Andrew is a strong adopter of disruptive technologies and "out of the box" thinking to address business challenges within the financial services industry. He is a passionate entrepreneur interested in playing a leading role in developing the nascent Technopreneur movement in Asia.
Essentially, AG Delta is a software company, building solutions for the financial services and wealth management industry. Over the years, AG Delta had created platforms for thousands of wealth and relationship managers, trading billions through it.
The boundless energy displayed by andrew, coupled with his strong business acumen and persistence in overcoming the vicissitudes of the ever changing business environment, makes him an excellent role model for any aspiring entrepreneur.
- What is the nature of your business?
1) Who are we?
Essentially, AGDelta is a software company, building solutions for the financial services and wealth management industry. AGDelta offers Rich Internet Application solutions to the Private Wealth Management industry. Our flagship solution, AGCapital , is designed to revolutionize the way Investment Products are marketed, distributed and traded across multiple channels, regulatory domains and client segments by Wealth Managers and Online banking customers.
Built with the most contemporary technologies and industry standards, the AGCapital electronic trading solution supports a highly rich user experience combined with a high performance trade execution & surveillance services built on open platform architecture.
Our clients are many of the fastest-growing financial institutions in the world, with production sites in wealth centres across Asia Pacific and Europe.
2) The Challenges
The way wealth managers conduct their business in one of the fasting growing markets & industries regionally has been much criticised in the after math of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) with widely publicised investor backlash with cases linked to investment products linked to Lehman Bros and DBS High Five notes. Regulators have also weighed including the banning of 10 Financial Institutions from selling certain investment products and requiring much more stringent processes and system infrastructure to improve sales-advisory processes.
3) Addressable Market Size
share in a burgeoning market of over 10.7 Trillion USD Assets Under Management in Asia and over 3 million high net worth banking customers (excluding regular retail banking clients!) and almost 300,000 certified Wealth Managers/ Client Advisors operating in the Asia pacific region.
- When and why did you decide to become an entrepreneur / take over your family business?
My lineage tracing back to HK & China is more academia than entrepreneurial. My Chinese name literally means broad & far and so far I have lived up to that name having worked in Australia / US / Europe & Asia over my 18 year career.
My father was always investing actively and in particular property (bricks & mortar). Whilst that has rubbed off on me, I decided to pursued a career in Financial Markets (Derivatives), Banking and Technology (Software).
My parents always encouraged me to be inquisitive and creative and from a young age I trained in music and enjoyed the tactics and strategy involved in games like Chess and actually competed seriously in my pre-university days.
- What are your reasons for choosing to do business in this particular industry?
Before starting the business I had spent over a decade in the Banking & Technology space so it was quite natural for me to start my first business in an industry I knew very well and could leverage my experience to carve out a niche for AGDELTA. My ex-colleague & business partner Lawrence Grinceri also came from a similar background in Financial Services & Technology and we had similar views on how we could make a difference to that industry.
PRIOR TO STARTING AG|DELTA my business partner and I had a combined 24 years of experience in the Financial Services & Technology industry which gave us a good foundation for the business.
- How did you put together all the resources needed to start your business? For example: getting the start-up capital, hiring staff, doing sales and marketing, advertising, etc.
Like most Start-ups, it was a case of putting your money where your mouth was and we plunged some of our personal capital into the business. Between the 2 of us we covered all facets of client engagement, marketing & sales, HR, Accounts etc. Very early on we understand what it meant to strive to DO MORE WITH LESS.
STRIVING TO DO MORE WITH LESS
As we expanded the business , incorporated in Singapore we also took advantage of some of government sponsored initiatives including some financing options packaged through local Financial Institutions for SMEs , IE Singapore as we expanded overseas etc.
- What are some interesting stories you have about your first few customers/first few years in business?
David & Goliath story against the odds
The most interesting experience was our first major client for our software. It was 2009 and we were engaged in a tender competing against some of the largest global vendors in the world with billions in revenue and thousands of employees and we were a company of less than 20 employees. (A true David and Goliath story). After an arduous process of almost 1 year of due diligence we finally emerged victorious for a global multi-million mandate for our solution. You never forget your first major win of this size. Today that client has thousands of Wealth Managers using our platform globally with billions of Wealth Investment products transacted on our Wealth E-Commerce platform.
