From Grab Employee to S$1B in 20 months: How Endowus Founder Made A Business Out Of Investing Pension Funds (CPF)

By
Writers@Aspire
Published
September 7, 2021

Whether it’s the lack of knowledge on the topic at hand or the fear of a stock market crash, investing is often seen as a risky feat and one that requires sufficient financial literacy. In turn, this deters many from getting started with investing altogether. Take it from Endowus CEO, Gregory Van, himself. After seeing the lack of holistic investment solutions available, he took it upon himself to create the all-in-one platform that empowers people to take the first step towards their investment journey.


Before starting his entrepreneurial journey, Gregory kickstarted his career in investment banking at UBS followed by spearheading Grab’s business development and partnerships department in its infancy. With his background in finance and technology combined with his passion for solving the various investment problems of the everyday Singaporean, Endowus was born.


Today, this financial technology startup has grown to become the leading wealth platform in Asia and has surpassed the S$1B mark in assets in just 20 months. As the first and only digital advisor to cover both cash and public pension savings (CPF and SRS), Gregory has come a long way in providing personalised solutions and data-driven wealth advice to empower the investor in all of us.


So, how exactly does an entrepreneur like him do it all? To get a closer glimpse, we sat down with Gregory to discuss how his journey as a startup founder has evolved over the years, what’s next for Endowus, and insightful entrepreneur tips from the man himself.

Please share a brief introduction about yourself, your background and your company.

I started my career in investment banking at UBS — advising and fundraising for private equity and venture capital firms in the Asia Pacific region. Following that, I joined Grab in its early days and was the business development and partnerships lead for payments and technology.

Endowus was founded on the vision of empowering the everyday investor to effectively control their financial future through a digital wealth platform with expert advice and exclusive access to best-in-class investment products, all on a single platform that charges fair and transparent fees. Today, Endowus is Asia’s leading fee-only wealth platform. Headquartered in Singapore, Endowus is the first digital advisor to span cash and public pension savings.


How did the idea for Endowus first come about? What are you trying to solve and achieve?

Endowus was started to solve the investment problems we felt for ourselves and our families. Having come from institutional financial backgrounds, we knew how the most sophisticated investors in the world allocated themselves to the global markets, and we simply did not have access to the same advice and products at a low cost.

We wanted to find a solution to invest holistically towards our life goals, all the way to retirement. This meant we definitely had to solve investing CPF, which accounts for up to 37% of a Singaporean’s salary being saved — yet rarely invested with aligned and systematic advice, in great products, at low cost.


How did your background in tech and finance play a part in building Endowus?

More than just the tech and finance experience is how we’ve assembled a great team that comprises talents who are veterans and experts in their various fields. I could not have done it single-handedly without the team, and I’m thankful and humbled every day that they’ve joined me on this journey.

What was the moment you knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

This is an interesting question because I don’t think I set out to be an entrepreneur. But the circumstances in trying to solve the challenges of retirement and financial inclusion for the everyday retail investor lit that fire — that’s where I am today.


What differentiates Endowus from other investment platforms? Why should one invest in Endowus when there are many investment options available?

Endowus remains the only way to invest all your money — cash, SRS and CPF in a single digital platform. We are the largest fee-only wealth platform in Singapore, which means we can only make fees off you — our client — and cannot collect kickbacks from fund managers or financial product providers, which is how most financial services are operating today.  

We are also the first in the industry to introduce a 100% rebate on trailer fees, to ensure that we are completely aligned to the interests of our clients while others continue to take kickbacks from fund managers. This is also to ensure that we are not incentivised to churn clients or push them towards certain products that might be more profitable for us (but not the best for them). Our fee-only structure is a moral decision that ensures that we only focus on recommending solutions that are most suitable for our clients, all the time.


What has been the highlight of your journey in building Endowus to date?

It would have to be truly solving for our clients’ investing journey. We’re humbled to be the fiduciaries of our clients’ assets, and we’re reminded with kind words how we are making a difference for them in more ways than one.

It’s extremely rewarding to be making a meaningful difference in all that we do, and we have the best client experience that has done so.

Are there any public numbers or highlights you can share?

We have grown past S$1Bn in assets in these 20 months in just the Singapore market alone — making us the country’s fastest-growing digital advisory. Aside from that, we have seen almost 10X growth in new accounts, and 7X growth in assets under advice on our platform in a year.

In April this year, we secured S$23 million in Series A funding, and on 1 July, we attracted strategic partners UBS AG, Samsung Ventures and Singtel Innov8, taking the total funds raised for Series A to S$30 million.

What’s been the toughest challenge you faced on your journey in building Endowus and how did you overcome it?

We started with the vision of providing systematic, holistic advice, exclusive access to best-in-class financial products at the lowest possible cost, and providing solutions for individual investors to invest well to reach their retirement goals.

Clearly, there were the incumbent familiar brands and other competitors who were offering seemingly similar services. But as experienced investors, we saw a gap between people’s investment activities and the portfolios that would actually suit their goals. This was particularly so with CPF — there was a lack of good investment options, high friction in the investment experience, and high costs.

We knew we had to 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. Further, Singaporeans’ three main sources of wealth shouldn’t be planned separately. As the first and only digital advisor for cash, SRS and CPF, we built our technology to help you visualise your financial trajectory against your investments, dynamically across these different wealth sources.


Endowus has crossed the S$1B AUM mark. What are some practical tips for other fintechs who wish to achieve that milestone too?

Crossing this milestone is a great accomplishment for all of us at Endowus. Adversity will not fail to manifest in front of those who endeavour to make a difference, it’s important to keep your head up and keep pushing forth, making every mistake count in the path to success.

There’s no problem that’s insurmountable if you set your mind to it. And don’t go at it alone, the right people (talent) will make a difference in charting the right path forward.  


What advice do you have for other founders who are starting out on their journeys?

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.


What’s next for Endowus?

Following our strategic fundraising, we will be focusing on acquiring key talents as we go deeper and broader into Singapore as our key market. This will enable us to keep up with the pace with the launch of new products and services, as well as enhance our technology and user experience on our platform.

Beyond Singapore, we are also setting our sights on new markets, starting with Hong Kong.


psst...you may also like to read:

Building the Next Generation of Founders with Reactor School

Powering Homes, Empowering Singapore’s Thriving Startup Industry: Ohm Energy’s Story

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