Endowus to scale up Singapore operations; plans to set up in Hong Kong

·5 min read
Endowus chief executive officer Gregory Van (left) and chief investment officer Samuel Rhee. (PHOTO: Endowus)
Endowus chief executive officer Gregory Van (left) and Samuel Rhee, chairman and chief investment officer. (PHOTO: Endowus)

By Lyn Chan

SINGAPORE — Singapore-based digital wealth platform Endowus is on a roll. The company earlier this month secured funding from three strategic investors — UBS Group AG, Samsung Ventures and Singtel Innov8 — to help further its expansion goals.

This comes hot on the heels of getting S$23 million from Lightspeed Venture Partners and SoftBank Ventures Asia in April, taking the total Series A funding to S$30 million.

Endowus, which boasts of being Singapore's first digital wealth advisor for cash, CPF and SRS investing, aims to use the funds to broaden its reach locally and boost investment in technology to enhance user experience and product delivery, Endowus's chief executive officer Gregory Van told Yahoo Finance Singapore in a recent interview.

Plans are also underway to expand beyond local shores, with Hong Kong being Endowus’s next stop. The search is currently on for a Hong Kong country head, with the office launch expected by the end of 2021, Van said.

Endowus has become the fastest-growing robo-adviser locally, with assets under advice bolting past S$1 billion in over 20 months since it started offering retail-investor services from end-2019, he said. Van added that new accounts growth have grown by 10 times and assets under advice grew seven times — both within a year.

The 32-year-old, who started his investment banking career at UBS before joining Grab in its early days where he spearheaded business development and partnerships for payments and technology, saw an opportunity to combine his expertise in tech and finance to empower people to realise their financial goals.

“We started Endowus to solve the investment problems we felt for ourselves and our families,” Van said. His personal experiences, too, fanned his desire to empower people with tools to achieve their financial goals. At 17, Van made his first investment in Amazon stock, reaping seven per cent gains in three days. That spurred him to begin speculating which resulted in his portfolio diving to a 95 per cent loss from a 30 per cent profit.

"We want to be a financial platform for everyone: accessible, low cost, and with expert advice that’s not reserved just for the wealthy elite," Van said.

This is the vision that drove the founding partners including Van and Samuel Rhee to start Singapore's first fee-only platform that would offer all the advisory services an investor might need to invest cash, CPF and SRS in a single place. The company was formed in 2017 with a start-up capital of S$9.5 million. Rhee, an ex-banker, is now the company’s chairman cum chief investment officer in a team of over 60 people.

"We want improve the CPF investing experience, not just to differentiate ourselves, but to strengthen this safety net on which Singaporeans rely for housing, education, and most importantly, retirement," Van added.

According to a recent survey commissioned by Endowus, while 72 per cent of Singaporeans desire higher returns for their investments, only 25 per cent are currently investing their CPF. The survey of 1,099 adults, conducted by YouGov in May, found that 68 per cent are not confident in investing their own CPF monies well by themselves.

"Our goal is to meet the needs of Singaporeans and continue to provide clients with an evidence-based approach to their wealth so they can invest better to live easier today and be prepared for the future," Van said.

The company in March launched ESG (environmental, social and governance) multi-asset portfolios, after introducing a cash management solution Cash Smart and Fund Smart last year.

The father of two, who is married to a hospitality entrepreneur and cites Ayn Rand’s "The Fountainhead" as his favourite book because “ it teaches conviction for doing what is right”, shares his thoughts on being an entrepreneur.

What lessons have you learnt from your entrepreneurial experience?
You really have to get into the zone and focus. You have to persevere because if you don’t, it's entirely on you and nothing will get done. The proverbial thick skin needs to be mustered — prepare for a lot of people to say “that will never work”. As long as what you are doing will serve people better and is rational, it can and will work. It's entirely up to you to make the magic happen.

What do you think has helped drive the company from a start-up to what it is today?
We started with the right mindset. We held off on raising any external financing because we wanted to find and build our solution with like-minded individuals, who believed in our mission and vision. And in that, we were 100 per cent employee-funded until we felt confident in our business model and platform. It was at that point that we pursued a Series A fundraising.

Who/what inspires you?

Steve Jobs, for his conviction and creativity around product and experience. The entrepreneurs who struggled and evolved their businesses in hard times, diversified and compounded their growth over decades to build businesses that now employ thousands and serve millions of people

Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Just do it. The numbers and challenge of the status quo will always look daunting but your business will evolve as you go, and can only get better with experience. You can make it through.

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