GFT Celebrates 10 Years
ADA — As Global Forex Trading marks its 10th year in business this year, Gary L. Tilkin, founder, president and CEO, has his eyes on the future.
GFT is an online foreign exchange dealer serving tens of thousands of traders in more than 130 countries through its offices in Ada, New York, Chicago, London, Tokyo and Sydney. The company provides real-time currency dealing, pricing and services for retail and institutional foreign exchange traders through its DealBook trading software and 24-hour dealing desk.
Tilkin had previously owned a futures brokerage firm in New York but sold it and started a similar business — Global Futures & Forex Ltd. — in Ada in 1991. In 1997, Tilkin founded Global Forex Trading as a division of that company.
In 1997 Tilkin’s company was doing a lot of currency futures and wanted to offer its customers better service, because the logistics of sending orders to the trading floor were difficult and rather antiquated, Tilkin recalled. At the Chicago Mercantile Exchange nothing was electronic; orders had to be wired to the trading floor or called in. When an order was sent down to the floor, it had to be physically run out to the trading pit by a runner who gave it to a floor broker. It took time to fill an order and more time to receive the verification of its execution.
The company began licensing a software that enabled its clients to bypass the paper path and physical trading floor and have worldwide access to the market. There were only two or three other companies in the country that were doing online trading of currencies at that time.
“We were one of the first to really get into electronic trading, but that meant a major change in that we were no longer doing futures brokerage anymore. We actually became currency dealers and we were the exchange; there was no more Chicago Mercantile Exchange in the middle of the process,” Tilkin explained. “We were actually the ones that customers were buying and selling currencies from.”
Global Forex Trading moved its customers over to the online currency trading platform from the futures side. About a year and a half later, the company developed its own software called DealBook. It was one of the few companies of its kind to own its own software; most were licensing software from someone, Tilkin said. Global Forex has upgraded its DealBook software many times over the years.
“I think software and marketing are the things that really distinguished us,” he observed. “We probably have the best software in the industry, which is one selling point but it’s not everything — there’s customer service and your ability to sell,” he added.
Though Global Futures & Forex Ltd. was growing during that time, the company’s profitability and the size of its customer base really took off after Tilkin started Global Forex Trading. The foreign exchange market is the largest of all trading markets, with a volume estimated at $1.9 trillion a day.
The company remains on a growth curve. In the five-year period between 2000 and 2004, it grew 15,518 percent. It has averaged year-over-year volume increases of 85 percent, and has twice been recognized on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 list of the fastest-growing tech companies. Tilkin was the regional winner of the Ernst & Young 2004 Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the financial services category and a finalist for the national award, as well.
“Growth may even be better in the next several years, because DealBook (software) is really more accepted,” Tilkin added. “Now customers ask about it all the time, and we have companies that come to us for help in getting into the business.”
As Tilkin sees it, the development of DealBook software was a major milestone for the company. Another was its establishment of relationships with major institutional players — such as securities brokerage firms as well as futures brokerage firms. The company has about 50 sales people currently, and Tilkin wants to boost that number to 150 this year. There also are plans to add futures trading to its DealBook software.
One of the company’s growth strategies is to work on retaining its customers. If customers aren’t knowledgeable about trading, they lose money and close their accounts. So Global Forex introduced a trading education company — the Strategic Trading Institute — last fall to offer customers training in online financial trading through live workshops, Web seminars and online training.
“We want to increase the knowledge base and provide value to individuals who are well on their way to becoming successful traders,” he explained. “Everyone benefits when traders are more informed and more prepared to trade the markets.”
Tilkin said the next thing the company will probably do is add one or two more offices outside the United States. He said the company plans to focus heavily on Asia and more on Europe. Its London office deals in derivatives other than currencies; it uses “contracts for differences, known as CFDs, to trade securities, futures, gold, silver and indices such as the S&P 500 on leverage. Global Forex offers CFDs throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and all of those areas have a big interest in them, he noted.
“In the United States you can trade securities but you have to put up 50 percent leverage. In London we can do it for 5 percent,” he explained. “In most countries, you can offer CFD trading. I predict that will probably be a bigger business for us than forex. It may take five years to get there.”