The Curious Case of First Union Capital
Is the mysterious maker of the ‘Unicorn Trading System’ what it claims to be?
An investigation into First Union Capital reveals that its founder is not being truthful, if he even exists; that it appears not to be registered with the financial regulatory agencies in any country in which it claims to do business; that hundreds of thousands of traders have not used its online trading program over the past four years, as it claims; and that its assertion of the almost perfect predictive powers of its trading program is certainly bogus.
My probe started on March 12, 2021, when I read a First Union Capital press release titled “Tackling Future Challenges with AI, Unicorn Trading System Creates the Absolute Trading Formula.”
The release, written in awkward English and filled with industry jargon haphazardly combined to create nonsensical sentences, promotes First Union Capital’s “Unicorn Algorithmic Trading System.” What especially piqued my interest was FUC’s claim that the artificial intelligence trading system been used by hundreds of thousands of I-Traders in the U.K. since 2017.
A second press release, on March 25, 2021, offers more of the same gibberish.
The problem: I could find no evidence that the Unicorn Algorithmic Trading System has been or is being used by anyone at all or, more broadly, that First Union Capital provides or has ever provided any services to anyone.
FUC exists, at least on paper. According to Companies House, the United Kingdom’s registrar of companies, FUC is a U.K.-registered company. (We’ll return to this formation information a bit later.)
The press releases led me to FUC’s website, which, too, is a rich word salad of peculiar phrases and is populated with utterly preposterous claims about the Unicorn Trading System’s success, most notably: “There are trading signals almost every minute, creating daily trading profits with a win rate of nearly 100% and a profit of 3–10 points per lot.”
Curiously, the website for this U.K. company is available in English and Chinese, and invites viewers to “talk to our representative today.” So I clicked on the link, completed the form, identified myself as an independent columnist with Institutional Investor, and asked to arrange a call to learn more about their business. FUC did not reply to my request. I also emailed “Oliver Wright, Marketing Director,” the media contact identified in the first press release. He did not respond.
The website presents the biographies of FUC’s seven team members. All of the bios are unsurprisingly vague and overtly suspicious, providing sweeping claims of career success but lacking specific personal details about previous employers, credentials, and education.
Consider the biography of Mr. Dean Grayson, FUC’s founder and chief technology officer:
According to the company’s website, “Founder and Chief Technological Officer of First Union Capital, Dean has demonstrated expertise in the financial sector with over 16 years of Algorithmic Trading experience. Highly proficient in probability and statistics, Dean is specialized in the design of trading strategies, machine learning and artificial intelligence.”
Curious to learn more about Grayson, I searched LinkedIn. On March 16, 2021, I could find no profile, which seemed a bit odd given FUC’s business history and his biography on the website. But as of March 28, 2021, Grayson is on LinkedIn, where he lists only one professional position (FUC’s founder). His profile contains some fascinating historical details.
For example, he claims to have “led the team to organize and first to trade on the Central Asian Stock Exchange, Almaty Kazakhstan” and served as “Chairman of Board of URBI, S.A., Bilbao Spain.” The profile also indicates that Grayson received a “Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Economics and Data Science (1996–2000)” and a “Master of Science in Management Studies (2001–2003)” from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
His degrees seemed a bit fishy, so I checked with MIT. In response, I was told that “according to the MIT Registrar’s Office, we do not have a record of an individual with the name Dean Grayson having been an enrolled MIT student.”
The plot thickened when I struggled to find even a trace of Grayson on the internet. There is no mention of his successes in Kazakhstan or his chairmanship; in fact, I could dig up nothing that appeared relevant before the March 2021 press releases. I even did an image search using the picture of the smiling Grayson from the press release — but found no matches.
Internet searches for “First Union Capital” and “Unicorn Trading System” also reveal nothing since around the time of the first press release — and absolutely nothing of relevance for 2017–2020. Additionally, the results for 2021 were just mentions of that press release.
A search of the Wayback Machine shows that from 2017 to 2021, the domain name “first-union.com” was cached only seven times.
