BetterTradeOff (known as BTO), a Singapore-based wealthtech startup, intends to raise a Series A round of venture funding in late 2023 or early 2024 in order to fund geographic expansion and support product integration with its partners.
The company has recently received investment from SC Ventures, the innovation arm of Standard Chartered Bank, whose wealth-management business is onboarding BTO in Singapore.
BTO CEO and co-founder Laurent Bertrand says one of BTO’s distinguishing features is its digital wealth solutions are designed to be used globally, with its software enabling simple localization to meet local regulations or market practices.
“We want BTO to become the market standard,” he told DigFin.
Other clients include Zurich Malaysia, Switzerland-based PostFinance (the financial services arm of the Swiss postal service), and Dutch insurer Achmea. These institutions are both investors in the company as well as clients.
The range of markets in which BTO is being deployed attests to its flexible design, Bertrand says.
He founded BTO in 2018 but the partners spent three years developing the tech, bootstrapping the venture with their own money, and later some angel investment from people in the wealth industry. “It was a very difficult and lonely time,” he said.
BTO is a hybrid digital Software-as-a-Service platform that aims to serve both a wealth management firm’s customer, and its own financial advisors or relationship managers. The idea is to make available all aspects of a private bank’s service to other market segments, from the affluent to the masses.
From the customer’s point of view, BTO is meant to do more than just calculate an investment goal based on a securities portfolio. It personalizes goals that incorporate a user’s total assets and debts, including property, insurance coverage, taxes, pension schemes, and family businesses.
It’s an analysis that human advisors can only deliver to big-spending clients. “Who has time or the know-how to deliver this level of sales and advice at scale?” Bertrand said.
To do so meant distilling the process down to two basic questions. How much does the person need to retire? And what can they do about it?
Bertrand says existing digital solutions tend to replicate the current, paper-based processes that banks and insurance agents conduct with customers. That means they use the same jargon. “Those systems are still aimed at experts. They help RMs but they don’t change the fundamentals of the relationship.”
BTO isn’t trying to put human advisors out of business, although in theory it could, but it’s also designed to help them understand their customers. Bertrand says no matter how good a digital outcome, investments and life insurance are big-ticket, important decisions. People need the reassurance of a human expert.
“The client wants to know, ‘Can I make it?’ Once they have the data and get referred to an agent, that specialist knows they’re dealing with a motivated customer,” Bertrand said.
Does this render RMs as mere brokers? “The jury’s out,” Bertrand acknowledged. “They need to do more than sell products. They become life coaches.”
He argues, however, that if BTO can provide personalized financial literacy, it helps people understand their financial situation, which makes them more likely to need the services of a financial advisor.
Bertrand says BTO’s aggregate information (stripped of personal identification) suggests to him that the vast majority of people are too exposed to cash.
“I’d say 90 percent of people are under-invested and under-protected,” he said. “Robo-advisors have done a good job of simplifying a bank’s offering, but have they actually moved people from holding cash to investing and buying life insurance?”
BTO charges its corporate clients a set-up fee, and a license fee per active user. Distributors stand to gain by engaging more with their customers, to whom they can cross-sell other products, he says. They also get access to BTO’s data on their customers, which gives distributors a view of a person’s retirement goals and how far or close they are to achieving it.
The firm is still working with its early backers to see how effectively its financial education translates into getting people to take action and buy the appropriate products. The key, Bertrand says, is to make sure the conversation is pitched around the end customer.
“People want to know about their life,” he said. “They don’t want to hear about your product.”
With clients already active in Singapore, Switzerland and the Netherlands, the next step is to go into more markets. Standard Chartered is likely to export BTO beyond Singapore, although Bertrand declined to provide details. But he wants to raise funds to move into the US and Europe.
“Asia’s the fastest-growing market and the population is more digital, but the US is the biggest,” he noted.
Along with that expansion is a need to integrate via API with clients. More clients and more partners requires more tech work to ensure BTO’s solution is end-to-end. Ultimately Bertrand’s vision is that BTO’s SaaS creates a market standard that many institutions use worldwide, with BTO supporting tweaks in local markets.
Those ambitions will require money. Bertrand says the company will look to raise $10 million to $15 million when it addresses the Series A, which he calls an ‘executive round’ of funding.