Greg Builds Systems that Allow People to Take Ownership of Their Financial Wellbeing

What’s your story?
I got my first job in financial services when I was 14 years old. It was an internship at HSBC Asset Management in Hong Kong. My job was to create spreadsheets. 

Subsequently, I had internships working for the hedge fund Morgan Stanley, went to the University of Pennsylvania, which is famous for it’s Wharton Business School, and got my first job out of college at UBS, in investment banking, covering the Asia Pacific private equity and venture capital funds. I then joined Grab when Grab was taxi only, and cash only. I helped to start what is now known as GrabPay. 

It is safe to say that money has always been on my mind.

My grandpa underwent hardship for the family, having escaped Shanghai to Hong Kong just before the revolution. He worked every day from the ages of 18 to 80 (he died at age 88). He conducted business in everything, from paint, to trading, to toy manufacturing. At first, his goal was just to put food on the table, then to give his family opportunities he did not have, like education, and also to give back to the broader community through philanthropic activities. He has given away over half his wealth to children and women’s health causes, donating to over 600 hospitals across China, Southeast Asia, South America, and Europe.

Having grown up comfortably, with a supportive family, I know how lucky I am. People suffered and worked hard so that I could live comfortably. I am a super-utilitarian, so being responsible for wealth has always been pretty high on my list of priorities. I feel that it is now my turn to make sure I can provide opportunities to my children, and eventually, to philanthropic causes, where capital can be efficiently spent to make the world a better place.

Endowus encompasses this philosophy of wealth and giving back. We want to make investing holistic and better, for ourselves, and everyone, so all of us can live better lives. 

What excites you most about your industry?
Technology makes it possible to reach so many people with best-in-class solutions. The experience can be systematic, yet personalised, and can help people reach their financial goals without bias. 

Wealth is something everyone has to deal with at every age, at every stage, whether they have $20,000 or $20 billion. It is about making it efficient for people, to enable them to live the life they find most meaningful.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I grew up in Asia, married an Asian, have Asian kids, and love Asian food. But in all seriousness, I feel deeply rooted to this region and all that it has afforded me. I am excited about how, over my lifetime, I might contribute to Asia’s growth, measured by making lives better.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore has an amazingly supportive environment and ecosystem for new businesses. It has the ability to attract talent from all around the world, which makes it a great place to hub a new business. 

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Just keep swimmin’” – Dory, in Finding Nemo. 

But in all seriousness, starting a business goes against the odds. I remember speaking to Anthony Tan at Grab on this, and concluded, if you over analyse a business idea, and the data, before you start, the analysis will always tell you that the business will not work out. It is ultimately human ingenuity and hard work that beats these odds, and we have seen it happen over and over again with so many businesses. 

Who inspires you?
David Booth, for his unwavering ability to do what is theoretically right, prove that it works in implementation, and not be distracted. Anthony Tan, for his tenacity to fight against all odds and win. Ray Dalio, for his grand perspective. 

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The markets, as an organism, continue to amaze me. I understand the theory and academia behind the way markets work, but going through the emotional COVID-19 volatility with clients has been enlightening. More than ever, as an investor, you have to be humble. You have to think long term. You have to be diligent in taking compensated risks. 

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
There are so many things I would do differently, had I known then, what I know now. But it is unreasonable to have skipped certain hardships, which in retrospect seem avoidable, and end up in the same location. There will always be business decisions, hires made or not made, that did not optimise for efficiency and success. But when you are making decisions “in the moment,” it is hard to forecast this, so we make the best decisions based on available information. 

How do you unwind?
Exercise has always been an important part of my life. In the time of COVID-19, this means doing mat work, from yoga, to callisthenics, to meditation. I also swim with my two young kids. 

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Komodo, Indonesia. I like diving there, the lush landscape, and the really slow and spotty Internet. It’s a great place to get away from civilization.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers,” by Ben Horowitz. There is no easy way out. The things you do and choices you make have to make sense, and sometimes those choices have to be hard ones, for the sake of your business and contribution to society. 

Shameless plug for your business:
Money is an enabler of life – not the purpose of life. Endowus.com is the first and only CPF (Central Provident Fund) digital advisor, that helps people invest holistically across their CPF, SRS, and cash, so they can live easier today and better tomorrow. We do this with better access to products, providing systematic and goal-maximising advice to clients, at the lowest cost achievable. 

I feel honoured to play a part in the biggest generational challenges of our lifetime – planning for retirement and unleashing more “time” for people, by helping them efficiently invest for their future. 

How can people connect with you?
Email. I’m old fashioned. [email protected]

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connects’ series of more than 500 interviews

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Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder and CEO of MBH Corporation PLC. He is the author of three best-selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’, ‘Agglomerate’ and ‘Entrepreneurial Investing’.

Connect with Callum on Twitter and LinkedIn
Download free copies of his books at www.callumlaing.com