Start-up aims to help young people invest Smartly

Smartly CEO and co-founder Artur Luhaaar, compliance officer Sheila Panja and VCG Partners CEO and executive director Jason Ng. Smartly is a robo-advisory investment platform targeted at retail investors who do not want the fuss of picking out and th
Smartly CEO and co-founder Artur Luhaaar, compliance officer Sheila Panja and VCG Partners CEO and executive director Jason Ng. Smartly is a robo-advisory investment platform targeted at retail investors who do not want the fuss of picking out and then monitoring individual stocks or unit trusts to build a portfolio.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

When Estonian friends Artur Luhaaar and Keir Veskivali were still working in finance back in their country, they found that many of their friends and family wanted to start investing, but were turned off by the complexity of it all.

That prompted them to start building a simple, automated investing tool for their nearest and dearest, but they soon realised the idea could become a business.

Faced with regulatory hurdles in Europe, they looked outside and discovered that South-east Asia held huge opportunities.

And so they moved to Singapore in 2015 and began recruiting a team, raising funds and building their start-up, Smartly, which has now gone live.

Smartly is a robo-advisory investment platform targeted at retail investors who do not want the fuss of picking out and then monitoring individual stocks or unit trusts to build a portfolio.

It charges between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent in annual management fees, lower than the industry average of 2.5 per cent. There are no sales charges or hidden costs.

"The user we have in mind is someone like a 28-year-old graphic designer. A young person who knows it's time to start saving and investing but has no financial background and perhaps is confused by financial jargon," said Mr Luhaaar.

"So what we have created is an understandable and transparent investment and savings tool. There is no element of blind trust - you shouldn't feel like you're putting your money in a black box."

On the site, you begin by answering seven simple questions, such as your primary goal - A getaway trip?A dream home? Retirement needs? - and whether you are more interested in maximising gains, minimising losses or both equally.

The answers will help the platform determine your risk appetite level on a 10-point scale, with "1" being very conservative and "10" being very aggressive.

And based on that, it will churn out a diversified portfolio of five to seven exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that your money can be invested in.

What proportion of your money goes into each ETF also depends on your risk appetite, and the portfolio is rebalanced every month based on market movements.

Each user can set up more than one portfolio - perhaps one for a rainy day, another for the children and one more for retirement, each with a different risk level.

The Smartly platform offers some 20 Wall Street-listed ETFs from Vanguard, BlackRock and State Street, each chosen - by human beings - for its geographical exposure, asset class, track record, liquidity and low expense ratios to ensure diversification and low cost.

"We don't take cuts or commissions from them. These are simply the best products available. We looked at their underlying investment methodologies," said Mr Luhaaar.

Smartly has teamed up with a retail licensed fund management company, VCG Partners, which holds a capital markets services licence from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). VCG Partners is a unit of Vietnam's VinaCapital Group.

"Legally speaking, VCG Partners is providing this digital advisory service in collaboration with Smartly, our technology provider," noted VCG Partners chief executive officer Jason Ng.

Being regulated by the MAS was an important step for Smartly, said Mr Luhaaar and Mr Ng, because it gives the start-up greater credibility as it looks to expand in the region, with plans to launch in Malaysia next year.

"Singapore is a great place to validate the concept and a launch pad from which to branch out. Other regulators also look to the MAS as a leader. So if we are regulated here, they are more comfortable welcoming Smartly too," said Mr Luhaaar.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'Start-up aims to help young people invest Smartly'. Print Edition | Subscribe