Nigeria’s SEC plans to regulate foreign stock brokers

Nigeria is taking another step at trying to reduce demand for foreign stocks with tighter regulation of local brokers.

Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission now plans to register brokers selling stocks of foreign companies as more Nigerians pile into the assets to hedge against inflation and currency weakness.

An earlier effort last month met local resistance, backfiring after warnings alerting people to risks and threats to sanction local traders.

“The commission plans to actively monitor the local market in foreign stocks in furtherance of our mandate of ensuring investor protection and market transparency,” Dayo Obisan, executive commissioner for operations of the SEC, said in an interview.

The regulator wants to draw a curtain on a period that saw legions of young Nigerians turn to online platforms to invest in stocks and digital currencies.

The need to protect savings took on more urgency after the central bank devalued the local currency three times within a year while inflation accelerated at the fastest pace in four years.

Before now, the online platforms could connect high net-worth individuals without an independent license.

The SEC now wants to regulate them directly over concerns they’re targeting retail investors that require protection.

The All-Share Index, Nigeria’s benchmark equity gauge has retreated 2% this year, compared with a gain of about 11% in the S&P 500 Index.

At least 400,000 Nigerians poured funds into foreign stocks through online brokers in the past 18 months, Obisan said.

Nigerians actively trading or holding foreign equities now exceeds those investing in local collective investment schemes or mutual funds, according to the regulator.

About 70% are between the ages of 18 and 40, a demographic that’s shunned the local stock market, whose total active investor base is less than a million.

The SEC intends to license firms offering foreign stocks under so-called “digital sub-broker” regulations, which it says should provide a form of legitimacy for their activities.

The requirement will ensure “that regulatory responsibilities in on-boarding clients, custody of assets, and compliance with reporting requirements are met,” Obisan said.