Years ago before my job with the Fintech News Network, I would drive my lifeless body to work at the crack of dawn to my office in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. During this dreaded daily commute, the local business radio station BFM was always a trusty companion, and Julian Ng who was then a radio presenter at BFM always felt like a reliable source of information on markets, investments, and anything finance related.
When he left his job at BFM several years back, I was introduced to him through a mutual friend. Julian shared that he was looking to secure a license from the Securities Commission (SC) Malaysia to operate a robo-advisory firm and that was before any licenses were issued by the regulator.
Those who are familiar with me know that I’m always rooting for homegrown fintech startups, and I was naturally excited to see what Julian would do in this space. He shared that prior to his role in BFM, circa 2012, he was a fund manager. He realized that it was really hard to beat the market and in trying to do so, they normally generate a huge cost footprint. It was during that time that he observed robo-advisors starting to emerge in the US market. Even during his time as a presenter with BFM, Julian jested that he was already harboring ambitions of setting up his own robo-advisor.
In 2017, when SC issued the guidelines for robo-advisors, Julian met his co-founder Tan Chong Liong at a fintech event, they then decided to pursue the license and Akru was born. Chong Liong, is a regular fixture of the fintech community and a founding committee member of the Fintech Association of Malaysia, and serves as non-executive director for an insurance company and a local VC firm.
Fast forward a few years, we have several robo-advisors like StashAway, MyTHEO, and Wahed Invest operating in Malaysia, and Julian alongside his co-founder finally managed to secure the license for Akru to provide services to Malaysians.
The journey was very challenging, Julian said, pointing out that the application process involved one general election, one government change, and a global pandemic. Unlike its competitors who are backed by either large corporates or already have a track record overseas, Akru had to undergo the challenge of convincing seed investors in a startup that neither had any track record nor the license to operate.
He was grateful that the early seed investors gave them a vote of confidence by investing in Akru, which enabled them to meet the capital requirements set out by the SC. During this entire process, he spoke positively about how the regulator was always sharing their views with the team openly and guided them in the right direction during their numerous consultation sessions.
Julian said that his vision is for Akru to be “private banker” for ordinary folks and provide them data to make financial decisions easily without any hassle or stress, a service most of us will never be wealthy enough to receive. He said that the firm will adopt a goal-based approach to help consumers invest their money, with an aim to bring financial clarity to people.
This of course will be no easy feat seeing as how Akru is not the only game in town, and their competitors have gained quite a bit ground in securing early adopters with high propensity for digital wealth products, not to mention that their competitors are more well-funded in comparison.
However, Julian is of the view that the market is large enough to support a handful of robo-advisors, adding that he is confident that this new way of investing will be able to get a slice of the unit trust market and uninvested monies in Malaysians’ savings accounts. He is of the view that robo-advisors are in competition with the old guards, and not each other.
Akru for now, is only available as a web-based service, compared to its other competitors who are all app-based. Julian recognises that there is demand and even a preference for many consumers to manage their wealth via an app, but given the small funding that they are working with, they’ve decided to conserve funds by creating a MVP (minimum viable product). Akru will first offer their services via the web before moving on to develop an app when they are in a position to raise more funds at a later stage.
Incidentally, Akru is currently raising funds through equity crowdfunding platform, LEET Capital and Julian was also recently featured on Mr. Stingy’s new talk show talking about the journey of Akru, you can check out the video here.