Timur Turlov’s Approach to Business, Money, and Social Development

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How Turlov Expands His International Business and Invests in the Development of Kazakhstan

Timur Turlov is the founder and CEO of Freedom Holding Corp., the sole stock brokerage firm from the CIS, listed on Nasdaq.  Over the past four years, the market value of the company’s shares has risen more than fivefold. So what is the secret behind this businessman’s success, and what principles has he followed to help him build such a large enterprise? 

From a Small Broker to an International Holding

Turlov, a 36-year-old entrepreneur, established Freedom Holding Corp. 15 years ago. In 2012, he entered the Kazakhstani market, where he built the core business of Freedom’s current financial services ecosystem, and in 2020, the company acquired Prime Executions, an American company that provided Turlov with the opportunity to launch Freedom Capital Markets in the United States. Freedom Capital Markets now assists various businesses in organizing IPOs and other equity capital markets activities in the American financial market.

After living in Kazakhstan for a decade, in 2022, Turlov was successful in his bid for citizenship, and since that time, he has been rapidly expanding the company’s business in the country, creating innovative and scalable financial services products that have global potential, while implementing social projects and programs that have benefitted thousands of Kazakh citizens. 

Today, Turlov is the leader of a company that has operations in 19 countries including Kazakhstan, the U.S., Cyprus, Germany, Greece, and Armenia, to name a few. In late 2023, Freedom expanded its presence in the EU through the opening of offices in Austria, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria.

Did Turlov ever envision that his small brokerage company would become such an international holding? “Not really. At the time, all we wanted was to create a relatively small company that would focus on rendering services to former clients of Uniastrum Bank,” the businessman told Financier Magazine in an interview. “While at Uniastrum, my colleagues and I worked on creating programs for clients to access the American stock market, which turned out to be an extremely valuable experience for us. In 2008, when Uniastrom closed its brokerage division down as a result of the financial crisis, we decided to establish Freedom. Initially, we hoped to have a couple dozen clients and maybe attract several thousand more customers at some point in the future.”

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However, reality didn’t meet initial expectations, and not a single client of Uniastrum switched to the new company. As a result, Turlov had to develop his business from scratch. “Our company was like a small startup where, even though I was the CEO, I had to wear many hats and do any job that our team needed to be done. Fifteen years later, we’ve evolved into something so big that sometimes still amazes me, but doesn’t surprise me because we’ve worked very hard to take care of our customers and our community,” he says. 

Turlov’s System: “We Give More Than Receive”

Commenting on his current financial position, Turlov highlights that his prosperity is a reflection of his business philosophy. “My wealth has been generated by the time and money I have put to work or invested. This is the real market value of the company, not cash,” he explained.

“My belief is that money is a tool that must constantly be at work. Keeping it on a nightstand or locked up in a savings account doesn’t sit well with me. When I see idle funds, I can’t help but invest them in something. When you think about it, money is a kind of ‘energy’ we trade our labor for. Then we trade this energy for some other asset. If you put this money into a safe, you lock up or lose a huge amount of human energy instead of setting it free to work and create even more energy. I think that if someone needs to store, or lock up huge piles of money, gold, or foreign exchange reserves, he probably doesn’t trust anyone and nobody puts trust in him, as a result, the positive energy of money quickly dissipates” the billionaire said.

Turlov has always highlighted that trust and reputation are the key values in his business. “When you run a company that works on two continents, has about 7,000 employees, and consists of different businesses such as a bank, brokers, and customer services such as flight booking services in various countries, you can’t expect your business to be developed without trust within your team,” he stated. 

Turlov’s view is that success in the American, European, or global markets is what any organization that wants to be a blue chip company needs. “Tesla did this and has become the biggest car company in the world with its Model Y being the bestseller in its segment. Freedom is following the same goal of being the best in its segments and in new markets. For instance, we’ve been rapidly growing in Europe and I am convinced that our expertise and products in these regions can be scaled up and deployed in other countries,” Turlov said.

Freedom is focused on the creation of an integrated diversified ecosystem and invests heavily in this work. It is doing so primarily in Kazakhstan where it acquires financial and non-financial services, and examines customers’ needs with the purpose of making its products better. “We have focused all our attention and efforts on this integration,” Turlov added.

