Feeding a need
Finding the right tools for wealth management can be daunting at first as one strives to navigate the world of investment. How do you get the appropriate services that can lead to a bigger market?
Hong Kong-based technology start-up Quantifeed, headed by co-founders chief executive Alex Ypsilanti and chief technology officer Ross Milward, provides investment and technology solutions to a wider audience by working with financial intermediaries and institutional investors.
The idea behind Quantifeed is that today's wealth management services follow a business model that is difficult to scale across a wider audience, resulting in them providing financial advice to only specific customers such as high-net-worth individuals - people with assets worth more than US$1 million.
According to Quantifeed's founders, in Asia (excluding China), about 40 million people with less wealth are underserved. Quantifeed identifies these people as "mass-affluent" consumers. They are worth about US$12 trillion combined, but have not experienced the full use of technology in smart and innovative ways.
For Ypsilanti, no one in Asia has managed to harness "the full potential of technology to deliver transparent wealth management to consumers in a cost-efficient way.
"Technology is such a powerful enabler that it will change the way wealth management providers reach their clients," he says.
While some financial institutions have started to use their own technology to scale their services, it is still early days, Robson says.
He adds that Ypsilanti once asked him: "Why is it that technology has impacted so many areas of our lives, but has yet to really change how we manage our wealth? There has to be a more effective way to provide a sound and transparent service to anyone needing to invest their savings."
Quantifeed was officially launched in 2013 and has already received awards for its innovation.
"It was the drive to do something innovative," says Ypsilanti, who left banking after working for 12 years at prominent firms in Hong Kong and London.
Raised in Greece and with a doctorate degree in quantitative finance, Ypsilanti came to the realisation of this need in the market in 2012. He played around with the ideas and tested it with a variety of people by providing low-cost wealth management services online to mass-affluent consumers.
This gave birth to the name "Quantifeed", which comes from quanti- for quantitative, and -feed for feeding technology to financial intermediaries and institutional investors.
Today, Quantifeed runs its operations from the ninth floor of a building in Wan Chai. The floor is dubbed "The Hive" and is buzzing with activity. Other small-business owners share the floor. Some post their expertise on bulletin boards, while music is heard from another room. Quantifeed's office, the size of a bedroom, hosts eight of its staff.
Ypsilanti recalls the early stages when "all odds are stacked against you from the start. It has been an extremely challenging journey, but it has also been a fulfilling journey."
Ypsilanti says it was at first difficult to find the right people to create a good culture to work with. Fortunately, Ypsilanti found Milward from the get-go.
"[Milward] turned out to be one of those rare 'techies' who could lead people just as effectively as he could write hundreds of lines of code in a day," Ypsilanti says. "Since we started working together, we've built a phenomenal team that takes technological innovation, precision and speed-to-market extremely seriously."
With this philosophy in mind, Quantifeed's culture has allowed collaboration among its team members and with its customers to better understand and solve their problems.
"From a marketing perspective, the biggest challenge for any start-up business is finding and acquiring customers," Robson says. "We overcame this through our relentless efforts to understand our customers' problems and developing the appropriate solutions for them.
"When you are selling a software-based service to other businesses, you are faced with the added hurdle of needing to make sure integration with their systems is totally frictionless," he says.
Within the next five years, the company hopes to combine "model portfolios" - a grouping of financial assets such as stocks and bonds - and technology that really help solve the problem that mass-affluent individuals need for their wealth management.
By the end of this year, Quantifeed is expecting to be the first company to integrate their technology into their financial intermediaries' systems.
Asked about the best advice they have received, Robson - who started his career raising bonds for clients in Australia - says it is important to capitalise on your acquired skills and knowledge.
"If it fits well with your experience and skills and it's an extension of that, then go for it, because I think that's the route of good business," he advises.
For Ypsilanti, the best advice came from multiple people in various ways. "Do what makes you happy. Do what you're passionate about.
"There's a reason why it's a cliché because it's true… through searching, not only do you discover holes in the market that you can fill, but you discover what you're passionate about too."