This time around we take a look at HelloGold, for our Startup Of The Month segment which looks at businesses within Malaysia.
An award-wining fintech app, HelloGold aims to protect your wealth by making it a lot more accessible for anyone to start saving gold – all you’ll need is a smartphone, and any amount of money.
Founded in 2015 by Robin Lee and Ridwan Abdullah, HelloGold is the world’s first Shariah-compliant gold mobile application that allows people to save, redeem and send investment-grade gold simply via a smartphone.
We spoke to one of its co-founders, Robin Lee to find out more about the company and its business.
Prior to starting-up HelloGold, Robin was the CFO of the World Gold Council (WGC) where he was the principal accounting officer for SPDR Gold Trust, the world’s largest non-government gold fund, with US$30b+ in gold under management. He also worked with Industrial and Commerce Bank of China to introduce a US$6.5b gold savings programme.
What was the reason or motivation behind starting HelloGold?
Back when I was with Boston Consulting Group in 1998, during the Asian financial crisis, I interviewed this fresh graduate. Over the course of the interview, she said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said she was supposed to study in Australia, and that her parents had saved up all their money to pay for all her school fees, but the Ringgit devalued by a lot and despite all the best efforts by her parents the money was just not enough, and she had to switch to completing her studies locally. It struck me back then that for many people, as hard as they try, suddenly by no fault of their own a crisis hits or they’re just unable to have enough money stashed away; that was when I started wanting to figure out a solution to help people.
Then in 2010 I was working for the World Gold Council in London, and realised that countries used gold in their portfolio to maintain their wealth. But this wasn’t something that was readily available to everyone however. Yes you can go to a jewellery shop to buy gold but you have to have exactly the amount of money to buy that specific weightage of gold you desire. So that’s when I decided it was time for me to start a venture that would try to give people within the emerging market an essential financial product which is easy to understand, starting with gold.
Can you share about the process behind the initial start-up of the business.
It took me a while still, but Ridwan and I established HelloGold first at the end of 2015. Then we only started building the platform with the team in 2016 and we emerged in April 2017. We were pretty lucky to have also had generous investors which allowed us to hire a great team of developers, marketing staff and such. Of course we needed to also have gold to start off, you can’t sell gold without actually having it, and as more people buy gold you’d have to restock all the time. It was good that our investors believed in our vision and our capability to build and execute this project. In total, till date, we’ve raised around 10 million USD of risk capital to get us to this stage – the company is in our fifth year now.
What sets HelloGold apart from other gold saving schemes?
For a lot of people, the amount of financial services available to them depends greatly on the amount of money they have. Even for say a fixed deposit, you need at least RM1,000 per se to start saving, that isn’t the case with HelloGold. If you can afford nasi lemak you can afford gold.
On top of that there’s the convenience. When you want to buy gold via HelloGold, you can literally do it anywhere and any time simply using your smartphone. You don’t need to walk into a store, you can just do your transactions even while you’re in bed, or at the dining table.
Our idea is that we do not want any product that we offer to be limited by the amount of money you have in your pocket – that will never be a barrier for entry with us. Our financial products are truly democratic and not exclusive; it’s up to you to decide whether you want the product or not.
After all, in a lot of the emerging markets, smartphone penetration is high, even more so than banking. Nearly everyone has a smartphone, whether you’re living in Bukit Tunku or just operate a roadside stall, and that’s all you need to start saving with HelloGold. Our customers range from the man on the street to those who buy gold in the thousands of Ringgit.
Tell us a bit about the Smart Saver programme.
Basically it’s a subscription based savings programme where you put in a minimum of RM30 every month, for say 12 months, and every day we use RM1 to buy gold for you. And we also guarantee the lowest price of that day, every day. So we are able to offer our customers the lowest price from the time they sign up with it.
How do I redeem physical gold, once I’ve saved up say 10 grams of gold?
Well after you’ve saved up 10 grams worth of gold, you can either choose to convert it to cash or if you choose to have physical gold instead, we will then produce the 10 gram bar and have it delivered to you. However, it would cost slightly more than the market price. There’s cost associated to making the bar of gold at the refinery as well as for the logistics, as we would need to get the bar prepared and delivered to you. A lot of our users would rather opt for converting their gold savings into cash. The minimum redemption is one gram, but you’ll need to top up a bit of money to get any amount of whole grams delivered to you.