In 2013, an acquaintance, who hoped to capitalise on Ow Tai Zhi’s (BBA 2011) fund management experience, gave him S$200,000 to invest without blinking an eye.
This spurred an idea in Tai Zhi, who began to think about how he can use his knowledge and skills help people around him invest their money. He knew he could not do it alone and tapped on his Business School network to find people such as Noel Lee (BBA 2012) to share in his vision.
The two saw that people around them were not getting enough from their investments for financial commitments such as marriage, housing and education. One key reason was that the financial planners that they engage charge management fees that would eat into the returns in the long run.
Tai Zhi and Noel became interested in automated advisory technology, which was becoming popular in the US and Europe. The disruptive technology automates clients’ financial planning and investments, removing the human financial adviser and their management fees.
With the Singapore financial advisory market worth some S$600 billion, the duo saw tremendous potential for such services in Singapore. To tap into this market segment, they incubated AutoWealth at NUS Enterprise’s The Hanger in 2015, and it was there that the founders started building up the team. By 2016, a beta investment platform was already up and running investments for a group of investors. The AutoWealth team spent about a year refining the platform’s investment strategy, and in 2017, the platform became publicly available.
Through a user-friendly interface with simple visuals, users go through a three-minute questionnaire to determine their financial situation, risk profile, financial goals and a customised investment portfolio. AutoWealth’s portfolio focuses on bonds and equities, diversifying the allocation across major asset classes, geographical regions, and industries.
Today, the firm’s success has been noticed by investors, with 8I Holdings investing capital to help AutoWealth strengthen its branding and marketing earlier this year. After experiencing strong user traction in Singapore, AutoWealth is looking to launch its services in Malaysia and other regional markets. The firm is also looking to expand its product offering to include smart beta investment strategies for the more savvy investors.
The NUS Business School experience
Looking back at their time in School, the two founders feel that their time here strongly influenced their entrepreneurial journey.
“The student exchange experience in Tsinghua University in Beijing opened up our minds and horizons. Noel and I learned to embrace the “dare to dream” mindset of the Chinese entrepreneurs.” In addition, the finance modules like portfolio management and risk management came in handy when the duo were setting up investment management strategies and operations.
After AutoWealth’s successful beginning, the duo decided they should further their vision of helping the masses – this time to do good for their alma mater. The founders then set up the AutoWealth Social Investing Initiative earlier this year, to help undergraduates. Tai Zhi and Noel hope that those who received help will pay it forward in the future.
Headlining the initiative is the AutoWealth Bursary Fund, generated by investments in stocks and bonds, to support financially-challenge NUS Business School undergraduates.
“We aim to do good sustainably. It is particularly meaningful for us to put our knowledge and expertise to good use and contribute back to our School,” he said.
Starting from 2019, each year one undergraduate will receive a S$6000 cash award to cover expenses such as textbooks, hostel fees, and overseas experiences.
It is important for students to receive assistance, according to Tai Zhi who had to cope with financial hardship when he was studying in Temasek Polytechnic. The lack of family finances meant that he had to work to support his studies. “I worked every day at a tourist pub on Mount Faber after classes till three in the morning. It was hard work for three years,” he said.
“I wished I had the power to change my life then. Now, I am fortunate that I can at least change the lives of my juniors at NUS Business School,” he said.
Coming back to school
Besides setting up a bursary, Tai Zhi is a frequent contributor to the NUS Business School community. Apart from making donations and mentoring undergraduates, Tai Zhi is a member of the board of directors at the NUS Business School Alumni Association. He was also the chairman of the organising committee for the NUS Bizad Charity Run in 2017 and 2018.
According to Tai Zhi, the NUS Bizad Charity Run has been an inspirational experience for him. “The juniors never fail to surprise me with their creativity in using limited resources to achieve huge social outcomes. In a way, the Bizad community is always full of positive vibes. It naturally attracts me to want to be part of this community.”
As a Business School alumnus, what would be Tai Zhi’s advice to his juniors? “Be resilient. We can’t choose the life we are born into, but we can change our own lives and create a positive impact for others. Pay it forward, and you will grow to enjoy serving that higher purpose in life.”