All of this is simply bizarre for a company boastfully declaring that I-Traders have been using its Unicorn Algorithmic Trading System since 2017. It was thus not surprising when I discovered that FUC’s domain was registered only on April 27, 2020, with a firm in Iceland.
But FUC does have a recently established presence on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. The sites contain some strange features. For example, the Facebook page, which as of late March had two followers, contains posts in Vietnamese and English, and its Instagram account features posts in English and Korean.
Luckily for me, the sites include three professionally produced promotional videos in English. Their titles foretell their dodgy content (“What’s better than making money while you sleep?”).
FUC’s YouTube page features the same videos (two posted on March 23 and a third on March 29, 2021). They are in English, but the text describing the videos is in Vietnamese and English (and in other places in Korean and English). FUC’s Instagram page, which is a mélange of the same rehashed CNBC stories and FUC ads, has posts in Korean and English.
One video features our Mr. Grayson in the flesh. In between dishing the usual FUC tripe about the “mean revision (sic)” and its “daily win rate of 99.9%,” he clearly states FUC’s commercial goal: “becoming the world’s leading automated trading platform.”
All three videos make abundantly clear that the key to FUC’s pending world domination is its Unicorn Trading System.
The system is alternatively described as an “automated algorithmic trading program” and “a superior and unique intelligent trading model.” Its competitive advantage is that “it is multistrategy parallel approach with many daily trading signals and short holding times, which help traders to generate consistent profits.”
And in spite of its algorithmic complexity, the FUC system is completely user-friendly: “No financial expertise is required. You just need an effective and profitable Unicorn Trading System. You don’t need a lot of capital. With a small amount, you can start making profits. All you need is a smartphone to download the Unicorn app. Download Unicorn app now.”
The problem is, the Unicorn app does not seem to exist. The links on the FUC website to the Apple app and Google Play stores do not work, and a search of the stores produced no such app. However, there is a Facebook post of Grayson holding a phone with the app on-screen; perhaps, as founder, he got the beta version.
Which raises the obvious question: How does FUC get away with all this? Surely it must be a regulated entity.
As a registered U.K. company, FUC seemingly should be on file with the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority. But my search of FCA’s database of registered companies and individuals failed to turn up FUC or “Dean Grayson.”
Because of frequent claims that FUC would make its Unicorn Trading System available in Asia in 2021 (“Are you ready Asia!!!”) and because Australia, Hong Kong, China, Korea, and Japan were all listed on an FUC web page (without links or context), I checked with the securities regulators in these five countries but failed to find FUC in any of their registries.
Fortunately, Grayson, who “oversees the Legal, Compliance and Risk management teams,” clarifies FUC’s regulatory status in his video, calmly assuring viewers that FUC is “licensed and regulated by the National Futures Association, the NFA.” The NFA logo even appears on the screen next to Grayson. Yet, according to the NFA website, First Union Capital Ltd. “is not an NFA Member” and is a “non-member not subject to NFA oversight.” I also could not find Grayson or FUC on FINRA’s BrokerCheck or the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website.
Not all of FUC’s success can be credited to its founder. I mentioned above that in addition to Grayson, the website lists six other team members.
Five seem to have no profile on LinkedIn or any internet history. Because of the apparently ephemeral nature of FUC’s enterprise, I have come to believe that these five are phantoms created to give FUC the necessary gravitas. The app might have been built by “the best programmers, mathematician (sic), stock trading analysts, and blockchain engineers from around the world,” but these individuals are laboring in obscurity.
However, the sixth team member, FUC CEO Mr. Amor ADJ, appears to be Grayson’s partner in this effort.
And this takes us back to the corporate filings. Indulge me for a moment.
“First Union Capital Ltd.” legally came into existence only on October 15, 2020, when “First Union Credit Limited” filed documents with Companies House to formally change its name to “First Union Capital Ltd.” First Union Credit Limited was originally formed on September 23, 2017, but I could find no evidence that it offered the Unicorn Trading System or that it was involved in any related commercial activities. (FUC and First Union Credit also share the same address in the Companies House filings: 95, Suite 717 Wilton Road, London, United Kingdom, SW1V 1BZ.)
