BY ANUSH A. HOVSEPYAN
Is Armenia an attractive market for investors? What does Armenia have to offer to its Diaspora–Armenians who have the money and the willingness to run businesses in Armenia? Is it possible to make money and make a difference in Armenia from a distance? How can we best use Armenia’s biggest resource – its Diaspora – to advance Armenia to another level?
Armenia’s premier advisory and financial services provider, Ameria Group of Companies (AmeriaGroupInc.com), has the answers, serving that very mission to bridge the Diaspora to Armenia’s promising business and investment opportunities by providing full-fledged advisory and financial services.
The founding members of Ameria Group are successful Diaspora Armenian businessmen such as Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan. In partnership with professionals in Armenia, these entrepreneurial minds have invested in Ameria in Armenia and now say it has been a profitable and meaningful investment.
Prominent investment banker Ruben Vardanyan listed in Fortune Magazine’s “25 Rising Stars” as the next generation of global leaders, is the chair of Ameria’s board. Venture capitalist and MIT Professor Noubar Afeyan is Ameria’s founding board member. He believes the Diaspora Armenians need an institutional approach towards doing business in Armenia: “Today Armenia is emerging as an attractive place to do business. We have to start thinking about institutional relationships, not just individual relationships. Ameria Group is one such company in Armenia with the means to encourage the exchange of expertise and investments.” Glendale City Council member Rafi Manoukian is also now with Ameria Group as its COO. Ameria started out with only five employees and a $100,000 investment.
Today, with a team of more than 500 professionals, $500 million in assets and branches across the country, Ameria Group of Companies is growing beyond the borders of Armenia. It has attracted multimillions in foreign investments and helped many businesses successfully grow in the emerging Armenian market.
Ameria stands behind the development of the world’s largest aerial tramway to Tatev Monastery, the largest mergers and acquisition deals in Armenia’s commercial real estate sector, specialized in hotel acquisitions and sales, equity financing of more than $200 million and more. Ameria group is renowned in the region for the Ameria Legal & Management Advisory, Ameriabank and Ameria Asset Management. It is the only financial institution in the South Caucasus region recognized as a Global Growth Champion by the DAVOS World Economic Forum for its exceptional growth and expertise. The Banker, published by the Financial Times, names Ameria “the best bank in Armenia.” What direction will Ameria take next? Today, Ameria is a pan-Armenian advisory group that reaches out to Armenians worldwide as a one-stop resource for Diaspora investors who want to make money and make a difference in Armenia. Since 2011, the Ameria Group of Companies has established a presence in the United States through
Ameria Group Inc. Ameria’s founding board member, CEO & founder of the multi-million dollar company Flagship Ventures, Noubar Afeyan in this interview addresses the ways Diaspora can be involved in Armenia’s economy.
ANUSH HOVSEPYAN: You and other like-minded Armenian businessmen have been making changes in Armenia through the development of the banking and business sector. You compared Armenia to a startup. How can a country be compared to a start-up?
NOUBAR AFEYAN: After the collapse of the Soviet Union, I think, Armenia was forced to become a start-up economically. The country had to think about trade-offs and priorities, identifying its core competencies that would give the country a competitive advantage. A group of entrepreneurs formed Armenia2020 project for Armenia’s development to make systemic changes at the government level, private sector and society at large. Then, in partnership with Armenia’s government, we founded the National Competitiveness Foundation to begin the process of creating joint projects. For that, we needed business models that would allow local operations but with global standards. Ameria is a direct result of all that analysis and is a venture geared to move the country forward.
A.H.: Was the development of Armenia’s financial sector a part of Armenia’s competitiveness plan?
N.A.: Definitely, but in order to reach that goal, we needed to adhere to global standards beyond the local Armenian market. It was then that Ameria was established with an aim to be a domestic venture with world-class standards – a big attitude change. Ameria’s organizational culture, commitment to excellence with continuous staff development and company branding are all consistent with its “dare to dream big and work hard to achieve the dream” philosophy. Ameria has set a benchmark of success and growth.
A.H.: What were your intentions when entering the Armenian market as a Diaspora Armenian investor? Why did you take the risk?
N.A.: Many Diaspora Armenians invest in Armenia in the familiar fields. For instance, if they have a construction business in America, they put money in constructing buildings in Armenia. Why and how to invest in Armenia depends on the business interests and the support system available in the country. Ameria provides that support platform. For me, Ameria is a way to participate in all key aspects of the economy by providing capital, expertise and access to my network, allowing me to have a larger reach, rather than narrowly investing in tomato processing plants, for example. Focused on core competencies in each sector, Ameria strategically allocates the capital to produce the highest return for investors in an emerging market. The Diaspora investors can have immediate participation in Armenia’s economy by investing in Ameriabank’s term deposits. Ameria has a special Diaspora Deposits program that allows for six months, one year, or even longer terms deposits at high rates. My recommendation to potential investors would be to start small and do it right the first time with the right partners. Get your toe in the water and go from there.
A.H.: Why it is worth investing in Armenia?
N.A.: It’s one thing to say you should invest all your money in Armenia, it’s another thing to say you should allocate a portion. As you gain more confidence, you can decide to increase that portion. Armenia is developing largely based on the power of the Diaspora Armenians who utilize the business opportunities in Armenia’s emerging market. Investments in Armenia can generate higher returns through terms that don’t exist in the mature markets of the Western world. For example, in Armenia the interest rate is 8-10% for a term deposit; in the U.S. it is 1 or 1.5%. It’s really about getting in at the early stages of economic development, which also involves higher risks. So, it’s about creating a balance of risk and reward potential.
A.H.: What does Ameria mean to you as an investor?
N.A.: I’m a founding investor and a board member. I’ve been involved in consulting and governing the organization. Coming from the U.S. and the innovation sector, I bring a different point of view than the other board members who have Russian marketing and banking experiences.
When in Armenia, I know how important it is to be able to get the banking support with the same international standards we’re used to in the West. Ameriabank provides that. Not only does it add a business value to the economy, but also a strategic one. Ameria is a one-stop resource for entrepreneurs, providing full-fledged support and advisory services in the legal, managerial and financial aspects of their business. It is great to have a world-class company with local know-how in Armenia’s emerging market.
During his 25-year career as an inventor, entrepreneur, CEO and venture capitalist, Dr. Afeyan has co-founded and built 25 successful life science and technology startups. Afeyan is a recipient of the Technology Pioneer 2012 award from the World Economic Forum and the prestigious Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Award. Afeyan is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. Ameria Group, Armenia’s premier advisory and financial services provider, is one of Afeyan’s successful undertakings that also has an emotional value for the entrepreneur. He believes Ameria is a much needed bridge connecting the Diaspora to Armenia’s promising business opportunities. In his words, Ameria is unique as it brings world-class expertise and local know-how for all those who want to make a positive change in the country through business ventures as opposed to pure charity.
Among the many awards and 200 projects implemented in the past decade by Ameria, below are listed the ones that have contributed to Armenia’s economic development:
- Development of world’s longest aerial ropeway to Tatev Monastery
- Business plan for the largest mining company in the region – Zangezour Copper-Molybdenum
- Investment projects of more than $500 million
- Equity financing for Armenian businesses of more than $200 million.
- The Best Trade Finance Bank 2012: Global Finance Award
- The Best Bank in Armenia 2011: Euromoney 2011 Awards for Excellence
- The Best Bank in Armenia 2010: The Banker, a magazine published by the Financial Times
For Additional Information Call: 1(888) 802 5352 Or Visit Ameriagroupinc.com