A deep dive into how Phillip Futures took over the futures market
Exclusive interview with Grace Chan | Executive Director of Phillip Futures
With over 20 years of experience under her belt, Grace Chan, Executive Director of Phillip Futures, has seen plenty when it comes to financial markets.
In an exclusive interview with ZUU Online, we learn how the company has evolved to become a key player in the market. Grace shares her experience and insights on how things have unfolded for her and the team over the past few years.
Facing a steep learning curve
From starting her career at the peak of the dot-com boom, a period of massive growth in the use and adoption of the internet, to moving into marketing, and subsequently business development, Grace has picked up experiences in different parts of the business through her various roles.
Before joining Phillip Futures, she was with the marketing team of POEMS in Phillip Securities. “It was a very exciting time. Back then, nobody knew much about online trading. POEMS was possibly the first online broker in Singapore.”
2003 marked her first venture into forex with Phillip Futures where she performed currency dealing as a Forex Dealer. Over the years, Grace wore other hats and rose the ranks and became Director of Marketing and Sales Channel, while at the same time contributing to Business Development where she had the chance to work with the company’s overseas offices to expand their product offerings.
Having spent almost 20 years with the PhillipCapital group, one might wonder how her journey must have been throughout. “Thinking back on the years I have spent with the group; I guess if anything, I would say that it has been a journey of continuous learning. In the last 20 years, because the group is very big and offers a full suite of trading products and services, there’s no lack of new things to learn and pick up.”
“I started my journey at the height of the dot-com boom. I learnt about online trading, and subsequently, during market upheavals, I learnt how important it is to be prudent when choosing a broker that you want to put your money in. This is where the marketing and branding of a broker would be so important.”
At some point in her career, Grace also took up a role that required her to work in Japan. and she learnt about cultural assimilation, which later proved useful when she further rose to a senior management role as Executive Director.
Expanding in times of crisis
It is common to hear about financial institutions headquartered in the United States, Hong Kong, and other countries. In contrast, Singapore-based advisory firms are few and far in between, even till today.
This makes Phillip Futures a leader in the market for the region, having boldly expanded to other countries worldwide, even in times of crisis.
When the 2008 financial crisis happened, Grace worked on PhillipCapital’s expansion into the global offices in Malaysia, Japan, and various countries. She noted that pursuing this uncommon strategy of expanding during crises was a conscious decision. Having sufficient resources to do so certainly helped, and Phillip Futures has been opting to make the most out of crises to get a strong footing amid difficult times. “This way, when things are better, we are already up and running and ready to go.”
In times of crisis, there are more opportunities with better potential. PhillipCapital group has proved that executing an expansion during times of crisis is uncommon, but not impossible. “As long as you believe in the long-term growth of the industry,” Grace pointed out.
Continuing growth and innovation
Hence, it comes as no surprise that when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the company adopted the same expansion strategy. “In recent years during the pandemic, things were not slowing down. Instead, we accelerated our digitisation process even more,” Grace shared.
“Now we see a lot of companies trying to innovate, and we are also part of this process. This innovation cannot stop and has to go on because the industry is moving and changing constantly, and we have to move along with what customers need.”
Philip Futures enhanced its online account opening process and improved its payment gateways to ensure that clients can start trading within one hour. While digitisation and automation were not new concepts to the team, the pandemic certainly accelerated the processes, pushing Phillip Futures to make tweaks and make them faster, better, more efficient, and convenient for customers.
“The recent five years have been extraordinary. To meet clients’ demands and expectations, the management team also has to learn about digitisation, automation, how to create efficiencies, and then about cryptocurrency. So, I guess if I were to sum it up, it is one of continuous learning and continuous implementation.”
Being consistent is key
When asked about what the key strengths of Phillip Futures are, Grace answers “I think one of the things we do very well is consistency.”
“We have been very consistent in many aspects. First and foremost, our management team has been very consistent. Our CEO, Teyu Che Chern, has been leading for the past 20 years. Phillip Group’s founding chairman has been with the group for the past 45 years. Together, they offered a stable hand in leading the company and the group to greater heights.”
