MoneyOwl ruffles all the right feathers in the financial advisory industry with technology and human wisdom
MoneyOwl is not your ordinary financial advisory start-up.
It allows you to choose the best insurance policies for your needs, it lets you invest in funds typically accessible to affluent investors for as low a quantum as $100, it helps you prepare your last will and testament without a lawyer (and for free for now), it helps you with your retirement planning, and it provides you with a real advisor to walk you through all that.
Here’s how they do it.
In a class of its own
Right from its inception, MoneyOwl was designed to be different from the competition.
Founded in 2018 as the brainchild of NTUC Enterprise and Providend, MoneyOwl closely follows the ethos of its parentage.
NTUC Enterprise is known for its commitment to providing quality social enterprises – like Fairprice, First Campus and Health – that set the standards for the industry. MoneyOwl was designed to showcase a holistic and socially responsible financial advisory model for the financial advisory industry to emulate. That explains why NTUC Enterprise chose to partner with Providend for MoneyOwl.
Providend is the pioneer of fee-only financial advisory services in Singapore, an ethical business model that aligns the interests of its advisors to the interest of its clients. It has championed term insurance as the best way to get oneself fully covered as well as best-of-breed funds that do not pay trailer commissions, such as Dimensional Fund Advisor funds. Its advisers do not get remunerated by commissions. MoneyOwl’s fee-based advisory practice follows a similar model, and are salaried, not commissioned.
“MoneyOwl is all about financial inclusion,” explained Alan Chiu, MoneyOwl’s CTO (pictured above). “We empower the regular man on the street with easy access to holistic financial planning that encompasses insurance, investment, estate planning, comprehensive retirement planning, while incorporating national schemes such as CPF.”
More importantly, MoneyOwl stands out because it is Singapore’s first and only bionic financial advisory firm. While other financial advisory firms either offer human advisors or robo-advisors (with customer service) to help clients make financial decisions, MoneyOwl effectively harnesses both, for the benefit of customers.
What it means to be Singapore’s only bionic financial advisory
“We’re always leveraging the best of accessibility, speed, and scale through technology, to augment competent, conflict-free human based advice, which remains the core,” explains Chiu.
A large part of what MoneyOwl provides to its customers lies in its robos, which are built inhouse by Chiu’s tech team.
Their insurance portal offers over half a million insurance quotes to consumers. “If you know exactly what you need, our insurance robo will be able to compare and generate quotes for you, for you to meet up with one of our licensed advisors. But if you do not know what you need, our platform will also guide you through your different life stages. For instance, are you a single professional? Are you married? Are you married with kids? Are you retiring? Our insurance platform can recommend the right products and set you up to meet with our licensed advisers.
Their investment portal assesses a customer’s ability, willingness and need to take risk, then recommends a globally diversified portfolio for them. Opening an investment account with MoneyOwl happens in a matter of minutes, with the integration of MyInfo and its automated customer due diligence clearance.
“You can even transfer your funds easily through familiar tools like PayNow or FAST, to immediately get invested,” says Chiu.
MoneyOwl’s wills writing portal helps customers prepare a legally binding will. “In our estate planning segment, we realised that a large number of our customers did not have their wills done, because most people think that wills are for the wealthy or that they need a lawyer, but that is actually not true,” says Chiu. “So with our robo, anyone can leave behind their legacy by writing a simple legally binding will, in about 10mins and with unlimited edits if you need it.”
By 4Q2019, MoneyOwl will be launching its fourth robo – its comprehensive retirement planning portal. “Many consumers may not know how much they need in their retirement, because it is 20, 30, 40 years from now. You may not know how much you need to save, and how to plan for it. So our comprehensive planning robo will do exactly that, helping you to plan for your retirement while incorporating your CPF.”
Technology that changes lives
To be sure, MoneyOwl has already seen some significant success since they were launched from Nov last year.
The insurance portal was launched in November 2018, and has successfully helped 350 customers purchase their insurance through MoneyOwl’s licensed advisers.
The wills writing portal, which was launched in March after the Chinese New Year, has helped write over 700 wills.
The investment portal, which was launched in April, has seen over 1000 accounts opened, and 800 accounts funded. Unlike other investment companies, MoneyOwl only recommends low cost globally diversified funds from Dimensional Fund Advisors. And, instead of requiring a minimum investment of $10,000 to $20,000, typical for Dimensional funds (Dimensional does not pay trailer commissions to advisers, so it is typically uneconomical for advisers to service small investments in return only for a wrap fee), MoneyOwl’s investors need only invest $100 for a one-off investment, or $50 per month for a regular savings plan.
A number of investment sub-features were also added in August, including the ability to invest using your SRS account, and the ability to set up a joint account. Chiu explained that many customers wanted to open joint investment accounts with their children, so that they could invest and leave it for them as part of their estate planning.