This story demonstrates its not always the biggest that win. Innovation and Vision for your idea plays a big part also. Also Visionary selling is one of the hardest things to do and faces all entrepreneurs the first time they want to sell an idea/solution that has not been tried and tested before
- What is your company vision and mission? How do you convey these to your company staff and team members?
Our vision is simple. We want to revolutionise the way wealth managers and client advisors perform their services in the industry. We believe that how the industry works today is equivalent to what happened within the manufacturing industry before the likes of amazon.com. Back then, there were a lot of supply chains, manufacturers that manufactures products, distributors that distributor products to the retail client and ultimately, the end customer who walks in the store. That was very manual and problems such as quality control sufficed as well. Amazon came and completely changed the face of e-commerce. Similarly, in the wealth management space, I see a similar pattern. We have factories, which are the banks and fund managers that manufactures products and we have the banks, who through the wealth managers who are the distributors and advisors of those products, to distribute to the end client who purchases these investment products. The whole process is very manual and we are looking to change that with our solution.
Our Mission Statement and what it entails to provide Wealth E-Commerce solutions to Wealth Managers to provide services related to Wealth Online Anywhere Anytime is depicted in our brand collateral (presentations, document templates), on the large sign boards you see in our office and when we are at industry events such as the photo above (Left: Andrew Au (CEO & Founder), Ray Wong (Head of Products) and Lawrence Grinceri (COO & Founder)).
WEALTH ONLINE ANYWHERE ANYTIME
Increasingly wealth managers require tools to support them with mobility given many meetings with private clients may also be off premise. Devices like IPADS are increasingly being used by Wealth Managers enterprise wide at many of our clients. We have actively played a part in the industry in promoting solutions that can achieve productivity gains, serve our customers end customers.
- What are some of the challenges you faced when you first went into business?
On challenges, I dont know any Entrepreneur in business that is not thinking about cash flow, making payroll. CASH IS KING.
CASH IS KING
We were no different and I recall during the 2007-2008 financial crisis as we were cutting back on our consulting teams and burning cash for building our software solution that they were indeed very challenging times.
During 2009, when we were marketing our BETA solution to banks in the region and they were excited but could not commit in that year I must admit there were some thoughts that crossed my lines along the why are we doing this? but I was confident as I knew the industry we were servicing so well that the challenges from the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) would turn into opportunities and enable us to secure the right type of clients that wanted to emerge from the GFC as winners against their competition.
Through a lot of hard work & perseverance we made ends meet in 2009 and in early 2010 we achieved a breakthrough with our first major AG Capital software client. They happened to be a home run as they were a global bank and considered a leader in the wealth management space in Asia (Standard Chartered)
- How did you overcome these challenges? Please share some specific examples of the action you took to overcome the challenges.
We approached our bankers DBS in the early days and were one of the first clients from the Financial Services/Technology industry to initiate factoring lines which enabled us effectively to sell our client invoices book for cash within 2 business days as opposed to usual 30-60 day payment terms. This enabled us to optimise our cash flow and working capital cycle the same way a bank would! When it came down to contracting multi-million dollar software license fee contracts we also applied our creativity and pitched out bankers on the concept of also factoring our software license contracts and not just our services contracts. We were the first Financial Technology Software company I believe in Singapore to take advantage of this. Again the ability to maximise our cash flow cycle has enabled us to accelerate often much needed expansion investments required to meet the needs of triple digit growth company.
At the same time it has enabled us to sustain the business over the last 8 years when over 95% of Startups fail within their first 2 years of operations.
RAISING CAPITAL AND LAUNCHING EMPLOYEE STOCK OPTIONS PROGRAMME
To further mitigate risk we opened up the company for Series A & B First Round Investment Capital in 2009/2010. We were able to mark to market the valuation of the company , whilst maintaining over 90% control of the company (not too common these days at this stage of the company life cycle) and acted as a pre-cursor to the Employee Staff Options Programme we saw as an important step as additional incentive to retaining our talent.
- Can you remember your worst day in business or a time when you felt like giving up? What happened that made you feel that way and how did you triumph over it?
