Over the past decade, Yakof Agius has garnered a wealth of experience handling all aspects of Malta’s residence and citizenship by investment programmes. Today, as Founder and CEO of the consulting firm Yakof Agius & Associates, he shares his know-how with Governments, firms and clients.
“I wear many different hats,” Yakof Agius smiles, as he describes his ascent from working on hardware repairs in the IT sector to founding and running his own consulting firm. “I used to work on structured cabling and repairs on printers – that sort of thing. But, I always liked to challenge myself. So, whenever there was the opportunity, I shifted gears,” he explains.
With major IT infrastructure projects under his belt, he then pivoted his career into banking. More specifically, as a call centre agent for a major international bank. A few months into this role, his superiors offered him the opportunity to work in the back office with the management team, where he discovered his passion for human resources. “I became fascinated with how our objectives relied on number-crunching, but could only be achieved through negotiating with people,” he continues.
This experience served him in good stead because, after some time, Yakof was offered a post to join one of the residence and citizenship by investment firms as Group Head of HR. “At the time, I had gained multiple skills that could be applied in different areas – I was a sort of Swiss knife in the office,” he laughs.
After just three-and-a-half years, this flexibility allowed Yakof to move into the public sector, where he was appointed Chief Officer for Risk and Compliance at the Government agency which ran the citizenship by investment programme. “While I wasn’t there for very long, I completely redesigned the due diligence process during my tenure and it became recognised as the gold standard for such programmes, across the globe,” he asserts.
In 2018, Yakof left the agency to start CIVIQUO, an online platform that married the entrepreneur’s interest in software development and his years of experience working in the investment migration space. CIVIQUO helps clients with the decision-making process, and to ultimately start their journey towards acquiring residence or citizenship by investment,” the CEO explains. “When I launched the platform, I had already worn almost every hat in the industry – I had written procedures and policies, I had overseen human capital in the sector, and I had promoted Malta’s programme myself. And, with CIVIQUO, I shifted into digital marketing for residence and citizenship by investment,” he says.
Coupled with this, Yakof was frequently approached by industry colleagues for advice on how best to prepare citizenship by investment applications. “Due to my unique experience, I was able to bridge the gap between the letter and the spirit of the programme, and what these accredited firms and lawyers needed to do for their clients,” the CEO explains. Therefore, he continues, “I was able to help agents focus on certain points in their supporting documentation, highlighting the issues they should be looking for and addressing, as well as ensuring they had submitted all the information they needed to in terms of their clients’ source of wealth,” Yakof explains, saying that this input increased the acceptance rate for applicants looking for residence or citizenship by investment in Malta.
Today, Yakof, while still involved in the running of CIVIQUO, states that this has become autonomous and self-sustaining, and he, thus, invests his time and energy in his new consultancy firm, Yakof Agius & Associates, which provides technical guidance to governments, firms and clients. In each case, he says, “my role is to route the information to the right people, and make sure that the actions required are completed by those responsible.”
The biggest challenges he faces, as Founder and CEO of the consultancy firm, are “being able to stick to a defined deadline and timeline,” he explains, “since you rely on a number of stakeholders: you need the client or the agent to give you the information; you need the Government agency’s response; and so on. To be able to make those processes work together can be challenging,” he explains.
However, this is also part of what excites Yakof. “I love to give advice and coordinate functions,” he explains, although he is careful about how he manages his efforts. “I’m very focused on what generates revenue,” he says, adding that his advice to fledgling business leaders is to “be smart about how you invest your time and energy. Be careful who you give these to, and make sure that you dedicate them to tasks which will be revenue generating. Don’t be a perfectionist – you can do that once you have put everything in place and the systems are working well,” he states.
This is a mantra he is dedicated to, and, indeed, throughout his career, Yakof has always created first, then improved processes to maximise efficiency. As a tool to help guide practitioners – whose task it is to show that their client is a fit and proper applicant, and worthy of being a Maltese and EU citizen – Yakof came up with a nine-point risk assessment framework. “This is a compass which pinpoints the nine aspects we understand to be essential considerations which must be explored when considering an application for citizenship,” he explains.
This framework is current state-of-the-art, and largely dispels myths surrounding due diligence procedures around citizenship by investment programmes. “Many of the issues with the citizenship by investment programme in Malta stem from a misunderstanding the public has of what it consists of. There is an immense amount of screening which takes place before someone is granted Maltese citizenship; it’s a meticulous process, and the number of those who succeed in becoming a citizen pales in comparison to the number of people who become naturalised in Europe through ordinary mechanisms,” he explains.
With this in mind, he is concerned about the EU’s call to end such citizenship by investment programmes. “I think this is a politically driven issue and I believe the EU needs to stop arguing about whether to allow the programmes or not, and should instead focus on designing effective citizenship solutions which prioritise due diligence and which are fair to the countries involved. Everyone has their beliefs, but the EU needs to come to terms with the necessity for these initiatives, and focus on how to implement them properly, in a way which is beneficial,” he asserts.
Looking ahead to the rest of this year, Yakof remains optimistic about the health of the sector. “My plan is to expand my team of associates, as well as to be able to continue supporting clients, even after they are naturalised,” he says. His ambitions, he stresses, are not “of tremendous growth” to the exclusion of other considerations. Rather, he is driven to make “meaningful interventions” in the lives of those seeking residence or citizenship by investment solutions, as well as the agents helping them achieve this, and governments keen to offer such services. “We want to contribute to the industry. We are determined to fix the issues which exist in this sector, while being profitable in doing so,” he concludes.
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