The Singapore robo advisor that’s poaching from Goldman Sachs

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Ex-Nomura managing director Freddy Lim knows who he needs to hire for his Singapore robo advisory start-up.

“Unlike some other fintech firms, we want more senior people with finance expertise,” says Lim, speaking to eFinancialCareers on the sidelines of the Singapore Asset Management conference at Yale-NUS College.

The company Lim co-founded, StashAway, was launched in September last year and already employs 12 people.

“We’ve grown quickly because people are attracted to our culture, which encourages entrepreneurial thinking,” says Lim. “Our back-end technical lead, Joo Lee, is an experienced developer from Goldman Sachs, and our front-end tech lead has more than 10 years’ experience, including stints as a trader.”

Why quit the likes of Goldman for a five-month-old firm? “Tech professionals at big institutions are increasingly interested in joining innovative ventures like ours. Many of them are in their late 20s or early 30s – they’re eager to make a difference, but have found their entrepreneurial spirit suppressed at banks.”

“In banking technology, more so than in most roles at banks, there are lots of idealistic people who want to improve the way the financial sector works. Although they’ve left the comfortable corporate umbrella to join us – and are now working harder and longer than ever – we give them an opportunity to work on more innovative products.”

StashAway is still hiring in Singapore – it currently has vacancies for a full-stack developer, a Java developer, a senior Java developer, a head of online marketing, and a mobile developer.

Lim is also keen to hear from people who know the Scala programming language. “You can do more with less with Scala; it will help us scale up our platform.”

Mobile developers will be on his shopping list in the near future. “But it’s actually very hard to find the top-notch people in this area – there seems to be a limited pool in Singapore.”

Away from the techies, Lim’s new team includes staff in design, marketing, content, and operations roles. And a senior compliance person is about to come on board.

“One of our next tasks is to take on some investment professionals. Although we’re a robo advisor, there are always people creating, testing and monitoring the algorithms. We also need people to provide independent oversight of our trading.”

Lim himself has held senior jobs at Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Citi, and most recently Nomura, where he was global head of derivatives strategy until December 2015, based in Singapore.

“It was one of the very first initiatives to combine derivatives strategy across asset classes and geographies under one umbrella,” he says. “But I eventually got too bogged down by the relative lack of innovation in banking, so I decided to leave the sector.”

Lim had a “lot of fintech ideas” after he quit banking. But it wasn’t until he met his co-founders – senior software technologist Nino Ulsamer, and Michele Ferrario, an investment manager-turned-entrepreneur – that StashAway began to take shape.

“To be successful in fintech you need to partner with people who you trust and whose skills and temperament are complementary to each other,” says Lim.

StashAway is an “automated investment engine” that helps retail investors to better manage their savings without the need for costly human advisors.

“We’ve designed an online questionnaire which defines customers’ investment goals – whether that’s to pay for an MBA or a house deposit – and our algorithm then uses this as a basis to formulate investment parameters such as risk tolerance,” says Lim. “The technology provides retail investors with sophisticated investment techniques usually only available to institutional investors.”

But isn’t the fintech world already awash with robo advisors? “Not in Asia, which is our target market. Most countries in Asia are still at ground-zero when it comes to wealth management,” says Lim.

“We have a last-mover advantage as we get to learn from the experiences of robo advisors in the US and Europe. We hope that both we and our Asian competitors can establish the sector and get people across APAC to entrust their savings to digital wealth managers.”

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