Grace sees consistency in leadership as a strength for their long-term goals, noting that it allows the management team to set a clear direction and lay plans far ahead into the future. “We are bold in making long term plans as many in the core management team have seen how the company evolved and how the industry has moved in the past decade or two. We can make these plans because we have a clearer vision of what lies ahead and where our competencies are to meet these challenges. For challenges that we cannot predict, we know at least that we have this stable and consistent team who will grow and adapt along.”
Having a consistent management team enables them to work on their set goals year after year. This has proven to be effective thus far, especially seeing how the company has grown and developed over the years.
Keeping clients well informed
Another key strength that Phillip Futures takes pride in being consistent in would be client education.
Recalling her days with POEMs when she used to frequently conduct seminars multiple times a week and demonstrate the system to clients who came to the office, Grace commented that it is a process that requires a lot of time and energy. “Pre pandemic, we were doing investor education three times a week, even on weekends. These days, we do six to eight webinars in a month.”
However, being conscientious in this aspect goes a long way in helping investors to stay well informed and make better decisions. “We believe that by providing the client with the education, information, and an avenue to go to, people will recognise over time that we are not just a broker with expertise, but a sincere broker who is able to help them trade better.”
“We want Phillip Futures to be the broker that investors go to when they need any advice or tips on what to do and how to invest in almost any financial product.”
Having a strong network
Apart from consistency, another key factor that plays a huge role in Phillip Futures’ success would certainly be its network and vast global reach.
Grace explained that the team has expanded in multiple countries and is always working closely with their various overseas counterparts. Having a wide distribution network allows the company to mobilise and utilise resources efficiently and effectively.
While having a great external network is crucial to the company’s growth, having a strong internal network running the show is just as important. “I would love to say that another key strength would be the tenacity of our staff.”
Noting that the ongoing pandemic hasn’t been easy for many employees, Grace added that the team’s hard work in the past years has contributed significantly to the company’s present state of growth.
Venturing into CFD and stocks
So, when and how did Phillip Futures start the venture into CFD and stocks? What was the turning point that started the shift from futures and forex?
While Phillip Futures focuses on currencies and derivatives, their sister company, Phillip Securities, offers stocks to investors. In recent years, clients started asking if they could trade everything under one broker and on a single ledger.
“We thought, ‘Okay how can we do this more efficiently? How can we make it easier for the customer?’ We were thinking very hard about it together with our group company.”
“We also realised that Phillip Futures also needs to diversify. At that time, it was just futures and forex. So, we then decided to start offering CFDs, which is a very similar product in that it works on leverage, to expand product offerings and meet customers’ needs.”
With an increasing number of fintech brokers, from China and Europe, entering the shores of the Singaporean market, seeing the escalating competition in the region certainly influenced their decision to take the leap.
“After CFD, we started to offer shares, which is the most accessible product in terms of trading and in terms of understanding.”
While there were a few different factors that drove the decision, Grace emphasised that the main reason that propelled the team forward was to respond to clients’ needs. “Many of our existing clients had the very strong need to trade multiple products under one single ledger and when that finally happened, other clients started to welcome this possibility.”
Customers now do not need to put their money with different brokers or different ledger accounts to trade multiple products.”
Compared to other brokers, Phillip Futures was late to the game when it decided to offer CFDs.
“Offering CFDs and equities was nothing new, so many brokers out there doing it. Some are super aggressive in their approach.”
Among the significant challenges the team had to tackle were how to differentiate Phillip Futures, let its new offerings be known and appeal to the pool of current investors in the market. Another issue at hand was having to create a platform that is reliable and consistent. Unlike other brokers who may use 3rd party or OEMs, Phillip Futures believes in building and developing its own trading platform for its clients.
While this development went through many ups and downs, the Phillip Futures team did not see them as setbacks.
When asked how the team managed to overcome these issues, Grace replies “We go back to our key strengths and key values where we constantly remind ourselves that we’re not here for the short-term gains, but long-term growth and developing a good trading platform is one of the key factors to get there.”
Introducing Phillip Nova
The team persevered and pushed through, leading to a successful launch of their latest new platform – the Phillip Nova. Now, clients can trade stocks, forex, and futures directly on the platform itself.
“Phillip Nova will be our key platform,” said Grace with conviction.
Phillip Nova would not be the first platform they are offering. For clients who are into specialised asset classes, such as currency trading, can use the MetaTrader 5. However, clients who wish to do multi-asset trading will be recommended to go with Philip Nova.
