A peek inside SixCap, a firm on MAS Investor Alert List

Mr Patrick Teng.

Many companies are on the Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) Investor Alert List but perhaps none as eye-catching as Six Capital.

Its boss and sole owner, Mr Patrick Teng, 60, is the man behind Indigoz Exchange, which was fined $10,000 by the MAS for selling stored-value cards which it called "i-chqs" without approval.

Mr Teng set up Six Capital in 2009 to conduct classes on how to trade in the foreign exchange market. In an interview in 2014, he said the company is an "approved institution" recognised by the MAS.

However, a check with MAS did not show SixCap listed among any of the approved institutions.

Not only that, Six Capital is also on the MAS' Investor Alert List (IAL), a non-exhaustive catalogue which names firms that may have been wrongly perceived to be regulated by the central bank.

SixCap was added to the list in March last year. When The Straits Times asked Mr Teng recently how it got added to the list, he said his company popped up on the MAS radar during Chinese New Year last year, when it launched its new "fintech game" called Tagg.

In this game, players use cash to buy a base currency. US$100 (S$136) is the minimum to play. They can convert this into other currencies such as the Singdollar or euro, and keep converting.

At the end of the month, if their trades are profitable, they keep the profit. But if they make bad switches, they still get their principal back.

How is this possible?

Mr Teng said he could not disclose how Tagg makes money, as what it does is proprietary. He chose to describe the business in theoretical terms instead.

In theory, he said, he could use machine learning to tell the good traders from the bad traders, and choose to copy only the good ones using Tagg's direct access to the forex markets, without executing the ones made by poor traders at all.

Is this what Tagg actually does?

Mr Teng said: "I will not want to say that 'we are actually', I'm saying that 'we are able to actually'... That is the fundamental argument of why we can do it."

Does Tagg's cash flow depend on more customers signing up to play the game? Mr Teng said: "It's not correlated. The question is: Are you a scam? Are you a money scheme? The answer is: No, we are not." He added: "It's data (that) we want. We are willing to pay for data."

Also on the Tagg platform are 170,000 students and fresh graduates, most of them in India and Indonesia, who are paid small sums to trade for free, or required to do so as part of their course requirements, said Mr Teng. They are also required to watch 32 two-minute videos before they start trading. "We call that micro-learning," he said.

Mr Teng said that SixCap has tied up with a number of universities or "education partners" in India, but declined to name them.

Online, people have complained about issues in cashing their money out of Tagg, although a check with the Consumers Association of Singapore did not yield any complaints about Tagg or SixCap. Mr Teng blamed the hiccups on strict anti-money laundering and "know your customer" requirements at the local banks.

The plan is for Tagg to get back to business as usual in three to four weeks.

Tagg's website is owned by Six Capital Investments, which is domiciled in the British Virgin Islands. According to Tagg's online application form, players can make payments to Six Capital (FX Trading). SixCap FX is wholly owned by Mr Teng.

Last year, Raffles Capital, a company listed in Australia, proposed to acquire SixCap FX for A$4 million (S$4.3 million).

It was described as a forex trading training provider that aggregates student trades to generate buy/sell/hold signals with up to 70 per cent accuracy. These trading signals can then be sold.

The deal was called off after the Australian Stock Exchange said it was not satisfied that the structure and operations of SixCap FX are appropriate for listing on the ASX.

The SixCap group has more branches. Its most recent venture is Thundr TV, which looks like an Android TV box. It has several channels and retails at $99.

Mr Teng explained: "Our tagline is 'beyond entertainment' so you won't find Hollywood movies there." Instead, Thundr aims to "bring education to the bottom of the pyramid". Universities can publish their curriculum on Thundr TV.

Mr Teng and his son, Paul, who is also SixCap's chief innovation officer and Tagg's "gamemaster", are linked to other firms such as Biopay, according to Handshakes, a portal that analyses company registry data.

Mr Teng said that Biopay, which was set up two years ago, was meant to "bring healthcare to the bottom of the pyramid" but later evolved into Thundr.

On its website, Tagg describes itself as a "foreign exchange trading-inspired game" and "not a financial product or service".

SixCap's ground-floor office at Shenton Way which The Straits Times visited last month comprises a large space that fronts the street. The space contained vacant tables and chairs.

This used to be a 60-person trading floor until 2012, said Mr Teng. "Now, because trading has gone mobile and algo (algorithmic), we use it as a Thundr stage."

He explained SixCap's change in focus: "In my early days in 2009, we taught people how to trade in order to learn how transferable the skill is.

"I learnt one thing; that it is actually not possible to teach a person to be Tiger Woods. Trading is just a skill, like golf. It's not possible to train people to play a whole game of golf as good as Tiger Woods. The reason is because the ball drops at a certain place, and then you (have to) figure out how to hit the next ball.

"You take decades to hone anything in order to be good. But here, I'm talking about how to equip ordinary people to learn a skill that can earn them a living. I realise that is probably not the right thing to do."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2017, with the headline A peek inside SixCap, a firm on MAS Investor Alert List. Subscribe