At some point a few years ago (will not disclose when but it was before prior to 2010), I remember the day, we had cut back on our profitable consulting business to focus on building our software solution which was consuming loads of cash. We needed to make some clutch sales closures on some deals we were working on and progress had been steady but not as fast as we would like. That is when I truly understood what the adage necessity is the mother of all invention and we as a business rallied to secure the clutch sale in time for payroll to be made the following month. The rest is history as they say we have learn to operate under huge amounts of pressure and that enables us to be prudent with expansion investments even in better times.
- Can you share some of the lessons you learnt from overcoming your own business challenges that you think will help other businesses?
On the assumption that all entrepreneurs have a great business idea and are passionate about that, I would advise others going down this road to focus on either acquiring or developing business acumen in the business.
What I mean by this is fundamental things about how to manage finances, all commercial aspects around contracts, how to manage your liabilities, how to leverage partners. These factors often mean the difference on acquiring GOOD new business of simply BAD new business.
We were very fortunate, that amongst the AGDELTA founders we had strong skills in many of these areas.
Not all entrepreneurs are going to have an idea that is the next FACEBOOK with astronomical sales growth in the first few years of the business, so s important if the business needs some gestation time, that you dont make too many significant commercial errors early on and to make the most of what you have. I see many examples in Silicon Valley of failed start-ups burning through millions of dollars of raised capital without taking the chance either develop within themselves or acquire proper business acumen into the business.
- When was the moment you realised the business would work and support you?
Although our consulting advisory business achieved 100% Year on Year growth betweem 2005-2008 , I always questioned how sustainable or scalable that business model was where we really going to create the next Accenture?. As a result , I think it is likely only now with several large client software mandates for our AG|Capital solution , thousands of users and billions traded in the AG|Capital network that I can safely say this is a viable and sustainable business that matches our level of ambition for the business which is not just to support myself.
From a standard point of supporting myself, that was realised within the 1st year of the business in 2005.
- What are some of your proudest business achievements to date? And why are they so important and meaningful to you?
I am also very proud of the team we have built to date. They are absolutely awesome and embody the innovation and fighting & competitive spirit at AG Delta.
I would have to say emotionallyachieving our first major software sale would have to be up there (like your first child mine was borne in the same year we started the business!). Whilst that was very exciting , I knew there was a lot to prove so from a business achievement perspective , getting that client into production with thousands of users in Asia & Europe with billions transacted in our platform is to date our proudest achievement.
That all sounds great but recently when that same client acted as a client reference for another global bank that had decided to award us a contract but was finalising some due diligence, that was an extremely personally satisfying moment. Our client mentioned they had paid off their investment in our solution within 18months and was a solid partner to work with which means a lot for me. As they say you are only as good as your most dis-satisfied client. In this case you are as good as your most satisfied clients!
Finally we have received many accolades for our Software Solution as well as our company that we are also very proud about.
- Can you describe the company culture that you have? How does it contribute to the performance of your company growth?
I would say the best way to describe our company culture is can do performance culture. We learnt from a very early stage how to maximize more with less and I think that has carried through. We need to continually think out of the box to solve problems especially one that involves technology. History has proven that it is often disruptive technology that causes a revolution as opposed to an evolution. I believe the think out of the box culture is very strong in our organisation.
As we continue to grow its vital we are able to maintain the burning desire to create the best and most positively impactful solutions that rest with all startups in early stage growth. We are encouraging that through HR related programmes that have been kicked off this year.
Amongst the monthly management meetings, we conduct quarterly townhalls with all staff in all locations where we share the latest strategic initiatives and how the company is fairing which I believe is very popular amongst the staff. We promote a culture of over achivement through our Over & Beyond awards which are made to members of the staff nominated by other staff or management that have demonstrated qualities of over achievement and team spirit that is to be highly recommended and a great example for others.
To promote team building , we have quarterly staff get-togethers for different events organised by a committee comprising the staff called DELTA FORCE . The last one was a bowling , pool /snooker event. Every time its a great opportunity for teams to let their hair down and enjoy each others company outside of work.
- How do you promote learning within your Company? What are the training opportunities that you provide your staff?
We have developed a culture of peer learning in our organisation as I think the on the job training from getting involved in developing our solution and implementing it as the clients is invaluable. As such, we have induction and bootcamp programmes in place to help new staff to be introduced to the various functions within the software development, business analysis and sales force teams.
We also support industry qualifications and members of our staff have undertaken qualifications that our clients take such as the Wealth Management / Financial Advisory qualifications in Singapore.
