From Seed to FinTech is a series that explores FinTechs’ entrepreneurial journeys from idea to success supported by UOB’s innovation accelerator The FinLab. As a dedicated ecosystem partner to the region’s start-up community, The FinLab has helped drive expansion and innovation for over 14,000 businesses.
The opaque bond market has no price transparency. Unlike stock markets, price quotes are not publicly available in the decentralised bond market. As a result, over-the-counter bond trading can lead to inefficiencies as buyers request quotes from multiple brokers – and worse, create unequal access for less sophisticated investors.
“For bonds, there’s no right or wrong price. I would say, to a certain extent, how close you are with your relationship manager determines whether you get a better price” explains Jerald Chua, Chief Operating Officer of Bondlinc. “As a client, you have no basis of comparison to tell if the price you’re quoted is a cheap or expensive one.”
Bondlinc began when its founder set out to tackle this uneven distribution of information in the market. Today, Bondlinc is an award-winning fixed income solutions provider that simplifies bond trading for its banking and brokerage clientele, including the likes of BNP Paribas and Julius Baer.
But back when it first launched in 2016, the team faced an uphill battle in winning institutions over.
In a typical bond enquiry process, it would take multiple hours and tedious back-and-forth calls. Bondlinc’s platform, however, enables the user to search for bonds, retrieve bond and pricing data, and put through a request-for-quote (RFQ) which is sent directly to the execution desk. This ensures that a full audit trail is captured and maintained for audit reporting and settlement needs, something that would be difficult to capture over traditional means such as calls and emails.
Furthermore, a built-in RegTech feature helps financial institutions stay compliant with an ever-evolving slew of regulatory mandates. Endorsed by Hong Kong’s Private Wealth Management Association, Bondlinc’s platform classifies and determines complex products not easily understood by investors, standardising product due diligence requirements across the industry. The platform flags out whether a bond is complex or not, its underlying complexity attributes, and allows users to generate necessary pre-trade documentation – including prospectuses, factsheets, and research. This facilitates pre-trade regulatory disclosures and helps alleviate the workload of the advisory team and execution desk, ensuring a more efficient and effective workflow process.
Despite its ground-breaking capabilities, Bondlinc’s disruptive platform was initially a tough sell in a market that has long resisted electronic trading. “When we first started in the B2B space as a start-up, we found prospecting clients quite challenging,” Jerald shares. The team had to learn to negotiate lengthy sales cycles. “Working with financial institutions means dealing with multiple stakeholders in legal, business, tech, and compliance. We’ve found that the typical sales cycle for a client is at least six months.”
A year after their inception, the Bondlinc team took the plunge to join The FinLab’s FinTech acceleration programme. This move proved to be a game-changer that put them onto a solid path to growth.
The FinLab’s three-month acceleration programme was designed to support early-stage FinTechs at every phase of their development, from refining their business model to securing VC funding. Through The FinLab, Bondlinc was able to tap into a wealth of previously inaccessible industry insights and opportunities, backed up by UOB’s extensive networks and ecosystem.
“When you do B2B, especially with banks, there’s always the issue of clients wanting to see who’s on board first,” says Jerald. “we rationalised and felt joining The FinLab and having UOB as a shareholder would help give us an edge, given the established credentials that UOB has.”
But beyond the brand name, Bondlinc received invaluable guidance from a team of mentors from The FinLab. “We were able to leverage on a wealth of experience, thanks to Felix [(Tan), The FinLab’s Mentor-in-Residence] and Pauline [(Sim), former Head of The FinLab at UOB] – which isn’t something you can purchase,” Jerald recounts. “Felix was always very patient and nurturing, even when I spoke to him about basic administrative things.”
For fledgling entrepreneurs, this patient mentorship helped smooth out many operational challenges at the start. “When you run a company, it’s not just about getting sales. It’s also about how to draft contracts, structure certain deals, and negotiate. Felix and Pauline were always more than happy to provide their assistance and insights without reservation.”
Today, Bondlinc counts renowned names like Phillip Capital, Credit Suisse, Bank of China Private Bank, Pictet & Cie Wealth Management, and Standard Chartered Private Bank among its clients. Jerald credits the impressive list of customer acquisitions to the support and connections provided by UOB.
It’s not just new customers beating a path to their doors. Bondlinc is now finding it easier to attract talent, thanks to its up-and-coming reputation in the FinTech industry. There’s no question that a good team can make or break a start-up, and in the early days, Bondlinc faced a hiring struggle common to B2B businesses: no one knew who they were or what they did.
“People want to work for a renowned company, but not many people would be familiar with a lot of reputable names in the B2B space. The same goes for Bondlinc,” shares Jerald. Thanks to their strong partnership with The FinLab, this is no longer the case. “It does help when we add: ‘UOB is our shareholder’.”
Currently, the team has taken strong steps towards regional expansion – a process that comes with its fair share of regulatory complexity but can be overcome with expert guidance. “When we were in The FinLab’s acceleration programme, we were only operating in Singapore. We received a lot of professional insights from The FinLab as we began expanding to Hong Kong,” Jerald says. Today, Bondlinc operates in Hong Kong, Taiwan and India, apart from the company’s home base in Singapore.
Asked to share one key lesson from his FinTech journey, Jerald highlights the importance of savvy financial management: the need for cash-strapped start-ups to strike a balance between product development and operating expenditure.
Getting carried away with product growth can cause your operating expenses to rise rapidly, shortening your start-up’s runway. How much runway should your start-up have? At least 24 months, from Jerald’s experience. “If your heart can take it, then 12 months,” he said.
“What we’ve seen is that the growth cycle always goes up and down – it’s really like a roller coaster. You have periods with a lot of customers, then periods with no customers at all… and you think that’s the end of your start-up. Then suddenly, those deals or clients you’ve been engaging with return and sign up. It’s scary, but that’s part of what makes life in a start-up exhilarating and fulfilling.”
Ultimately, meeting the right people has been instrumental in Bondlinc’s growth – from the mentors they met at The FinLab to the connections they made. Jerald sums up his advice for start-ups: “Just go out and meet people, I think that’s important. Especially for start-ups, you never know when you’re going to bump into the right person who will open doors for you.”
Wondering how to make connections that can propel your business to the next level? Sign up to be part of The FinLab, which connects businesses to a rich ecosystem of mentorship programmes, tech and finance partners, industry resources, and more. Or get in touch with us to find out how we can support you.
This article is jointly written by The FinLab and UOB. This article shall not be copied or relied upon by any person for whatever purpose. This article is given on a general basis without obligation and is strictly for information only. The information contained in this article is based on certain assumptions, information and conditions available as at the date of the article and may be subject to change at any time without notice. You should consult your own professional advisers about the issues discussed in this article. Nothing in this article constitutes accounting, legal, regulatory, tax or other advice. This article is not intended as an offer, recommendation, solicitation, or advice to purchase or sell any investment product, securities or instruments. Although reasonable care has been taken to ensure the accuracy and objectivity of the information contained in this article, UOB and The FinLab and their employees make no representation or warranty, whether express or implied, as to its accuracy, completeness and objectivity and accept no responsibility or liability for any error, inaccuracy, omission or any consequence or any loss or damage howsoever suffered by any person arising from any reliance on the views expressed and the information in this article.
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