Months after launching its services for retail investors, robo-adviser Endowus was gearing up for its first MRT advertising campaign in April last year.
But just as the advertisements went up at several MRT stations, Singapore went into a “circuit breaker” to stem the spread of COVID-19, with people urged to stay home as much as possible.
“It was so painful because we had been so tight with (spending) … and the second we spent the money, everything was closed,” said chief executive and founding partner Gregory Van.
In line with the safety protocols, Endowus also had to stop organising physical seminars and switched to online webinars instead.
Mr Van recalled being “extremely worried” about the pandemic’s potential impact. But more than a year on, Endowus’ assets under management have grown to more than S$1 billion.
The milestone, achieved within 20 months of its full-service launch in end-2019, made it “the fastest-growing” digital wealth platform in Singapore, the company said in an announcement last month.
Robo-advisers are digital investment platforms that tap on algorithms to help investors buy into a portfolio of assets, based on one’s appetite for risk and financial goals. They typically charge lower fees than traditional outfits, and investors can start investing with just a few hundred dollars. Portfolios are automatically rebalanced in response to market conditions.
These platforms are not new in Singapore, with some players like StashAway being in the market for at least four years now. New players, however, have continued to emerge with some estimates putting it at more than 10 robo-advisers in Singapore now.
Endowus said the number of clients investing on its platform rose by almost 1,000 per cent in the year ending Jun 30. Client assets grew 670 per cent over the same period despite pandemic-induced market volatility.
“I think we did a good job,” Mr Van told CNA in an interview last month.
Syfe was another relatively new entrant that had to brave the pandemic. Launched in July 2019, chief executive officer Dhruv Arora noted how retail customers were “panicking” at the heightened market volatility in early-2020. Venture capital funds were also “taking a step back” and putting investments on hold.
“I think anyone who said they were not worried is probably lying. It was a tough phase for any company, especially younger ones,” he said.
Despite the concerns, Syfe saw “signs of recovery” as soon as in the second quarter of last year. Its assets under management grew 10 times in the first nine months of 2020, a trend that continued into the final quarter.
“Being at a much higher base, you would have thought that growth may not remain at that level in 2021 but in the first six months, we have grown four times in assets, which is very encouraging,” said Mr Arora.
StashAway, which was launched in 2017, has also observed quick growth over the past year.
It announced in January that it has crossed US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) in assets under management – a first among digital wealth platforms in Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, it said.
That growth in investment inflows from both old and new investors has continued “very strongly”, said StashAway co-founder and chief executive Michele Ferrario. “We kept growing as we did in pre-COVID-19 and in a very strong fashion,” he added.
MORE INVESTORS MANAGING WEALTH ONLINE
Industry players told CNA that they continue to see sustained investment activities on their platforms due to people becoming more receptive towards managing their wealth online. Robo-advisers are no longer an unfamiliar term.
Mr Ow Tai Zhi recalled the “very hard start” back in 2017 when he co-founded AutoWealth.
“We were one of the two earliest robo-advisers to receive our licence and as you can imagine, user adoption was very challenging,” said the start-up’s chief investment officer.
“We had to run so many workshops and exhibitions just to drum up interest and help people to understand our offerings but fast forward to today, we are doing much less physical and digital marketing (yet) our user adoption has been growing faster.”
In the second quarter of this year, AutoWealth’s new users grew by about 56 per cent year on year. The average assets under management for each user rose to US$18,875 from US$13,215 over the same period.
SOURCE: Channel News Asia