With our clients and internally , we have developed e-learning self help materials which incorporate online content. We are looking to enhance that programme further into you tube style videos. This initiative has helped us train thousands of wealth managers all over the world and this is available to our staff which helps them understand what our clients have to go through and how they use our AG|Capital solution.
We also promote online social media tools like Tibbr (which is an enteprise grade business social media tool) which is being pilotted in our organisation and is also incorporated into our own Software Solution to be used as a collobaration tool within our client base.
- What do you see for your business in the next 5 years, and does it include any plans for expansion?
As the CEO , I can draw an analogy back to my competitive chess playing days. To be very good at chess you need to combine tactics and strategy harmoniously and execute your plans at the right time. That is the same for policies which require the CEO to look many moves in advance and anticipate changes in the industry. In terms of future plans we will be looking at the following areas of expansion:
1. We will continue to increase the number of banks & financial institutions that provide available investment products for quotation & trade execution onto our platform. This will enable us to continue to assume the mantle of the enterprise grade amazon.com of the Wealth Management Industry.
2. We will continue to expand globally into European & North American , Middle Eastern & Latin American markets beyond Asia Pacific. Our clients are already taking us there and I anticipate during the next 5 years , the markets there will recover and be in a new investment cycle for these type of solutions.
3. We will provide new business engagement models that will enable new client segments, for example, Independent Financial Advisors or non-bank financial intermediaries to leverage the benefits of a platform like ours and we will be offering a Software as a Service (SaaS) model to also support these clients with less or little system infrastructure.
- In your opinion, what is a good and ethical business? How do you think this helps you in your Company/ business?
A good and Ethical business is responsible in its dealings with clients , partners and ultimately their end-clients which in our case are the customers of wealth management firms. During the GFC , there was much publicity around the failings of selling and advisory practises within the industry with reports regarding Lehman Bros and DBS High 5 notes that caused much investor resentment of banks.
Our solutions aim to provide more independent choice of products through transparency (Amazon.com theme) as well as meet the regulators requirements about auditable controls in the process. We also help our banking customers improve significantly their top (revenue) & bottom (expense) line performance so its a win win for all.
- How will you describe your working relationship with your customers, suppliers and service providers?
We believe strongly in WIN WIN approach to business.
We have practised that philosophy with our partners and clients. I believe this has helped significantly our approach of ensuring all parties achieve positive outcomes but benefit our mutual clients.
As a result we are always happy to have our customers and partners do the talking and selling for us.
- Can you share the working terms (e.g payment terms) that you have established with your suppliers?
30 days. We have factoring agreements in place with our bank which enables us to turn invoices into cash in 2 business days.
- How do you differentiate your business from your competitors? Please provide specific examples.
Our Unique Selling Point is that we designed our solution leading up to the GFC. As as result we designed a solution to meet the specific challenges of the industry today. We did this by understanding that banks needed to address different customer segments (multi-segment), in different regulatory jurisdications (multi-market), offering all investment products in one platform (Multi-product) and servicing customers in different ways , for instance, through mobility , in branch , on premise etc (Multi- Channel).
- What are some business ideas you have implemented that created great results in your business?
Seeding the company with the vision of AG|Capital which has had an enormous impact on our business due to its level of innovation and impact on our clients businesses. This vision has evolved to not just automation of sales Advisory and Transaction execution processes for Wealth Investment Products but addressing the wider industry supply chain problem of manufacturing investment products , making them and more of them available to the end customer (more choice multi provider) , ensuring quality control QC (compliance controls) and make them more readily available to more wealth managers and their end customers (mult- channels.
- Where or who do you get your business ideas from?
I am a big student of our industry and regularly attend industry events as a speaker where I get to interact with industry participants to illicit there views as well as share ours.
In the end, as we are building new frontiers with our solutions its at the moment more about sharing our vision and refining it through internal/external dialog.
- How have these business ideas impacted your Company or business? Please specify the qualitative and quantitative terms of the impact.
Our business is essentially based on this vision of the solution. This idea is big and can be a billion dollar idea. Both from a quantitative and qualitative perspective this is fundamental to our business. The great thing is this vision is evolving and being refined and improved with the talent we have acquired in the organisation.
- How do you think your business have made a positive impact or contribute to the community that you serve? For example: creating jobs for Singaporeans or underprivileged; upgrading the skills of employees; improving livelihoods or lifestyles of customers.