The filings further reveal that on April 30, 2020, First Union Credit’s original and sole director, Joaquim Magro De Almeida, resigned and Adjal Amor was appointed as his replacement. A May 5, 2020, filing indicates that Amor changed his name to “Mr. ADJ Amor” and then, in another May 5 filing, changed it yet again, to “Amor ADJ” — which, of course, is the nom de guerre of FUC’s “long-serving” CEO.
The corporate filings also state that ADJ is a French national born in May 1968, usually residing in France, whose occupation is “businessman.” Yet I’ve come to doubt the veracity of ADJ’s information since Companies House told me in an email, “We do not have the statutory power or capability to verify the accuracy of the information that corporate entities send to us. We accept all information that such entities deliver to us in good faith and place it in the public record.”
I found a recent LinkedIn profile for ADJ that lists his only professional experience as CEO of FUC since September 2017. As I had come to expect, his profile is as vague as his FUC bio:
“With more than 15 years of managerial experience in the financial markets and having worked in Silicon Valley, Amor has managed financial markets trading, sales and portfolio management teams throughout the Asia region and in Europe.”
The profile also claims that ADJ earned two degrees from the University of Cambridge (a “Bachelor of Arts (Hons), Economics, 2000–2003” and a “Master in Philosophy – MPhil, Finance and Economics, 2004–2005”).
(One would expect a man with such an impressive CV to have more than two connections, although that is twice the number Grayson has.)
Predictably, a broader search revealed no digital footprint for “Amor ADJ” or his previous identities beyond the FUC corporate filings and website. An image search turned up nothing conclusive. I asked Cambridge to verify his degrees, but had not received a reply as of the date of publication.
They take control of a dormant, four-year old, U.K.-registered company in April 2020; change its name in October 2020; and quickly launch a website and social media pages and create three sales videos. They announce their “new” company in March 2021 in two poorly written press releases (e.g., misspelling both “Unicorn” and “Grayson”) and on social media.
And then Grayson and ADJ create their LinkedIn identities — only after the press releases are distributed.
It seems clear that the purpose of this effort is financial gain — but the details will likely be revealed in the near future. For Mr. Grayson and Mr. ADJ continue to press on, openly promoting the Unicorn Trading System on Facebook and Instagram and, in a seemingly defensive maneuver after being contacted for this column, editing some of its web pages.
By now I see that, like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when a press release caught my attention and, burning with curiosity, I popped down the FUC rabbit hole.
I offer this literary reference not as a tired journalistic trick (well, maybe) but because of a single clue that hints that Grayson and presumably ADJ know that FUC, the Unicorn Algorithmic Trading System, the “hundreds of thousands of I-Traders,” the “$30 billion in amazing transaction volume,” and even their own FUC personas are all an illusion.
Near the end of his video, Grayson explains why FUC chose the name “unicorn” for its trading system: “Actually, it’s from the book Alice in Wonderland: Into (sic) the Looking Glass. Alice finally meets the Unicorn after everyone has been talking about it. Alice asks, ‘Are you real?’ and the Unicorn replies, ‘If you believe in me, then I believe in you.’ The Unicorn knows.”
Put aside the fact that Grayson calls the book by the wrong title and misquotes the passage. The key to this scene is that the Unicorn asks Alice to suspend her belief that unicorns do not exist and accept that this one is real.
Grayson seems to be winking and asking us, the unwitting, gullible investor, to put aside all of the troubling evidence and believe that FUC can make us rich.
Perhaps so as not to reveal too much, Grayson fails to quote the passage in full, for it ends with the Unicorn asking Alice, “Is that a bargain?”
Alice asserts her agreement: “Yes, if you like.”
Angelo Calvello, Ph.D., is co-founder of Rosetta Analytics.