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Asia’s most exciting founders of B2C robo-advisors

Direct-to-consumer robos are coming into their own within Asia’s wealthtech industry: here are the pioneers.

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Dhruv Arora, Syfe

Dhruv Arora believes wealthtech will make investing as ubiquitous as bank accounts. “Platforms are becoming alternatives to savings accounts,” he said.

That’s because they make it possible to tailor investments to individuals’ needs and lifestyle goals in a way that simply doesn’t happen when people select products at a bank.

Arora likens robo-advisors now to how fintechs like Wise and Revolut transformed remittances: “The wealth space is where payments were 10 years ago, but technology means we can bridge the gap faster.”

Dhruv Arora, Syfe

Syfe is based in Singapore where it has enjoyed recent success with real-estate investment trusts, in a partnership with Singapore Exchange. This is part of a trend of broadening the kind of asset classes that robo-advisors make available.

“This isn’t just a new product,” Arora said. “It’s part of a shift in how people think about money. People are at home due to COVID, bank interest rates are declining, there’s a hunt for yield. The cost of living is rising but bank accounts are flat.”

This is a global phenomenon but it’s acute in Asia. The region’s savings culture means 40 percent of household wealth sits in banks, versus only 10 to 15 percent in the West. Against inflation, these accounts are losing money, which is leading people to take a bigger interest in accessing stocks and other assets.

Technology is making it easier for retail investors to navigate what has been a complicated, intimidating experience. “I still think we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Arora said.

For example, Syfe now offers a product that competes with bank deposits, in which people can automatically put part of their salary into money-market accounts that offers a higher return, with no restrictions. Technically it’s a different risk profile to a bank account, but the fund allocates mainly to Singapore government-backed securities.

Syfe makes money by structuring rebates. As an institutional investor, it gets preferential pricing in the market, a savings it passes to the consumer. Arora says the company may add fees later, but the priority for now is to push growth and user acquisition. He says, however, that every customer is profitable for the business.

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Asia’s most exciting founders of B2C robo-advisors