In fact, their technology has already impacted customers in very tangible ways.
“We always try to put ourselves in the customers shoes first, when we’re creating the technology, but most of the time, we wouldn’t know how it will impact consumers in real life. So, one of the most touching moments for me and my team, was when one of our advisers showed us a thank you note from one of our clients,” said Chiu.
“The client had utilised our will writing robo to assist her mum who was bedridden in hospital and in her last days. Sadly, in a few short weeks, her mother passed away, but fortunately, they managed to get her will written with our will writing robo, right by her bedside, executed with her signature, so that she could leave behind her legacy for her loved ones. Without our wills writing platform, things would have been a lot more challenging.”
“When we heard that, many of us teared,” he said.
In another situation, Chiu described a client who wanted to educate his teenage daughter on the virtues of investing. On his encouragement, his daughter managed to open an investment account quickly and safely with MoneyOwl on her own, and has started putting in $50 every month via PayNow into her own investment account for her regular monthly investments.
“It’s really good to know our platform can help families in different ways.”
Not a roboadviser
Just to be perfectly clear, though, while technology is a huge part of MoneyOwl, Chiu would be the first to admit that MoneyOwl is not a roboadviser.
“MoneyOwl isn’t a roboadviser. We have multiple robos, but we are not a roboadviser. We are a comprehensive, bionic financial adviser. No roboadvisor in Singapore provides comprehensive financial planning with human wisdom at the core of advice,” he says
“Roboadvisers are investment-only, technology platforms with human add-ons, usually in the customer service or portfolio management space. Worldwide, roboadvisers are untested in crises and have not shown that they have a path to financial sustainability. In many cases, roboadvisers are funded by VCs and founders looking for their exit, and low cost is the main basis of their value proposition.”
“MoneyOwl is a comprehensive, humans-at-core adviser who offer technology tools to augment our best-in-class advisory practice and social mission. Our comprehensive advice covers all aspects of planning necessary for financial success, and when our final comprehensive planning service is launched next month, national schemes will be fully integrated into our planning,” Chiu continues.
“We inherit our core advisory expertise from our corporate parent Providend, who has advised clients through major crises, and our social mission and commitment to Singapore are backed by our other majority shareholder NTUC Enterprise.”
Cybersecurity and customer confidentiality at the core of their technology
In order to do what they do, MoneyOwl holds a Capital Markets Services license from the Monetary Authority of Singapore. “Some companies only offer insurance, some only do investments or wills. With this license, we can cater to the full gamut of services.”
MoneyOwl also takes cyber security very seriously, and for that, the company went under audit to receive the ISO27001 certification at a very early stage of its operations. “It’s a big topic these days for financial applications like ours and it is a top priority for us. The certification is an international standard for information security, and provides over 100 controls to make sure our tools and processes are compliant.” The firm is also fully compliant with the MAS Technology Risk Management guidelines.
Chiu built up MoneyOwl’s 12-person tech team after joining the firm as the founding CTO. With over 15 years experience in technology and building technology teams for larger established businesses and startups alike, in Silicon Valley and in Asia, including his latest stint as the CTO and CIO at NTUC LINK, this was a role that was right up his alley.
“We have project management, who takes care of the features, the thinking, and works with various stakeholders from marketing, from business, from advisors, and as well as ops for requirements, before prioritising the work to the software developers. This team pulls everything together.”
MoneyOwl’s tech team also has inhouse designers in charge of the user interface and user experience, software engineers who code the look and feel of the website and the internal infrastructure, and devops engineers who manage the cloud infrastructure.
“We have cyber security personnel looking at the governance and looking at the implementation of all the security components in the company, and a quality assurance team as well, to properly test everything before it gets launched.”
Trusting the new startup
As a startup, MoneyOwl is often faced with questions from potential customers who worry about putting their faith and money in the company, for fear that it will close down within a couple of years. Chiu explains that there is little to worry about.
“First and foremost, our parentage with NTUC Enterprise and Providend speaks volumes about our history, and reputation in the market. NTUC Enterprise has been around for decades, and all their social enterprises such as FairPrice and First Campus, are trusted household brands, while Providend has been providing best in class independent financial advisory for close to 2 decades.”
While customers often ask what happens to their insurance or investment monies if anything happened to MoneyOwl, Chiu assures that their monies are channelled to the respective insurance firms or investment fund houses.
“With insurance, you’re dealing with big insurance companies like Manulife, Aviva, or Tokio Marine, and your policy is with them. For investment, it’s the same thing, your money is with Dimensional Fund Advisors. Our role is to direct you to them, based on your needs.”
“And the will you write with our portal? It is a legally binding document that you can (and should) print out anytime.”
“Our job is to ensure your information is safe with us, and we have a lot of controls in place to do just that.”