Vina Capital buys Singapore robo-advisor

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The acquisition comes four years after the robo-advisor was set up.

The Ho Chi Minh City-based investment firm has acquired Smartly, a Singapore-based robo-advisor, according to a statement from Vina Capital.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. A spokesman for Vina Capital declined to comment on the size of the acquisition or on Smartly’s AUM.

The robo-advisor had been collaborating with VCG Partners, the Singapore subsidiary of Vina Capital, for several years.

Robo-advisors, which use algorithms to create portfolios based on client risk level, typically offer low fees and low initial investment thresholds and focus mainly on ETFs. But they are limited by local regulations. Relatively new in Asia, robo-advisors have generally struggled to gather enough assets to maintain a profitable operation.

Vina Capital hopes to scale up the platform.

“This acquisition of Smartly’s operations and the additional capital injections will enable Smartly to scale-up, expand to new markets, and realize its full potential to become the leading digital wealth management platform in the region,” said Smartly co-founder Keir Veskivali, in the statement.

Jason Ng, CEO of VCG Partners, said the intention is to expand the robo-advisor services “to other Southeast Asian markets as their regulatory environments allow.

“For example, in Vietnam, current laws do not address robo-advisory services, creating significant risks for investors who elect to invest with some of the start-ups in the market that claim to offer such services.”

Smartly was founded in 2015 by Estonians Keir Veskivali and Artur Luhaaar and Singaporean Kentwell Kwok. Their aim was to provide “average people with basic financial literacy the opportunity to invest easily with full transparency and low fees”, according to the statement.

The platform uses about 20 ETFs to build risk-adjusted portfolios. The passive products may be focused on various assets such equities, bonds, commodities, real estate or cash.

Smartly, along with Hong Kong-based Aqumon and Singapore-based Algebra, have been featured in FSA’s monthly robo-advisor portfolio performance review for the past year.

As a more digitally-savvy generation begins to invest, the number of Asia-based robo-advisors is growing. A brief list includes, in Hong Kong, Aqumon, run by Magnum Research who’s shareholders include Ant Financial and BOC International; Chloe, from 8 Securities; and Youyu from Yunfeng Financial, which intends to use mutual funds in its portfolio construction.

In Singapore, the robo-advisor list includes Algebra; Bento; Stashaway; Money Owl; and Endowus, and in Thailand, Odini and Finnomena.

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