Photo: Clement Goh

When fintech wealth management enterprise WRISE launched in July 2022, catering to high-net-worth individuals, chairman and founder Derrick Tan set a goal of reaching US$5 billion ($6.7 billion) in assets under management by the end of 2023.

However, he fell short due to challenging conditions in the wealth management industry and market movements impacted by China’s economic slowdown. “I don’t want to attribute everything to external factors. Initially, plans and structures were in place, but we decided to hold back due to uncertainties.”

It was only in January 2023 that formal business operations began, with hiring scaling up from Q3 2023. “My approach involves investing heavily in sound business fundamentals, building out support functions with about 50 per cent of the frontline consisting of experienced personnel.”

Photo: Clement Goh

Now, with an extensive ecosystem of more than 130 financial intermediaries, Tan emphasises, “The outlook for Q1 looks promising, potentially surpassing the performance of the entire previous year.” He adds, “We are close to reaching the US$5 billion target.”

Fintech meets human connection

TREX, an indispensable tool in his achievements to date, continues to play a vital role in his mission. TREX is WRISE’s proprietary wealth management platform, providing real-time visibility of wealth, expert advice access, tailored solutions, data aggregation, and client control and transparency. 

Still, as impressive as it all sounds, I remarked that what WRISE offered then was pretty much a marketplace. “I dislike the term marketplace,” Tan offers. “It gives the misconception that it’s purely tech-driven. I don’t believe in a totally AI-driven marketplace.”

Drawing a parallel between WRISE and Marvel superhero Iron Man, he elaborates that fintech harnesses technology to optimise operations, enhance product offerings and strengthen client services — all while retaining the integral human connection.

The former Bank of Singapore senior executive with nearly 25 years of financial services experience stresses that technology should not replace the essential human element in wealth management. While AI technology updates his relationship managers (RMs) on client dividends, meaningful client conversations remain an indispensable and crucial aspect of their service.

”My business model is people-led and AI-driven; technology delivered with a strong human touch,” highlighting WRISE’s uniqueness.  

If Tan exudes confidence in carving out a robust presence for WRISE in the fiercely competitive wealth management space, it’s because he is resolute. “I know what I want to achieve — to be a Google of banks. I want to change the engagement between external asset managers and clients so that WRISE will be recognised as truly independent.”

The conviction stems from Tan’s long-held principle to prioritise the company’s long-term success of the company, rather than changing plans due to external pressures. This is why he eschews traditional funding rounds, preferring to grow organically — at least for now.

Not caving in to conventions

His philosophy provides flexibility without succumbing to the demands of venture capital funding, where five-year demands, subject to resets, typically prevail. “I’m uncomfortable setting a timeline to list the company; it deviates me from doing what I think is correct and good for the company.”

Furthermore, uncertainties in market conditions and the emergence of new funding avenues challenge the conventional path of listing companies. “I don’t possess a crystal ball. What if, in the future, listing is no longer the ideal option? What if blockchain technology or crowdfunding eclipses listing as the new funding method?” he reflects, expressing his intrigue with these concepts.

Meanwhile, Tan’s focus for 2024 is on building strategic alliances, bolstering the wealth management ecosystem, and attracting more business partners. If all progresses as planned, the number of financial institutions connected to WRISE could reach 200 by the end of the year. Additionally, he envisions a staff strength of 500, up from 100, including a target of 100 RMs.

Notably, the day before the interview, WRISE had officially launched its Middle East office in Dubai, marking the second overseas outpost after Hong Kong. He is actively exploring a potential “revolutionary change in the business model” to strategically position WRISE favourably in the Chinese market.

Tan is eager to disclose details on how the milestone will set WRISE on a different growth trajectory but is restrained by his marketing head. 

Tan acknowledges that he might be regarded as ambitious. Still, he stands his ground. To him, “this vision is required to stay innovative and provide our clients with the best quality and service. I believe we are pioneering a new era of family offices and disrupting the traditional banking model in the process.”