At AG|Delta we have created new opportunities for many individuals since we started our business.
We have created an initiative in 2012 calledOver & Beyond which promotes strong values for individuals in our organisation that have demonstrated qualities of service or achievement over & beyond what would normally be expected as sets a great example for others to follow.
This has resulted in the introduction of new charitable work including helping children orphanages with IT equipment (given we are a software/tech company!) and we hope to continue the growth of these initiatives.
In the end our solutions impact also the livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands of qualified wealth managers in the region, the millions of Wealth and Retail Banking Customers who are serviced by banks with now more transparent and effective solutions.
- What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
What entrepreneurship means to me in a few words is identifying the big opportunity, calculating the risks and taking action in pursuit of this opportunity with drive and vigour.
Many people have ideas, but less than 0.1% of the population actually take action.
- What are some entrepreneurship qualities that you have which has helped you come this far?
I believe I am a quick thinker on my feet.
I tend to be able to seize the situation quickly by that I mean I am able to comprehend multiple factors & dynamics in a situation whether that be business domain / technical / commercial / risks / opportunities and make decisions quickly.
I believe that comes from my personality, but also my background as a derivatives dealer in the financial markets space when things are happening very fast and you need to form a view, way up the risks and make a decision. I see this very similar to making decisions as an entrepreneur. You never have the perfect conditions or the perfect answers before you need to pull the trigger to pursue an opportunity.
I tend to think big with opportunities.
The vision for the solution is big, and I feel I am able to act as a credible evangelist of this vision within the industry with our clients / prospects and partners. I think every company needs a good evangelist of the product or vision.
I tend to know how to use leverage.
By that I dont just mean financial leverage, but how to position our company or achievements or particular business networks for the betterment of our overall position. I believe when you are starting out a new business and competing with the giants you need to be able to do this well. i.e punch above your weight . For example, now that we have a client footprint which is sizeable this is enabling us to leverage that buying power into attracting more product providers on our platform which further embeds us with our existing or new clients.
I am focussed & driven
Its quite clear what I want to achieve and I go about orientating myself , our clients and our organisation towards that. I am a firm believer in setting S.M.A.R.T (see below) goals and like to measure our performance regularly at monthly quarterly meetings internally and with investors:
5. Time Sensitive
- In your opinion, what other qualities does a person need in order to be successful in business? And why? (e.g. Educational qualification, work experience, family influence, attitude, etc)
I think there are many other factors that have been written about at length and what is true I believe is Entrepreneurs often need to be good at wearing many hats.
- In your opinion, what does it mean to have the spirit of enterprise?
I believe its about the state of mind of having a go! Which is a colloquial term used in Australia.
- In more specific terms that means identifiying the big opportunity , calculating the risks and taking action in pursuit of this opportunity with drive and vigour.
- Who or what motivates and inspires you?
Steve Jobs is a great inspiration as a entrepreneur not just due to his achievements but for the adversity he has had to deal with before getting back on top. In Singapore - Lee Kuan Yew inspires me for his vision.
- What are some of your business values and what would you like to pass down to others, particularly the younger generation?
1) LOVE WHAT YOU DO this is required to get through the rough bumps that inevitably happen in your journey
2) LEARN ABOUT BUSINESS ACUMEN it will help you make the most of what limited financial resources you have
3) DEVELOP A WIN WIN ATTITUDE this is the only way to do business with partners and clients.
4) RESPECT ADVICE , CALIBRATE IT FOR YOUR SITUATION advice is valuable , but you must make it work for you. Sometimes if you creating something absolutely ground-breaking , there may not be good advice you can see on the vision , but you can learn a lot from past success/failures of other entrepreneurs and make that advice work for your situation.
- Can you share some of the more significant events / incidents that affected or shaped your business philosophy and the way you conduct your business? I.e. SARS, new competition or shifts in market behaviour and trends, etc.
IN CHALLENGE LIES OPPORTUNITIES
I worked during the Asian Financial Crisis , the Dot-Com bubble bursting , SARS , the global financial crisis , seen how Apple revolutionized what was thought as a crowded space (NOKIA/SONY mobiles).
My philosophy in business is to dare to seize opportunities others are balking at or do not see. Do more homework than your competition.