“Right now, what we are trying to do is to meet all trading needs that clients have. Our product offerings range from exchange-traded futures, forex, gold, and silver, and now we have stocks.”
Given how the financial markets are currently very interrelated, investors would certainly appreciate the convenience of having a one-stop platform. “We realise that most customers don’t just trade one product, but they trade across asset classes as prices are often correlated. For example, clients who trade in foreign futures sometimes may need to hedge their currencies first.”
“By having all of these [offerings], our customers benefit. We are aiming to provide that convenience.”
In short, Phillip Nova is a great option for those who want a choice. While the platform has already been running for a few years, equities trading would be a recent addition to their offerings. The team has set plans to make a bigger splash and garner greater publicity in 2022.
“We hope our clients will stay tuned and look forward to what is in store for them.”
Investors looking to trade with Phillip Futures can be rest assured that they would be in good hands – the company is constantly on the lookout to expand and improve its products and services. “We are constantly trying to perfect it, and that’s the journey we want to take and is one that we have always been taking.”
When asked to share insights on Phillip Futures’ plan to move ahead and ensure growth and sustainability, Grace responds that it goes back to the company’s strength, which is consistency. “If there’s an area that we want to do to grow and be better, we believe that it should be sustainable. We don’t believe in making a big splash for just a year and if things don’t work out, we make an exit. We don’t do that.”
Having been in the market for the last 45 years, the team has been through the thick and thin of it. Yet, they truly value endurance in the challenges they faced to emerge on the other side, better and stronger. “There are difficult times for sure, but we believe that we don’t simply give up during difficult times. Even internally, we don’t believe in expanding during good times and letting go of people during bad times. That has been our guiding principle.”
Investing in a sustainable way
One of the missions that Phillip Futures has set out to achieve is to educate clients constantly and consistently.
“Generally, during good times, everybody rushes into trade and during bad times people may not know what to do.”
This concern and wanting to look out for current and future investors are what drives the team to promote and educate on how to invest sustainably. “We also want to promote things like high yield stocks. I also think the only way we can do it, and consistently so, is through investor education.”
“We want our clients to trade in something that will give them good yields down the road.”
Sustainable investments that focus on long-term growth such as ETFs, REITs are some options that Grace hopes more would consider. “They may be less exciting, but they are generally more sustainable.”
While it ultimately depends on clients’ values and preferences, imparting insights and education will certainly help clients to make better and informed decisions. Hence, Phillip Futures focuses on educating the next generation of investors and gathering insights to help them trade better.
It’s increasingly common for young people to trade US stocks and cryptocurrency, but they often forget the risk management part. Phillip Futures set up a young investor team that is closely working with schools, universities, and investment clubs in academic institutions to provide trading insights and recommendations to investors in this younger age group.
A reminder for investors
Having been in the industry all these years and witnessing different market cycles, Grace stands firm in her stance that risk management is extremely crucial.
“Whether you are a new or seasoned investor, risk management is key. Not just in terms of your money, but also in terms of the brokers that you choose. It is an important element that some may overlook. Don’t just look for the cheapest in town. Consider different aspects while making your decision.”
An exciting future awaits
In our interview, Grace mentioned that Phillip Futures is set to officially change its name to Phillip Nova in early 2022. “Definitely exciting since it marks a milestone for us.”
While it is a big change to the Phillip Futures brand identity, Grace maintains that it does not change the core of what the company does and stands for. “I’m excited about it. I wouldn’t call it a new beginning, rather taking on a new identity and continuing on this journey.”
“Launching stocks is the first step for us to be a multi-asset class broker, but it does not mean that we will not forget about our strengths in forex and derivatives trading. These are what many clients know and trust us for.”
The decision to rebrand was made with clients in mind. “I think what we want to tell our clients is that we are adding on to our current identity. Along with it, we are also adding more products and platform capabilities for them.”
With a client-centric mindset and fearless approach to innovation to keep improving its offerings, it is not difficult to see how Phillip Futures has yet again continued to pave the way ahead for a remarkable future.
“We just want to meet our clients’ needs and do it well, continuously and consistently. And that’s what we stand for,” Grace concluded.