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Me&MyMoney

She makes finance easy to understand for women

Gina Heng's Miss Kaya platform offers simplified products for regular people, to help them compound their money

Former analyst Gina Heng has never been short of energy; it's just that these days she burns it off through work, not the gymnastics she embraced as an active child.

Ms Heng, 36, is the chief executive and co-founder of private investment group Marvelstone Group, which develops and invests in growing businesses.

Marvelstone is behind the non-profit fintech hub at 80 Robinson Road called Lattice80.

It was set up in November at an initial cost of $5 million and aims to create an ecosystem for start-ups.

Ms Heng's latest venture is miss- kaya.com, a financial services platform that aims to meet the financial needs of women, offering robo-advisory services and financial tools.


Ms Gina Heng, chief executive of Marvelstone Group, says she hopes to cater to retail investors in due course, with the intention of creating a community of financially-savvy women. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

She says the language used by traditional investment firms is technical and women tend to switch off.

"I'm not trying to stereotype here but I've seen that happening to my peers and others around me. My younger sister is a housewife with two kids and not a numbers person, and she tends to shy away from talking about finance.

  • Worst and best bets

  • Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A Doing business or projects with the wrong people who have a different long-term vision. When it doesn't work out, the money you put in doesn't return.

    We've seen the closure of companies that we've incubated and cannot grow, and that can amount to losses of millions.

    The people component is important.

    It also takes time to find out if your partnership can work, so we always start with small projects first before deciding to move on to bigger ones with the same people.

    Q And what has been your best investment move?

    A Investing in my education to become financially savvy, which has led to my businesses which are also my investments.

    It is also starting early to understand my financial goals and investing in the long term and future, which I've done through consistent and small contributions over time to build up a pension nest.

    The most recent and satisfying investment is Lattice80, a not-for-profit initiative to support and develop the fintech ecosystem in Singapore.

    Rachael Boon

"But using layman examples to explain financial products or planning makes those easier to digest and relate to. It could be as simple as saying the money used to buy a Chanel bag can be compounded to buy a big-ticket item in three years."

Ms Heng studied political science and economics at the University of Pennsylvania and used to be a banking analyst before she founded a hedge fund in 2007 with her Korean husband, Marvelstone chairman Joe Cho, 38. They have no children.

Of Miss Kaya, which was set up in September, she says: "As a hedge fund manager I can use my skills to come up with simplified products to tap into the female audience.

"I want to come up with products for regular people, to help them compound their money. It's not only about how much you invest but also a matter of time - how long you take to compound your money."

Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

A My father started a retail cake shop with the extended family three years after I was born, and the business later moved into manufacturing.

My dad would wake up at 4am. I learnt about hard work and to think out of the box; such things stuck with me. Being exposed to business meant I knew the different aspects, from understanding production, demand and supply from a factory point of view and evolving with the times.

I have only a younger sister, 34, so it was two girls in my family, and we were taught to be independent from a young age so that we could pursue whatever we wanted.

Q How did you get interested in investing and business?

A My first "business" was in primary school. My friend and I printed cards saying we organised parties for kids, and slipped them into the mailboxes at my condo and people called.

I did several internships, like at a consulting firm where I worked on Central Provident Fund-approved funds and learnt about mutual funds investing, and at a private bank in Boston during university.

HELPING ONE MAKE SENSE OF DOLLARS

My younger sister is a housewife with two kids and not a numbers person, and she tends to shy away from talking about finance. But using layman examples to explain financial products or planning makes those easier to digest and relate to. It could be as simple as saying the money used to buy a Chanel bag can be compounded to buy a big-ticket item in three years.

MS GINA HENG, on the technical language used by traditional investment firms which tend to turn women off.

The whole point of my internships was geared towards finance and investing, and the scope of what I learnt grew.

I learnt about the business of asset management in my first job at a consulting firm with its headquarters in Boston, and moved to a Japanese bank to learn about corporate finance and the fundamentals of businesses in various sectors.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A I invest for the long term, in people and the future. I'm looking for potential, long-term value and growth. A short-term strategy would be speculative.

The underlying premise in investing is risk management - minimising your downside risk. No one business or investment is 100 per cent foolproof, so I focus on overall portfolio management. Most of my portfolio goes into safe investments that will grow and compound over time.

I cut my losses if the deal takes too long to proceed or too much effort to move things along, such as businesses we've incubated but didn't move to the second or third stage. For instance, I tried to incubate an online media business but that didn't work out.

When you invest in the seed round, for instance, the focus is on the founders of the business - whether they can persevere and how adaptable they are. If they can't see where they've gone awry that's where it stops.

We can start from $30,000 in a seed round but it depends on how we can add value to the start-up. We ... can invest in various stages.

One of our portfolio companies that we invested in two years ago just listed in South Korea on Wednesday. In such cases, the losses of other small start-up investments are mitigated.

In terms of fund-management strategies, I focus on market-neutral, absolute return strategies for long-term compounding effect.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A My businesses under Marvelstone Group. We have the Marvelstone Tech arm and 10K Asia, which builds ventures.

I also recently founded miss- kaya.com - "kaya" means wealthy in Malay - and it works with other financial institutions, including Marvelstone Capital, a licensed entity for managing assets.

We put in US$500,000 (S$722,000) to get the licence for Marvelstone Capital to be a registered fund-management company.

I can only target accredited investors now but in due time I hope to cater to retail investors. I want to create a community of financially-savvy women.

We also invest in or support businesses that reap other types of gains. Through Marvelstone, we've invested in start-up community Tech in Asia and a boutique hotel in Cambodia that has a social impact as it boosts local consumption and adds jobs.

Q What's the most extravagant thing you have done?

A A six-week road trip to the United States and Europe for our honeymoon which cost more than $10,000. We also used our frequent flier miles.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A It's a two-pronged approach to grow more of my own businesses but also incubate more ideas, not just in finance. I like health-tech, and edu-tech as there could be more fun ways to help individuals grow in areas like building character.

I'm raising funding for miss- kaya.com; in the first round, it'll probably need $3 million to $5 million. I plan to work with strategic partners.

My investment horizon is at least three to five years. I don't look for short-term gains. Even when you take those gains, you'll need to find new things to invest in.

I want to create good pension products for the market and myself. It'll require small amounts of money like putting 5 to 10 per cent of your income into it and see your money grow.

Q I drive...

A A sport utility vehicle.

Q Home is...

A A condo in the south.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 01, 2017, with the headline 'She makes finance easy to understand for women'. Print Edition | Subscribe