Opening Doors To Niche Investments

Fundnel co-founder Sng Khai Lin aims to create a more level playing field for investors keen on alternative assets.

As the co-founder and Chief Investment Officer (CIO) of fintech startup Fundnel, Ms Sng Khai Lin aims to give investors access to a broader range of alternative assets usually reserved for institutions. These could include stakes in private companies or a slice of luxury assets such as whiskeys or wines. At the same time, Fundnel aims to increase liquidity of such assets by creating a more vibrant marketplace for them.

It is these twin goals that led Ms Sng and her co-founders to leave their jobs at investment bank J.P. Morgan to establish Fundnel in 2016. In the six years since establishment, the company has garnered some US$6 billion worth of deals for over 14,000 investors.

Ms Sng leads the group’s Corporate Development Division and is responsible for the new business units. In her role as CIO, she also oversees the group’s overseas offices and corporate relations function.

Ms Sng speaks to BiZQ about making the transition to an entrepreneur, her goals for Fundnel, and why she joined SBF’s Young Business Leaders Network (YBLN), comprising young professionals united by a desire to create positive impact through their businesses. 

What is the key business of Fundnel and what issues does the company address?

What we do is to solve liquidity and access issues related to alternative investment asset classes. Historically, when we look at alternative assets, whether it’s unlisted private companies or VC (venture capital) funds, there has always been very limited access for individual investors.

We have a licensed entity here in Singapore and one in Malaysia that offer access to these alternative asset classes to investors; bringing more transparency and allowing investors to discover these investment opportunities and acquire them at a smaller ticket size. Our goal this year is to bring our minimum investment down to $1,000 from $50,000 currently.

The second issue is a lack of liquidity in many of these alternative assets. To address this, we have partnered brokers such as Philip Securities, Prime Partners and others to set up the Hg exchange, which enables more market participants to come into this space. Investors that go to any of these brokerages will have access to the exchange. When you have more investors in the marketplace, there’s a greater likelihood that you have higher liquidity.

You previously worked in the financial sector. How did you end up founding a Fintech startup?

I was working in JPMorgan together with my co-founders, and we were doing a lot of pre-IPO transactions. We realised that these transactions were only accessible to a select few.

So, we asked ourselves, ‘why can’t the rest of investors get access to companies before they are listed?’ And that’s how the idea of Fundnel came about.

What was the biggest challenge in running your own business compared to working for others?

I started the company in 2016 before I was 30 and I realised that one of the hardest things for me to do is manage people. The first time we had to let go of people, whether it’s because of underperformance or a mismatch between skill sets and requirements – that was the toughest thing I had to do.

It’s still tough now, but because I’ve been running the company for few years it’s become a little easier.

What are your growth targets for Fundnel?

Today, we are at close to US$600 million in terms of transaction volume and the target this year is to hit US$1 billion. Secondly, we want to achieve our goal of bringing down the minimum ticket size so that we can reach a larger group of people and provide them with access to alternative investments.

From a longer-term view, say two to three years from now, we want everyday investors to access and have liquidity in alternative products.

You are a committee member of YBLN. Why did you join and what do you hope to achieve?

I was invited to join as a committee member and I agreed because I see a lot of like-minded people in the network. In terms of engagement, we do live chats and I get to share ideas with other founders and business leaders, which is something I cherish a lot.

As I’m part of YBLN, I was also nominated as a council member and vice chair of the ASEAN Young Women Entrepreneurs Club. Female empowerment is something that I have always been passionate about. In fact, in our group, our ratio of female to male employees is close to 40%, which is quite high among tech companies.

Being part of the ASEAN Young Women Entrepreneurs Club gives me a chance to help other women entrepreneurs in the region, especially given that we have received a lot of help from other female entrepreneurs in Singapore.

Do you think that it is getting easier for female entrepreneurs to succeed compared to when you first started?

There’s more awareness and transparency when it comes to talking about the challenges that women entrepreneurs face, especially after the MeToo movement. Whether this awareness translates to outcomes that can be measured, I think that there are various levels of improvement depending on which country you’re from. But I do see progress and that’s the most important thing.

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