Calm, controlled, enigmatic. These are just a few words that have been used to describe Gregory Van, a veteran in the wealthtech space. Greg is a strong believer in the unstoppable growth and adoption of digital wealth management, a goal he strives for as co-founder and CEO of Endowus, Asia’s first independent digital wealth advisor for both private wealth and public pension savings.
During Aspire’s conversation with Greg, the 33-year-old spoke in slow, measured tones that signalled both his composure and experience. As a self-determined utilitarian and minimalist, Gregory abhors mental clutter, opting to focus on situations and problems within his control instead of worrying about every aspect of operations. Every decision is thought through and analysed thoroughly before a choice is made — that’s just one of the ways in which Greg has shaped Endowus into the wealth management powerhouse it is today.
As we discussed his journey, Greg reflected on how far he’s come in his career, going back 14 years when he first started creating spreadsheets for HSBC in his home of Hong Kong. “Paradoxically, it’s been an accidental but deliberate journey to really find my passion and purpose, and even in unplanned explorations, there are always things to learn,” he quipped, referencing how beautifying HSBC’s spreadsheets taught him the value of presenting data in a concise and informative way.
“When I first started in the finance space, I believed I was investing, just like many young investors new to the space. But I was not, I was merely gambling.” Greg notes of his early foolhardy years. “I gambled in the stock market. I made money, I lost most of it, including my initial capital.”
Those early losses helped motivate Greg to learn what actually drives financial markets, and how to participate in them for the best chance of success over the long-term. His journey then led him to investment banking, working with large organisations like UBS and Morgan Stanley to learn how they managed wealth and assets at scale. His number one lesson: “Take care of your stakeholders. They matter.”
Greg’s vibrant professional journey led him to leave investment banking to join the startup ecosystem. As Technology and Payment Partnerships Lead at Grab, Greg helped pioneer their payments team and implemented over a hundred payment methods across six countries. In his two years with the tech firm, Gregory found himself reminiscing on his first lesson on data and spreadsheets. This time, exploring how technology could help scale his applications and broaden the reach of intelligent, evidence-based, and automated wealth management to larger audiences.
This confluence of life lessons, accidental opportunities, and a growth mindset led Greg to co-found Endowus, leveraging his personal brand of utilitarianism, functionality and efficiency to establish a total digital wealth platform that was secure, easy to use, and could help more investors build wealth responsibly for the future.
When asked why he chose to follow the road-less-travelled down WealthTech, Greg was matter-of-fact. “Technology scales with expertise and experience. Even if you’re just starting out on our platform, you can lean on and leverage the combined decades of experience the Endowus team has to deliver. Because we’re a fee-only independent digital platform, we’ve lowered the cost to serve, and empowered retail investors to build their own wealth stack in an institutional way.”
Greg noted that this empowerment does come with caveats. “You have to be interested as an end-client in helping yourself take meaningful steps in investing towards your life goals. We have a variety of funds, portfolios and investment options with different goals and risk profiles. We’re simply here to make wealth management more accessible, personable, and intimate.”
The need for a solution like Endowus was further strengthened by Greg and his co-founders’ collective epiphany on widespread investment broker commissions as a key barrier to entry for many retail investors. “So much of financial services is driven by hidden commissions. If it’s highly undesirable for a doctor to prescribe a drug because the pharmaceutical companies pay them to do so, why is it OK for brokers to promote funds because the institutions providing these funds pay a commission to these brokers? Our goal here at Endowus is to bring a new wave of fee-only advisors to all of Asia.”
In upholding this ethos, Endowus has effectively done just that. The digital wealth platform today has over US$5 Billion in assets under management (AUM), with a recent expansion into the Hong Kong market.
While achieving such rapid success is always gratifying, success is often accompanied by levels of stress, especially for high-growth companies like Endowus. But Greg has a simple solution. “Competitive sports. It’s always a good way to focus on something else. I like it because when I’m competing or watching the ball, I can’t look at my phone or check my emails or think about work. It’s a nice change of pace that takes me out of the stress zone, even if it’s only for an hour or two.”
Looking forward, there is one area that Greg is prioritising as his focus: goal setting. Like many other founders and CEOs of his generation, he has begun to focus on other goals besides cash flow.
“One-off gestures like ESG or sustainability initiatives are great, but don’t really create systematic change. For me personally, and for Endowus, we seek to proliferate the conflict-free business model for financial services, that will create ripples of positive socio-economic impact not just our current generation of clients, but future generations. If we can help more individuals be fiscally responsible and prepare for retirement, we might be able to eradicate the term ‘ sandwich generation’, with working adults of our generation burdened to support not only their children, but their elderly or retired parents.”
Throughout our conversation, Greg’s distinct views on Endowus’ direction were complemented with his calm demeanour, one he uses to his advantage to make strategic decisions. He was intentional with his language, not allowing one misspoken word or filler to dilute his message.
So what’s next for the WealthTech Wonder? “Endowus is going to be a lifetime journey for me, I think. For now, I’m just deeply focused on our core markets, and how to serve our clients in the best way possible.”