Ari Shpanya is the CEO at Slice RE, an STO that offers institutional grade commercial real-estate in prime markets.
AT: Is investing restricted to accredited investors?
AS: This would depend on the investor’s nationality. In general, Slice dedicates a great deal of time and resources to comply with the regulatory requirements of each jurisdiction our company targets. Accreditation is a US regulatory process, so in the United States investing is restricted to accredited investors. Other countries have different definitions and requirements, and Slice complies with these requirements. Oftentimes, we get approached by individuals of countries we’ve never dealt with, so our compliance officer helps these individuals find out whether they are eligible to invest or not.
AT: Slice RE currently enables international investors to take advantage of US real estate. Are there any geographical restrictions on the location of investors?
AS: Our current focus is on EMEA. More specifically, we are currently working with investors from countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Europe and Israel.
AT: You recently partnered with StraightUp which offers commercial real estate in major hotspots such as Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Any plans on further diversifying into secondary cities?
AS: In the long run, definitely. Our focus at the moment is commercial real estate projects in major US cities. For example, our Manhattan One project is in the heart of Manhattan in the sought-after Chelsea neighborhood. Our experience has taught us that international investors look for opportunities in markets they understand or are somewhat familiar with. Once they experience these investments first hand, they’ll be more inclined to invest in secondary and tertiary markets. We have a team of real estate analysts in Los Angeles and San Francisco that actively vets and sources deals nationwide.
AS: We don’t consider these companies competition. Slice is in the business of cross-border RE investments. Our current investments, like Manhattan One, can be treated as a traditional private equity deal. The tokens and optional liquidity are just an additional layer of benefits that lives on top of our core business. Liquidity is something that is going to be fully realized when secondary markets (like OpenFinance and tZero) will mature and facilitate meaningful trading volume.
AT: Can you explain what happens after an investor signs up and logins in for the first time? What’s the KYC and AML process?
AS: Our investors must go through 3 simple steps before they are able to invest in our offerings (registration, onboarding and investment).
During registration, investors provide general details like email and phone number to quickly set up an account. Onboarding is the process of Slice getting to know the investor on multiple facets: (1) initiating a KYC/AML/Accreditation process, (2) learning the investor’s intentions, expectations and experience with alternative investments (3) cultivating a meaningful relationship by assigning the investors with an account manager.
The KYC/AML process includes uploading:
- A selfie
- A government-issued ID (in English) or a passport
- A utility bill
The uploaded documents and information are then being verified and screened.
Once this is done, investors can explore offerings suited for their preferences. The investments can be subscribed using the platform, which includes a data room, eSigning and online payment modules. Later on, and depending on market volume, investors can expect to enjoy liquidity for their investments.
AT: Will investors be able to handpick the investment that they wish to be involved in? Or will it be simply an investor holds a security token, and that security token is invested in multiple properties?
AS: Slice lets investors cherry pick a specific project, as opposed to a traditional REIT model, where investors have to invest in a basket of projects of varying quality. We let investors get involved with a fairly little capital, because we understand that this type of investment vehicle is new for most investors, and we want to give them the opportunity to experience the benefits of this investment before adding more capital to their Slice real estate portfolio. The beauty of this model is that it allows investors to allocated small amounts to different projects and thus create a truly diversified real estate portfolio.
AT: Can you explain the investment style option which currently offers conservative, medium, or aggressive investments? I’ve seen this in traditional mutual funds, but it’s something that might be new for a lot of people in the real estate space. What are the different levels? Is this based on a projected yield/risk analysis?
AS: Real estate investments are typically divided into 3 main strategies based on perceived risk and projected returns. As the projected returns increase, so does the potential risk.
Core – Core assets are relatively stable yielding assets, located in major developed markets. They are characterized with strong fundamentals, high occupancy, credible tenants and a low degree of leverage. These projects are usually owned by institutional investors for a long holding period. These assets are considered to be a conservative investment, and the main objective investors choose them is wealth preservation.
Value-Add – These investments holds a higher level of risk with a greater upside potential. These assets can be found in primary or secondary markets, where the manager can actively add value by renovating the asset, increasing occupancy, or improving the tenants quality.
Opportunistic – There are many types of opportunistic investments, but generally these are either highly distressed properties (major vacancy, financial distress), new development projects, or assets in emerging markets. These assets typically require significant rehabilitation and have little to no cash flow. They carry the highest risk, and require experienced management, but can generate the highest returns (most of the return will be generated when the asset is sold or refinanced).
AT: Investors can earn dividends from real estate. Will you be outsourcing the collection of rent, managing properties, etc. to a management company or will you create a management company to manage these assets?
AS: Slice is a tech company that specializes in the tokenization of commercial real estate investments. We believe in domain expertise and therefore work with professional property management firms and legal advisors to best serve our investors. These services are being outsource to contractors with a proven track record, as we have no intentions to become a property management company.
AT: With the potential economies of scale that can be had, what are the property management fees that we can expect?
AS: Again Slice is not a property management firm. The industry has its standards regarding fee structures, depending on the property type. Due to our team’s vast experience, and the numerous relationships we have with developers, we are able to compare and negotiate attractive terms and fee structures for our investors.
AT: What’s the average projected holding time? For example, is the idea to purchase the development in pre-construction, tenant it for a year, and then flip it?
AS: The holding periods depend on the underlying asset. This might be a 2-3 year hold for a new condo construction or a 5-year hold for an income-producing asset. Our model lets investors take charge of their own holding period and liquidate their position without having to pay a hefty premium. We believe that the introduction of secondary markets is around the corner and that the revolution of tradable private securities will be expanded to other asset classes like fine art, stock options, and more.
AT: How are you planning on attracting the retail investors who are new to the concept of blockchain and tokenization of real estate?
AS: At Slice, we are not in the business of overpromising; we believe that retail investors should be handled with special care and with full transparency. The true adoption of retail investors will come from the fruition of projects led by developers with a meaningful track record (like our partners @ HAP NYC), the continuous development of quality project, and the emergence of secondary markets with meaningful trade volumes. Once these three pillars are in place, we believe that more retail investors will be actively looking for these kind of deals, and regulators worldwide will approve investment vehicles that are aimed specifically for retail investors.
AT: What are your marketing plans for the next 12 months?
AS: We focus on educating the market about the benefits of security tokens for cross-border investors. Most prospects we talk to don’t fully understand the difference between utility tokens, which are backed by empty promises, and security tokens that are backed by real-world assets. These same investors certainly don’t understand security tokens advantages like fractional ownership, increased liquidity, rapid settlement, reduction in direct costs, automated compliance, and asset interoperability – so educating the market is key. This month, we are launching a webinar series to help prospective investors understand the benefits of our technology and get to know our strategic partners (like HAP) which build some of the projects we tokenize. This effort gives our audience an opportunity to meet our management team, ask questions, and ultimately build trust with our brand.