ball game, it is risky to average down thinking you can get a better price."