When commenting on business issues, the entrepreneur reveals that what he truly wants is to set a new standard, a new bar in the universe of Freedom’s interest and create increasing value. “As any other entrepreneur, I dream to see my product so popular that customers would stand in line to get it. I want to create something that’s useful for people and create a mutually beneficial partnership where they get real value, and we also profit. High levels of utilization with positive profitability. This is an effective indicator of how useful the thing that you have created actually is. At the same time, we also need scale and integration to remain competitive,” Turlov explains.

Digital Kazakhstan as a Fertile Ground for Business

In the Republic of Kazakhstan, Freedom has been creating a deeply integrated diversified ecosystem with various banking and telecommunication products, which generate big data that this ecosystem can effectively leverage. This is a personal goal and a key driver of Turlov’s, and it shows: the Freedom ecosystem now consists of more than 10 companies, rendering services to more than 1.2 million customers. 

Why is the core element of Turlov’s business in Kazakhstan? The answer is simple: the businessman shares the country’s politics and philosophy. “I like the way our president manages the country. As a politician, he sees the ‘big picture’ of the world and understands the concept of balanced compromise.  Whereas I, for example, can often oscillate between extremes. This kind of wise approach to politics and the economy is why I like him. He is a brilliant diplomat,” Turlov highlighted. He was quick to add that he has no intention of going into politics and that he felt that being an entrepreneur is how he can best serve his country.

Turlov believes that Kazakhstan has a chance to become a key financial hub in Central Asia. “Kazakhstan is like a new Switzerland. It has the highest international rating in the region and it is tech-savvy; it is highly digitalized, West-oriented and open to foreign investments,” he says. According to the businessman, Kazakhstan’s potential is huge, which is why he managed to create Freedom’s ecosystem here. Establishing a similar ecosystem somewhere in the West would require tens of billions of dollars.

In 2012, he realized that this was the place where he could create something big, something that could change the local environment. “I somehow knew this was a place where I could achieve something. I saw excellent opportunities here; I knew that my expertise would be handy here, and I didn’t see many competitors in the brokerage market. Plus, I’ve rapidly made friends with many people in Kazakhstan; I fell in love with the city, its weather, and the mountains. (Timur lives in Almaty.) My family has also come here. I mean, this choice was not only business-driven, it was an emotional one too,” he said.

It is worth noting that Freedom has indeed changed Kazakhstan, and its stock market in particular, by bringing the most advanced technologies and promoting the development of local stock exchanges and regulators themselves. As Turlov noted, over the past ten years, Kazakhstan has changed completely, and its current performance is quite impressive. Every year, the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange (KASE), holds an awards ceremony, and Freedom is consistently recognized as a leader in the market.  This year the company won the underwriter of the year award in the marketing of shares and corporate bonds, as well as the market maker of the year. 

What businesses has Timur Turov established in Kazakhstan? As of today, these are:

  1. Freedom Bank: This retail bank is ranked 8th in the country. It is a pioneer in terms of unique services such as digital mortgages, car loans, and online lending to businesses
  2. Freedom Broker: Actually, there are two brokerage companies – one operating in the local market and the other in foreign markets, rendering services to non-residents
  3. Tradernet: A unique trading platform, a tech hub for brokers, banks and investors
  4. Freedom Pay: An e-payment platform for businesses operating in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan
  5. Freedom Life and Freedom Insurance: Two insurance companies
  6. Lifestyle services companies: Rendering various services to consumers, namely, air tickets, concert and event tickets, and an online supermarket
  7. Freedom Telecom: A new telecommunications operator aimed at improving access to high-speed internet with the help of 5G and Air-to-Ground (A2G) technology. A2G is designed to provide access to the internet for air travelers during their flights. 

In Kazakhstan, the company is working on a super app that will combine various services into one mobile application and is expecting to roll out the first version of the app soon. On the app customers will enjoy access to goods and services from the company’s partners, at the best price.

By contemplating the current conditions for banking and financial organizations, Turlov says that Freedom had no choice but to switch to the diversified ecosystem model as small companies in a narrow niche will eventually lose the battle in their own marketplaces when competing with bigger financial entities or banks. 

The expansion of this diversified ecosystem is why the company has also established Freedom Telecom, a multi-service telecommunications company. A completely new start-up in the company’s universe of businesses, but one that is expected to evolve rapidly and become profitable within three years. In late 2023, Freedom raised $200 million through a bond offering that attracted a lot of attention from investors. “It will initially be time and capital-intensive to get the telco fully operational, but with hard work and patience, we think the outcome will be well worth the wait,” the company’s CEO said.

