The UBS trader that made director at 27 then left for fintech
Back in 2015, Dhruv Arora was one of the rising stars in the Hong Kong trading space. He joined UBS in 2008 as a graduate and, by the age of 27, became a director in ETFs, portfolio trading and global equity finance. He was in the bank's top 5% of global performers for six years running.
Arora chose a different path than most, however: he left in 2015 and, after a brief stint at a startup in India, founded wealth management fintech Syfe in Singapore. He spoke to eFinancialCareers at the 2023 Singapore Fintech Festival about why he did it and how it's going.
Why leave banking for fintech?
"Life was great there" Arora said of his time at UBS. "I was offered a fast track to management." However, realizing he was "making the 1% the 0.1%, he asked himself, "what is the purpose?" He spoke glowingly of the teammates at UBS, saying it was "the one thing I miss about it... the pay, not so much."
The problem was, he "didn't know where to start; I didn't understand building teams or products." Joining one of the major tech firms wasn't an option either; "someone like me doesn't work at Google."
He instead became VP of product and growth at Blinkit, a grocery app similar to Ocado. Then, Arora believed his toolkit was ready to become a fintech founder. "The finance part has been relatively easy," said of living this dream. "The hard part is convincing the average person on the street to use the platform, or invest in it."
How to build a fintech
The trick is to "get the right people around you." Syfe's team is a modest one that he believes could have got good jobs at big institutions but, like him "they're also here for the growth." It's very much a case of quality over quantity for Arora, "I don't think you need an army."
Working in fintech isn't just helping society, it's also helping Arora's personal development. "As a trader, you grow as a trader; at a startup, you grow on multiple different verticals." He says the sheer level of growth is something "you can’t get in a professional career at somewhere like a big western bank."
It's by no means easy for Arora. “Is it painful? Yes. Do I lose sleep at night? Sometimes. Would I want it any other way? Absolutely not.”
Should you be worried about joining a fintech in 2024?
It's no secret many fintechs are in trouble. Some are cutting valuations and staff, others may be doomed to go bust. Arora says Syfe has been taking a practical approach to profitability from the start. "It's a bit of common sense; don't spend more than you earn."
Fintech today is all about striking the balance between innovation and performance. "If you’re doing ten things, they can’t be mostly experiments," but for fintech in particular, there "can’t be zero experimentation either. You aren’t going to get brownie points for just surviving."
Why fintech in Singapore?
Syfe is a WealthTech; a style of fintech growing in Asia and Singapore in particular. Arora gestated the idea for Syfe at UBS. “Everyone has disposable income, they just don’t know how to manage their money," he said. "Asia is a unique case too where, culturally, we’ve all been told to save.”
Singapore's penchant for the ultra-wealthy presents an initial barrier to entry, but in a very New-York, New-York way, if a fintech can make it there, it can make it anywhere. The inverse is also true; "if we can’t get this right in Singapore, it’s quite unlikely we’ll get it right in other markets."
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