FTA Interviews Ned Phillips, Founder and CEO of Bambu

[As seen on FinTechAsia]

Ned Phillips is the founder and CEO of Bambu, a Singapore-based B2B robo-advisor offering digital wealth services to businesses.

FTA: Can you share a bit about your background and your experiences?

NP: I have been based in Asia since 1991, lived for 13 years in Hong Kong and 13 years in Singapore. I ran my own financial publishing business in the mid 90’s in Hong Kong. I also worked for E*TRADE in Hong Kong and Singapore and ended up being the Managing Director for E*TRADE in Asia.

I then worked in exchange technology from 2007-2012 and built two regional alternative stock exchanges, one of which was with the Singapore Exchange (SGX). In the last three years, I have worked on a variety of Fintech projects including a blockchain exchange and consulting on Asia’s first Robo Advisor. 

FTA: Tell us more about Bambu!

NP: It is a Robo Advisor for everyone! We have sophisticated portfolios for knowledgeable investors that can be used by all financial institutions. We also have goal-based savings for the mass market that enables savers to achieve their goals quicker than they think they can. We have brought together world class partners such as Thomson Reuters, Tigerspike and others. We even managed to sign our first client after 2 months of launch!

FTA: How did you come about starting Bambu? And how did your background help in your entrepreneurial journey?

NP: I have started companies, I have invested in companies, I helped launch Asia’s first Robo and I am old enough to have seen a few business cycles so I feel that I have the right skills to make a really good go of it. Also I have been in FinTech since 1999 with E*TRADE. So, it seemed crazy for me not to get involved. I have also consulted on Asia’s first Robo, so I do have the experience in this area.

FTA: What are some of the current challenges that you are wrestling with?

NP: Getting enough staff on board to deal with all the demand is a challenge. FinTech is booming and Singapore is doing a great job at making it achievable. Bambu is in the right place with a great team. We have huge demand and I need more people to help me!

FTA: What are your thoughts about the wealth management and personal finance scene in Asia, and in particular, Singapore.

NP: I think it covers a really wide range. Some of the products are certainly not ideal for everyone, and people with small sums to invest don’t get a fair share of products and services. We see digital adoption rising quickly and that will be great for consumers. We also have great faith in the MAS to help this sector in becoming more efficient and fairly-priced.

FTA: What do you think is lacking in fintech startups in Singapore, or in Asia? 

Two things, sales and experience. Too many people build the technology and hope that people will come and find it. They won’t. The thought process of ‘build it and they will come’, really doesn’t work.

Too many young guys build great technology but they don’t go out and sell it the old fashioned way, which is by meeting a lot of potential customers. At Bambu, we meet as many customers as possible. That’s how we managed to sign our first deal two months after launch. 

Also, we don’t have enough old experienced people. It’s great to be 23 and keen, but I think being 49 and experienced worths more!

FTA: Do you believe that financial institutions and fintech startups should collaborate, as recently mentioned by MAS? Why do you think so? And how do you think a collaborative strategy can be put in place?

NP: Yes I do, but for some and not all. Banks can learn a lot from the start ups but they need to take risks and be prepared to see some of the firms that they back, fail and to be alright with that. It will help the banks understand what is achievable if you move quickly without legacy. I believe that the banks in Singapore are doing a good job on this. 

FTA: If you can give your 20-year-old self some advice, what would you say?

NP: Life has been pretty cool! I have been lucky. I left the UK in 1990 when I was in my twenties with a $100 note in my pocket and a one way ticket to Asia. 26 years later, it is all good. My advice would be to do it all again! 

FTA: Who is your biggest inspiration or drive to do what you are doing?

NP: First and foremost, my family. Secondly, myself. I know I can make this a successful business and I want to prove that I can do it. I have been a competitive amateur athlete for 20 years, and have been lucky enough to meet most of my goals. I have run over a 100KM in one go on many occasions. I have been to the Ironman World Championship. When I set a goal, I get pretty focused to achieve it. Same with Bambu!

FTA: What’s next for you and for Bambu?

NP: In endurance sport, we have a phrase when we are training, “Chop wood, carry water”. It means work hard, focus on the task day-by-day and the outcome will take off itself.  Every day I put all my effort into growing Bambu. Sales, product, marketing staff. If you work hard day-by-day the outcome will take care of it self.