So far, Kazakhtelecom is the only company in Kazakhstan that is working on the expansion of broadband internet, and it simply cannot do so in a rapid and cost-effective manner. When Turlov saw this opportunity, he knew that Freedom’s expertise would help to find low-cost and more effective technical solutions to offer the population affordable access to high-speed internet. It would also allow Freedom to solve at least one social problem and maybe even boost the national GDP, given that internet access is crucial when it comes to things like telemedicine and other digital services.

Undoubtedly, the telco will have a synergistic effect on the entire enterprise. “This will be an all-in-one type of system where a customer can obtain a SIM card, a banking account, and access to many other financial services in a one-stop-shop application. By investing in the construction of new networks, the company opens access to new customers for Freedom Bank, which has significant growth potential,” the businessman revealed.

Additionally, Freedom Telecom has registered Freedom Media, a new subsidiary that is seeking to deliver streaming services analogous to Netflix in Kazakhstan. The company plans to allocate $54 million in capital commitment for further development of Freedom Media within the next five years, and, based on the experience of leading global providers, it is obvious that streaming services and even film production are must-have business lines. Freedom Media will not only aggregate Western movies and TV series in one place (by buying corresponding licenses) but will also focus on the creation of original Kazakhstani movies and TV series. “People in Kazakhstan want relatable movies, from their own country, about things they experience, know, and fully understand,” Turlov told BES.media in an interview.

Looking into the Future: Not Just Finances

Advanced telecommunications access is capable of being an effective tool to decrease social inequality in Kazakhstan. According to Turlov, “with the infrastructure in place to provide high-speed internet access to an additional two million Kazakhstanis we can help provide these people with information and services that were only once dreamed of, such as access to high-quality education and health care. Turlov excitedly added, “If Kazakhstan is ranked 30th not 100th in terms of internet speed, the national GDP per capita has the potential to be significantly higher and that’s better for everyone.” 

Concerning the social development and wellbeing of fellow citizens of Kazakhstan, Freedom and Turlov himself have been actively supporting sports such as youth football (QJ League) and chess. In early 2023, Turlov became the president of the Kazakhstan Chess Federation and later was given the Best President of an Accredited Sports Federation award. Last year, Kazakhstani chess players won 116 medals, including two gold and two bronze medals at the Asian Continental Chess Championship and a silver medal in a team tournament for women.

The businessman believes that right now active young people are the most important resource in Kazakhstan. “These talented people are the new ‘oil’ of our country and I expect that all our social projects will last at least five to seven years,” the head of Freedom Holding Corp. said. Over the past twelve months, overall investments in various social projects reached $66.5 million, according to Turlov.

In addition, Freedom pours money into projects of historical and cultural significance, such as supporting the publication of the Oxford Qazaq Dictionary, the first Kazakh-English dictionary with more than 60,000 words, aimed at promoting and popularizing the Kazakh language. They also support the QALAM arts and history project, which is an educational online platform that offers its readers a great number of interesting articles, various discussions, and podcasts about the history of Kazakhstan and all of Central Asia.

Turlov often speaks about his passion for social initiatives as he genuinely believes that both businesses and citizens can contribute to the strengthening of Kazakhstan in true partnership with state agencies. “People have different capabilities. The more resources you have, the higher responsibility you bear,” he underlined. 

He cares about the future of Kazakhstan not just as a businessman but also as a father.  He wants his children to live in this country as he does. “I am a husband, a father, an entrepreneur, and a dedicated citizen of the Republic of Kazakhstan. As an entrepreneur, I know that I am not going to change the whole world but what I can do, at the very least in Kazakhstan, is create something that is valuable for people.  It is in this way that I can be a useful contributor,” he stated.

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Medb
Editor
Medb
Editor

Medb is an editor with three years of experience in blockchain and cryptocurrency and a BSc in Mathematical Science. Having worked with dynamic startups in the crypto space, she is passionate about translating complex concepts into accessible content that educates and empowers. In her professional journey, Medb has gained invaluable insights into the transformative potential of DeFi, NFTs, and other groundbreaking applications of blockchain technology. She’s always on the lookout for the latest trends and advancements in the industry, underscoring her dedication to providing readers with insightful analysis and thought-provoking commentary. Outside of her work, Medb can be found hiking…