As part of my series about the How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Denier.
Anthony Denier is the CEO of Webull Financial, a commission-free trading platform with over 11 million users worldwide. The platform offers online stock trading, ETF trading, real time market quotes, and comprehensive market data from more than 100 exchanges and 90 countries worldwide.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance industry?
I was the type of child that would take things apart to get an understanding of how they worked. A tinkerer, you could say. I would lie underneath my neighbor’s car watching him as he would fix his ’73 Oldsmobile. If someone had thrown out an old VHS recorder, I would fish it out from the trash, take it apart, shock myself a few times along the way, just to see how all the parts worked together. Perhaps even get it working again. My rate was about 50%. I still have this curiosity today. During my first job on the trading desk at Credit Suisse in New York, I was never satisfied with just buying and selling. I wanted to know what happened after the trade was placed and how that trade affected the bank and the larger economy as a whole in which I was participating. I believe that questioning and being able to understand how things operate on a micro and macro level is what brought me on this specific path to start and build new businesses.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The first couple of months on a busy Wall Street trading desk can be a bit overwhelming. The noise, the action, and the egos make for a very crowded room. I was fresh out of undergrad and thought I was pretty smart. That is until I was served my first piece of on the job humble pie. I was relaying a client order to one of our senior traders, it was a short sale. At the time, in order to sell a stock short, you could only execute the sale when the price was higher than the previous trade, also known as an uptick (this rule no longer exists). After seeing many prints hit the tape, I assumed the order was completed. So I went to the trader and asked for the report so I could inform the client. He simply said, “Hey kid, nothing done, no upticks.” I was confused. He then told me, “It’s a short sale, I need an uptick to print it, and I am all out. Head over to that closet and find me some upticks so we can get this done.” Like a fool, I searched that supply closed for at least 15 minutes looking for an ‘uptick’. When I emerged, the whole trading floor burst out in laughter at my expense. Lesson one: when you’re amongst those that are in the know, listen, learn, and don’t assume. Lesson two: make sure you have a thick skin and roll with the punches. It’s healthy to have a laugh at your own expense every now and again.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
In 2007, I was on my second job in my career path working European trading hours in New York City at a small trading firm. I had plenty of downtime on the desk as things were quiet after the European markets opened and waited for further direction until the US markets open 6 hours later. A colleague recommended ‘Touching the Void.’ This engaging book touches on life and death, the unknown, partnership, making difficult decisions, and having the will to survive. A few months later, the financial crisis hit, and over the course of the next 5 years I worked for 4 different companies. I often thought of the book I had read. The struggles of Simpson and Yates had put my own fears and anxieties into perspective. The will to move forward and persevere is a step by step and often slow process of small decisions in life, just like Simpson exhibits in his amazing trek for survival.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Before we started Webull I had been servicing institutional investors for the past 18 years. These are what we call “professional investors.” Not only do they have seemingly endless capital to invest, but they also have every imaginable tool and suites of sophisticated analytical software to stay one step ahead of everyone else. We started Webull in order to bring all these “professional grade” tools to the everyday investor in a digestible format simply and seamlessly on their smartphones. Oh yea, and for free!
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
One thing that can be done every day through the good times and bad is to treat everyone with respect because without the whole team, no business can survive.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
With three young children in different grades, home-schooling has proved particularly stressful on my wife and I day-to-day. To cope, we have tried to change the routine in many different ways. I think it’s really important to incorporate a fun element into your day, whatever that may be for you. More than ever today’s parents put a tremendous amount of pressure on themselves and their children to excel, whether in academics or sports. My hope is that this ‘pause’ in ‘normal’ life, puts family time and personal happiness back at the top of the priority list for us all.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Webull has approximately 200 employees in four different office locations and I have found managing the many different teams the most difficult aspect of remote working. We are not used to all working from home simultaneously, so we have been experiencing a steep learning curve. I feel building efficiencies into communicating and linking the many different specialists to produce business solutions is a more cumbersome process now. Getting a team in a conference room and brainstorming just works better in most cases. We have been getting more efficient with the many software products available now and I feel that productivity has returned to near pre-COVID levels for my team. Externally, however, I think fostering partnerships and cooperation with other businesses has slowed as it is very hard to replace the confidence you get when you look another person in the eye and shake hands. You can’t emulate that with Zoom.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Everyone has been impacted by COVD-19, but how they have been affected can be very different. Personally, I have always been hindered by time, often lamenting that there is not enough time in the day. I am using this as an opportunity to take that time. Playing ball with my kids, getting healthier, calling my parents more; the list goes on. I think it’s vital that we reach out to one another. Humans by nature are social, and we derive our inspiration and happiness not only from inside, but from the ones who we choose to surround ourselves with. Reach out and be present. Try not to think of this time as punishment, but as a chance to reset or make changes that have always been easily dismissed because you were always “too busy.”
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy.
We have a population that is wanting and waiting to get back to “normal” life. Many believe that we will never get back to the same normal, but that was said following 9–11 as well. We will quickly be back to normal living, it just may be slightly altered, just like taking off shoes and arriving to the airport 2 hours early is a “new-normal.” People will go back to the theatres and they will travel on planes again, I am positive of that. The opportunities lie in the services that will be born to facilitate this new normal way of life. Just like security services boomed post 9–11, sanitization services will boom following COVID-19. Opportunities are all around us all the time, but huge life-changing scenarios like the one the pandemic has bestowed upon us will create a new generation of wealth for those with the guts to pursue new opportunities.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
It is my hope that in a post-COVID world, we will have a greater appreciation and understanding of our health. This goes for both people and the government. The health of our whole population and healthcare system affects individuals in profound ways, and we are currently getting a crash course right now.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Even though Webull was not built to be a “stay at home” company, our business has thrived during this pandemic. Many of our users found our platform looking for more financial freedom, while others who have been putting investing off for years now finally had the time. We will use this growth to re-invest in even more powerful tools, services, and asset classes to continue with our mission to provide a better platform for users. We will also be using this tailwind to grow our staff and our footprint globally.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would encourage others to use this time to focus on what you or your company excels in and concentrate all your efforts to highlight those qualities to others. Take this opportunity to shed unwanted and unneeded distractions to your business or in your life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Integrity is hard-earned and easily taken away.” Gaining integrity is no easy feat. Like trust, it cannot be achieved when it is the goal. Time and consistency in doing things the right way makes me a successful leader and investor. I often think of this quote when there is an ‘easy exit’ which reminds me that all I have achieved over the years is not guaranteed for me to keep.