Chonladet Khemarattana And His Army Of Robots Are Disrupting Thailand's Fintech Industry
Under 5 percent of Thai people own stocks or mutual funds, and only a very small number have access to any sort of investment they can afford. That means many people struggle to build their wealth, entrenching inequality.
Chonladet ‘Nuek’ Khemarattana has set out to change that, backed by an army of robots. His company Robowealth is a fintech trailblazer, launching Odini, Thailand’s first robo-advisory investment product, back in 2018, and following it with a suite of other products offering algorithmic investment services.
With a background in traditional finance, Chonladet worked after university for a range of banks and large conglomerates, following that with a period in the securities industry, where he eventually rose to managing director of Apple Wealth Securities.
“I made a decision to resign from that generous package and found my own fintech startup,” he says. “I thought this was going to be an era or disruption; instead of being disrupted, I had to disrupt someone else.”
The company started off providing securities houses with automated trading services, but then a friend suggested experimenting with robots. With Thailand then lacking any robo-advisory services, he first consulted the nation’s regulators, with the result that he had to acquire a mutual fund brokerage licence. That’s because most of his products provide execution as well as advice, with customers deciding their preferences up front and algorithms analysing a range of data to make sure their portfolio is appropriately balanced.
There’s always going to be a certain amount of resistance to the idea of investment management without a human component, something that Robowealth has gone out of its way to counter. “Initially we thought offering a purely robotic product would appeal, but Thais like to see some human touch,” says Chonladet. “We communicate that we have professional human fund managers and analysts alongside the robot.”
In addition to Odini, the company’s other products include the premium Odini Black service; the advisory-only Indego for the wealthier sector; the B2B2C Robo-for-Advisors for financial advisors; mutual funds investment app FinVest; and AscendWealth, a mutual funds service under TrueMoney, Southeast Asia’s biggest digital wallet service. Odini remains the flagship product, though, and the emphasis is on accessibility: the minimum investment is 1,000 baht (about US$30)—although the average level of investment is about 30,000 baht—and it has acquired more than 200,000 customers.
By opening up investment to whole new groups, Khemarattana says his ultimate aim is to make a difference in society.
“Personally I’m going to fight wealth inequality. Bangkok is a house of billionaires, but Thailand’s education system is poor, and our health system is not as good as it should be.
“There are so many [financial] products to service billionaires and millionaires here. There are several pain points that mean the mass of people aren’t investors: it’s perceived as being too risky, and people are afraid of losing their money; people think investment is too difficult to understand; they believe that it takes a lot of time to monitor the market; and most importantly, they think it needs a huge chunk of money to start with. People without much money are embarrassed, and reluctant to show human advisors; the rich are afraid of showing their wealth.”
The automated nature of his products takes time and complexity out of the equation; the low minimum investment and lack of human contact take care of concerns about the amount of capital required; and as for risk, it turns out most people aren’t always quite as timid as their initial concerns suggest. Odini offers five different risk profiles, from conservative to aggressive, based on target returns between 4 and 10 percent—and the most popular option is the second most aggressive.
Khemarattana is also a co-founder of the Thai Fintech Association, but admits that for most of the five years of its existence, he was too busy with his own business to be heavily involved. However, he recently successfully stood for president, inspired by a near neighbour. “The Singapore Fintech Association has done a brilliant job in expanding internationally and positioning Singapore as a fintech centre,” he says. “I was jealous.”
See also: This Fintech Pioneer Is Making Banking More Accessible. Here's How
Robowealth is also eyeing overseas expansion, with Indonesia and Vietnam in its sights; and it’s in the process of signing an agreement with a leading financial management company based in the UK. It’s a continuation of the company’s ongoing strategy of going out of its way to partner with various parties in the existing financial ecosystem, rather than trying to compete with them—with co-branded products, but also working for them as a software house.
“I’ve been working with them for more than a decade,” he says. “It’s impossible to transform the industry from the inside; that’s why I became a partner for incumbents. They have strong branding and so many inefficiencies, so it’s a sweet spot to enter that market.”
See more honourees like Khemarattana on the Gen.T List 2021.