Singapore FinTech Leaders: Interview with Syfe’s Dhruv Arora and Samantha Horton

Two years ago, Dhruv Arora founded Syfe, a digital wealth platform that aims to make investing better and more accessible for everyone through personalised portfolios.

Syfe has grown rapidly since then. We closed a S$40.5 million (US$30 million) Series B funding round in July 2021, just nine months after our Series A funding. 

We expanded our customer base over 20 times in 2020, and grew our assets under management over four times in the first six months of 2021. Recently, we announced plans to launch in Hong Kong, and have plans to expand our footprint across Asia Pacific.  

Following our win for the Best Digital Wealth Advisory solution at the DigFin Group Innovation Awards 2021, Syfe has won top accolades at the prestigious 2021 Singapore Fintech Festival (SFF) Global Fintech Awards. 

Dhruv clinched the Top 10 FinTech Leaders Award and Samantha Horton, Vice President, Head of Business Development at Syfe, was one of three women leaders who were presented the Women in FinTech Award

We sat down with Dhruv and Samantha to discuss their wins and what’s next for them at Syfe.

The SFF Global FinTech Awards represent the industry’s highest accolade for FinTech innovation. How does it feel to win?

Dhruv: It’s an absolute honour to be included in the Top 10 FinTech Leaders Award, alongside other leaders who are pioneers and game-changers in their field. The global pandemic has changed investor behavior and spurred many Singaporeans to better manage their financial health.

This award isn’t really about me though. The collective effort of 120 (and growing) Syfers across geographies and cultures has made this possible – so it’s really about them!

Samantha: We are trying to build a great financial services company that enables anyone and everyone to invest, and we must not leave out women investors as a key audience. 

The finance industry has traditionally been male-dominated, although we are now seeing more initiatives supporting female leaders in FinTech companies. Currently, nearly half of Syfe’s workforce in Singapore are women. I’m really excited about that. 

With greater representation, I believe we can build more personalised solutions that support diverse needs, not only in terms of gender, but also age, background, investment experience and knowledge.

Dhruv, you were formerly a portfolio trader with UBS Hong Kong. What inspired you to start Syfe?

Dhruv: I started out as a very young trader at UBS, was the designated coffee boy for my trading floor in the first year of my career. 

I grew with the company over 7 years, eventually leading the bank’s ETF distribution efforts there. That was when many of my friends and family started asking me for advice on what to invest in. They all wanted to do something smart with their money, but often had no clue where to start.

That was a pivotal moment for me. I realised that I didn’t want to continue helping the ultra rich become richer. Instead, I wanted to build a solution that made a difference and had an impact on the lives of the average person. I wanted anyone and everyone to experience the benefits of ETFs in a way that’s simple and affordable. 

That’s when I decided to create a platform to do just that – and make it easy for people to grow their wealth. 

What were the early days like?

Dhruv: It was challenging yet rewarding at the same time. Finding like-minded people who believed in Syfe’s mission, building out our founding team, all these took time and effort. Back then, not many people would have wanted to join a start-up with no salary, income, nor any certainty of the longer-term.

When it came to refining our product, Snehal (who heads our product initiatives) and I would often head to Lau Pa Sat during lunch hours to talk to people and get their feedback. The insights we got helped us to come up with better prototypes and tailor our offerings to the needs of the average Singaporean.

In the end, all our efforts paid off because Syfe got its MAS license in mid-2019 and we launched soon after.

Samantha, you were with Broad Peak Investment Advisers, a multi-billion dollar hedge fund, for 11 years. Why did you choose to leave that behind and join Syfe?

Samantha: It’s quite a funny story actually. I knew Dhruv through work back when he was a portfolio trader in Hong Kong. 4 years ago, he was fundraising from my balcony as he shared his vision with me for what later became known as Syfe – and I knew then it was a matter of when, not if, I would join him to help drive this mission forward.

The arrival of my daughter fast-tracked my desire to be part of a business that had the opportunity to change the lives of many people. I found myself asking, what would I want my daughter to do for the world if she were me?

Joining Syfe was an opportunity to really do something impactful, through bringing my 14+ years of experience learning from some of the brightest minds in the financial services industry to serve the masses.

Whether that be through building new products, expanding into new geographies, and ultimately help fulfil Syfe’s mission of making investing accessible and affordable for everyone.

Was it a challenge moving from a hedge fund to a FinTech startup? 

Samantha: The early days were definitely tough. I had well-meaning peers from the industry dissuading me from leaving my position in a well-established hedge fund to join a young, unpredictable start-up for a fraction of the pay.

There was also a switch in roles that needed getting used to. I went from being pitched to by companies as a potential investor to sitting on the other side of the table and pitching Syfe’s business opportunity and mission to everyone from investors to potential customers! 

But ultimately, I believe that institutional level knowledge and experience shouldn’t be reserved for the ultra-rich. With Syfe, we have the opportunity to make a difference not just to current retail investors, but all future and aspiring investors out there and bring best-in-class institutional level solutions to the average Singaporean.

What’s next for you at Syfe?

Dhruv: We will continue to focus on innovating products, and enhancing our customer service standards to better serve customers in Singapore. 

Within the next two quarters, Syfe will be fully operational in Hong Kong and we have our eyes set on further regional expansion.

As we scale, it’s crucial that we build a strong company culture. We have daily stand-ups, regular townhalls, and fun events around festivals (Syfers come from almost 20 nationalities, so we have many to celebrate!). The senior management and myself also opened up AMA (ask me anything) sessions monthly to allow younger staff to get face time with function heads, something that’s very tough to find elsewhere. This also fosters a friendlier work culture and fuels our speed of our growth.

People are our most important asset. Following our Series B funding round, we decided that all Syfe employees, even our most junior joiners, should have meaningful equity in the company. We’ve set aside more than 10% (and growing) of Syfe’s equity for our people.

Samantha: I’m currently focused on the innovation and development of our new products that will be launched in the upcoming year. I’m also working on Syfe’s vision to be the leading digital wealth management platform in the region, and focusing on expanding our footprint regionally. 

2022 will be an extremely exciting year for Syfe and I can’t wait to see what the new year will bring, and the continued impact we will back at our headquarters in Singapore, as well as in the region. 

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